In recent months, the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford implemented its Pastoral Planning process, which resulted in many parishes being closed or merged. This unprecedented restructuring has produced a lot of upheaval in the lives of area Catholics. It also has produced a slew of letters-to-the-editor in local newspapers.
Many people, upset that their lifelong parishes were closed, have not been shy about expressing their anger in print. Some of the letters accuse the Archbishop and various clergy of being deceptive and dishonest. Other letters accuse individual pastors by name of being self-centered and unsympathetic toward the plight of the faithful, who must endure these drastic changes.
But it seems many of the angry letter-writers are being rather self-centered, too. A lot of the published complaints focus on matters of personal convenience, such as changes to the Mass times or being required to drive farther to get to Mass. By far the most common lament goes something like this: My parents and grandparents helped build this church! How dare you close it?!
However, I have yet to see a letter-to-the-editor mention the root cause of the parish reorganization process, which also happens to be the most serious and heart-breaking issue facing the Catholic Church in New England: the fact that hundreds of thousands of precious souls have drifted away from the faith.
The statistics are undeniable — and frightening. Since the mid-1960s, weekly Mass attendance in the Hartford Archdiocese has dropped 69-percent. In other words, compared to a generation or two ago, less than one-third the number of people go to Mass nowadays.
The dramatic decrease in Mass attendance has produced a short-term, “here and now” impact: the closing and merging of parishes, and the inevitable angry letters to the editor. But the long-term, “there and then” impact is far more serious. When hundreds of thousands of people refuse to go to Mass anymore, they are clearly rejecting the teachings of the Church, which means they are rejecting the mercy and grace offered by the Lord, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
To put it plainly: these people are literally putting the eternal fate of their souls in jeopardy. How can the closing of a few dozen parishes compare to thousands and thousands of souls lost for all eternity? If the letter-to-the-editor writers want to complain about the Pastoral Planning process, why don’t they mention this tragic situation?
OK, I know what you’re thinking: Hey Bill, aren’t you being a bit dramatic with all this eternal damnation stuff?
Well, in reply, let me ask a few questions of my own: Why does the Church even exist? I mean, why did Jesus establish the Church in the first place? Is it because He wanted us to have a place to hold weddings and funerals and potluck suppers? Is it because the Lord knew that people have an instinctive need to be part of a local community where they can socialize and complain about the leadership?
No, the Church actually exists for one simple reason: to make saints. Jesus founded the Church to spread the Good News and get precious souls into Heaven for all eternity. If you still believe the Gospel message is true, when Mass attendance drops 69-percent, it’s not an unfortunate development that requires structural reorganization. It is instead a heart-breaking, life-and-death tragedy.
So, if you are unhappy about the changes going on in the Archdiocese and are compelled to write angry letters-to-the-editor, go right ahead. But don’t forget to mention the saddest thing of all: the countless number of friends, relatives, and former parishioners who no longer are in communion with the grace and mercy and salvation offered by God.