Friday, May 14, 2010

Young Catholics find parishes a little like alien territory

The following three paragraphs are excerpted from my memoir "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines: How an Irishman found his heart and nearly lost his mind"

"In areas where the population is affluent and mobile, people may be baptized in one parish, make their first Communion in another, then go away to college for four years and lose touch with the ‘family’ parish. They get married somewhere else, and I suspect those who are buried from the Church where they were baptized, are in the minority.

In my experience most Catholic parishes have few, if any, meaningful activities capable of attracting and satisfying the fellowship needs of lively young people. The Sunday homilies are rarely inspiring or challenging because, in general, Catholics focus more on the Sacraments, than on preaching the Word.  Most priests can’t seem to get beyond basic platitudes in their Sunday homilies, which I suspect results from fear of offending the traditional Mass-goers (who tend to give the most donations). In other words, I think the parish structure is fine for liturgical celebration, but it has lost its power to create vibrant communities of faith.

I expected the local clergy would perceive our [Legion of Christ] efforts  to offer dynamic, adventurous and social activities as ‘competition.’ After all, we weren’t collaborating with them in their on-going parish work – which, in Rye, included two schools and an active CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) program. Rather we were setting up an alternative program for young people. Our efforts might also be unwelcome because the local Catholic Churches didn’t offer any vibrant programs beyond the weekly celebration of the Eucharist. If these challenges were not daunting enough, the local clergy were aware we Legionaries had no mandate from their bosses, to work in New York. The name ‘Legionaries of Christ’ didn’t inspire their confidence - it had an uncomfortable militant ring to it."  

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was born in Dublin on 8th April 1945.  He attended schools in Dublin. He studied philosophy at University College Dublin and theology at the Dublin Diocesan Seminary (Holy Cross College, Clonliffe). He later pursued higher studies in moral theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. He succeeded Cardinal Desmond Connell as Archbishop of Dublin on 26 April 2004.

His life and mine intersect on a few points - we were born within weeks of each other, in Dublin. He studied at University College Dublin where I grew up at our family home on the campus. We both studied at the Angelicum. Cardinal Desmond Connell celebrated my father's funeral Mass. We seem to share a view of the Catholic parish system.

Archbishop Martin has just published some "talking points" about the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland. His complete article is well worth reading, for those interested in the Catholic Church.. I have said in other postings that I think the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Legion of Christ worldwide have the opportunity to become leading indicators of needed renewal and healing within the Church. Hence, I've taken the liberty of excerpting some quotes, relevant to parish life, from the Bishop's talking points. The lack of parish outreach for young people, which Bishop Martin references, created a niche which the Legionaries of Christ identified and rushed to fill.

"There are fundamental fault-lines within the current structure for Catholic schools that are not being addressed and unattended fault-lines inevitably generate destructive energies.  Our system of religious education – especially at secondary level but also at primary level in urban areas - more and more bypasses our parishes, which should together with the family be the primary focal points for faith formation and membership of a worshipping community.   I am not attacking Catholic teachers and Catholic schools; they do tremendous work.  What is needed is renewal of the vision of parish.  Many of our parishes offer very little in terms of outreach to young people.

The modern communications media provide great opportunities for adult catechesis, especially those media which are interactive and can be used not just to transmit information to individuals, but also to contribute to the construction of faith communities.   Parishes have however still much to learn about using these media.  Parishes must radically re-orientate themselves to become educational communities in the faith and understanding of modern communications is an essential part of that re-orientation.

The early Church was marked by the gathering of believers, who shared in the prayers and in their understating of the Word of God, who shared what they had and who together broke the bread. The Church is not a collection of individuals whose worship when they feel the need; the Church is fundamentally a worshipping community, founded in and nourished by the Eucharist. 

Parishes offers very little outreach to young people and I feel that an increasing number of young people find parishes a little like alien territory.  A form of religious education which is separated from the parish will inevitably collapse for most the day that school ends. Sacramental formation belongs within the Christian community which welcomes and supports each of us on our journey.   We need a more demanding catechesis, within a parish framework, for those who wish to come forward for admission to the sacraments.   Admission to the sacraments is not something which is automatically acquired when one reaches a certain class in school.

This will involve a much greater degree of parish-based catechesis and evangelisation within our parishes.  There is no way that this will take place without a very extensive programme of training for volunteer catechists, as is the case in most European countries.  Parishes must become real centre of on-going faith formation.  A more Parish centred church life does not however mean retreat into the sacristy."

LEGIONARIES OF CHRIST in the archdiocese of Dublin:
  • Novitiate
  • Oakhill Junior School
  • Clonlost School Retreats and Youth Centre
  • John Paul II Centre for Faith & Family Development
  • Dal Riada Family Centre
  • Dublin Oak Academy
  • Woodlands Academy

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