September 23, 2023

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/leonhard_niederwimmer-1131094/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=4685227">Leonhard Niederwimmer</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=4685227">Pixabay</a>

Archbishop Rozanski has announced his decisions. 178 parishes will become 134. 35 parishes will cease to exist separately and will be subsumed into another parish. And 15 parishes will be merged into 5 new parishes. 155 priests will be reassigned.
Saint Louis
Image by pudnbutch0 from Pixabay

Thoughts about the Archdiocese of Saint Louis

Archbishop Rozanski has announced his decisions. 178 parishes will become 134. 35 parishes will cease to exist separately and will be subsumed into another parish. And 15 parishes will be merged into 5 new parishes. 155 priests will be reassigned.

In my Dominican province, we are preparing for the election of a new provincial, at what is called a chapter, which begins Sunday, May 28. After eight years, this week the province will elect a new provincial. 

That both the restructuring announcement and the beginning of our chapter start on Pentecost Sunday is something that is not lost on me. I have been praying today with the line from the gospel of the Ascension. It is the very last line.

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. Over the course of the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church, there have been many changes. There have been very high points, very low points, and lots of events that are neither very high nor very low. 

I can make the same observation about my own life. There have been times of great and high joy, times of deep sadness, and many times that were neither overwhelmingly joyful nor sad. One constant in the midst of both the Church and my life is this promise of Jesus to be with the Church (and me) till the end of the ages.

We are living in a time of rapid change, which makes for anxiety. And it is the case that people respond to this change in a variety of ways. For some, there is a desire to hold onto (sometimes at all costs) everything that is old from the past. For others, it is to completely disregard everything from the past.

When Jesus came in human form, and began his public ministry, he faced the same dynamic. There were those who held on the Law not because it led to a deeper relationship with God, but ONLY because it was the Law. The rules of the Sabbath were seen as more important than the Lord of the Sabbath.

Yet we have also seen times where the desire to embrace the new ONLY because it is new is equally problematic. Take Marcion for example. He was a first and second century Christian. But in his zeal for the newness of Jesus as the Son of God, Marcion suggested that Jesus was sent by an alien God, completely separate from the God who created the world.

Marcion dismissed the God who created the world as too vengeful. This ultimately led Marcion to dismiss the Old Testament as the Word of God, though it could be said his ideas forced the early Church to begin to codify the canon of the New Testament. Marcion was also condemned by early Church Fathers as a heretic.

My point in all of this is that in every age what is needed is wisdom. We need to see as God sees, which really is wisdom. What do we keep? What do we discard? What do we buy new? What is it that remains so valuable we would never consider parting with it, and what new things must be embraced so that we can grow into the persons we have been made to be?

In Christ we are a new creation

We are not the same as we used to be. When we were very little, we acted like a child. The expectations people had of us were different than they became when we became an adult. The same is true of our faith life. As we grow in faith with Jesus, we are not the same. Consider these words of Saint Paul. “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Becoming a Christian is always about being made new. We are broken because of our sinfulness. Jesus is the healer as the Son of God. Our baptism made us a new creation. And as this new creation, we are called to recognize that we see the world, ourselves and others in a different way. 

With baptism, every other person becomes an invitation for us to serve Christ. Every relationship has meaning and purpose precisely because we are baptized. In baptism, everything about us becomes new. Christ changes us into a new creation! 

Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the wilderness I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.

Isaiah 43:18-19

But we need to use the new sight baptism gives us to see the new action performed by God. Because of our brokenness we can miss it. We can think only of ourselves, our own wants, we can choose to allow our lives to be limited by the silos we create, rather than open to the infinite things God wants to do for us.

Conversion is about turning to God

Image by Leonhard Niederwimmer from Pixabay

In the heyday of the Catholic faith in the United States, Catholics were a big deal. Parishes, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and more. In major cities, parishes were created largely to serve European immigrants, who wanted to replicate here in the United States what they had at home.

And what a system it was! And the secular and religious accomplishments were amazing. At its height, almost half of all Catholic children were in a Catholic school. At one time, there were 5 million Catholic school students and over 12,000 Catholic schools. Parishes were thriving, and vocations were booming. But by the early 1960s, marketing firms were warning of trouble. With very full schools, it was hard to believe. But enrollment plummeted. 

Times have changed, and in some ways, we are now being challenged to identify the priority of our faith. Can we turn our hearts ever more fully toward Jesus, seeking to find him whatever comes in the future, knowing that he promised always to be with His church?

The changes in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis are big changes which will likely continue to call for changes into the future. But Jesus does not change. He remains with us always. The Church enjoys His promise to be with her always, even until the end of the age. 

There will be sadness and mourning. Parishes are significant places. Babies are baptized. Funerals and held, mourners supported, weddings are celebrated. Communities are formed. But all these things are still possible. While not everyone will be in the same church building, perhaps with a different pastor, or associate pastor, or a new senior associate, Jesus remains.

The first Pentecost was a time of newness and the presence of the Holy Spirit poured down upon the apostles and emboldened them to preach in courageous way. May our hearts be open so the Holy Spirit is able to do so in us.

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