There has GOT to be a Catholic Church Around Here, Somewhere!

Steve Bessert stopped in the office the other day as he often does. It's always great getting caught up on his life as well as the lives of his beautiful sister and wonderful parents. Steve has the gift of gab -- as do I. So it seems as though we can talk and talk and talk -- and yes, we do! When he stopped in the other day, he brought along a new toy that he purchased out of necessity amidst one of his sales expeditions on the road; he thought I would get a kick out of it. It was a brand new Garmin GPS system -- basically Map-quest in motion and via a very soft-spoken, charming voice!

I'm very familiar with GPS systems -- and quite honestly I am in awe of such technology. It's the "Cat's Pajamas" as mom would say. I know the Turba's have one in their family car. Jerry, Dustin and I jokingly have imagined what that beautiful voice would look like if the attractive female GPS voice had an actual persona to match. Much like the guy in the commercial who falls in love with his GPS system, Jerry has called his helper, "Susie!" Jerry's is so sophisticated that she also speaks Spanish -- whom I've named "Suzie Sanchez," and in French, "Susie duBufet." To my knowledge, Steve's speaks only English -- I'm not sure that Steve has discovered what his GPS's name is as of yet!

Steve and I walked about the campus the other day, playing with his new guide. Beyond the specific directions of "proceed right" or "turn left in 100 ft," Steve's GPS also tells you where you can go for shopping, eating, movies, amusement parks... .... and yes, even churches. Just outside of Old Saint Joe's now, Steve entertains me by highlighting, "Houses of Worship." (This is where I've become somewhat disappointed with Steve's travel companion.) Sure, she directs you to any number of churches in the area -- but guess what? No Old Saint Joseph Church! I find this odd considering we're directly in front of the church canopy! As we navigate through the menu, we find that his helper does not identify Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Francis Xavier or St. Mary's either. There's no Nativity or St. Agnes. In fact, the only Catholic church we noticed was St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. It would appear as though Steve's friend was born --OK, manufactured -- in the heart of the bible belt. Or does she have some sort of a problem with Catholicism?

I recalled this incident later in the day and throughout the week, and I've come to the conclusion that we Catholics do not do a very good job in evangelizing. To some degree, I think that's OK! We should not need to blow a horn on the street corners attracting others to how good we are, or how much we can do for you, or how much you're missing out on if you do not come our way. Sometimes that in-your-face evangelism is rather obnoxious. But at the same time, we sometimes hover under the radar to such a degree that people do not even know that we exist -- that we aren't interested in attracting new members -- or worse yet, sustaining those who have been with us for years. Unfortunately, I feel as though it sometimes appears as though we are tired or over taxed -- sometimes we come off as though we just don't want to be bothered; perhaps it may look like we just don't care.

This past semester my Norbertine brother, Father James Neilson, O. Praem., approached me to inform me that some concerned folks from the Fox Valley were getting together to discuss their lament over their grown, married children who are bolting from the Catholic church to break down the doors at other, non-denominational churches in Green Bay and the Valley. These parents are at a loss, wondering why their adult children are fleeing from the firm foundation they gave to their children to embrace something so different from what has sustained themselves throughout their lives. They wonder why their children do not have the same love, devotion or fidelity to the Church as they have. And perhaps they are also wondering, what are they missing out on themselves?

Via Father Seamus, I have been invited to be a part of the group to study the issue. I enjoy the positive approach these folks are taking -- not combative, not competitive -- just looking at the pros and cons of our Church as well as the fledgling non-denominational churches. I appreciate their findings -- focusing on the positive, they list so much of what we -- in the Roman tradition -- have going for ourselves. Among those listed include:

A Judeo-Christian Tradition that spans generation after generation after generation... ...

Apostolic Succession

Ritual for all life's milestones

A Universal Community

Local Congregations of Care

Tremendous health care apostolates

The Lives of the Saints

Catholic Social Teaching

An extraordinary educational system including elementary, secondary, collegiate and graduate institutions of learning

While rejoicing in such attributes, some shortcomings of our Church were also considered. Among those pitfalls, the following were surfaced:

A lack of priestly vocations

A 'distrust' of modern technology

Poor music ministry at many churches

Preaching that does not connect with contemporary life circumstances

A degree of exclusivity among whom we accept, befriend

Looking to those who have been attending some of these non-denominational churches, it was discovered that "Radical Hospitality" was consistently identified as the paramount characteristic that separates these churches from ours. It appears as though we may proudly sing, "All are Welcome," but we often fail at practicing it.













While diocesan statistics indicate that Old Saint Joseph Church has seen significant growth over these past several years, we are not aware of any data suggesting why the numbers have risen. Perhaps some of the indicators listed above might flesh out our trends; but until more comprehensive methods or assessment are employed, we can only surmise or imagine what the raw numbers are indicating.

I am excited about being a part of the study which will resume in the fall. While our numbers have risen and while more and more students are attending Old Saint Joe's, we can certainly do more work to raise the percentage of Saint Norbert students attending Mass -- I will be channelling the Parish Council's efforts to study this matter further whereby by we can continue to sing -- and embody -- a hospitable environment wherein, "All are Welcome," indeed.

"God's flock is in your midst," even though Steve's GPS does not recognize this reality! Perhaps if we can all agree to radically, "give it a shepherd's care," then we can rest assured that within or beyond the radar screen of modern technology, good people are welcoming and ministering to other good people just as Christ and the original disciples. That's something to celebrate!

Father James Baraniak, O. Praem.


Anonymous said...

Well dah, with Jim and Sal at the helm, of course attendance will increase.

If we go back to a Latin Mass and the priest turns his back to the congregation, adios many, many more people!

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