Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

The Future of the Church

Aug 3, 2017

You learn something new every day… hopefully. One of my favorite bosses, an Irishman in New York City, always said: “A day without learning is a day without sunshine.” For instance, I learned yesterday that Fr. Cassian thinks the bulletin cover needs more pictures.

Now, in planning my vacation this year, I was somewhat perplexed by the lack of available rooms in Saguenay for the dates I wanted. But I did find something in my budget at the Gîte à la Vieille École, right on the bluff overlooking the fjord. I sent off an email and got a cheery reply that my hosts Yvon and Maude were looking forward to my visit.

While I was expecting a good old fashioned motel, I was more than a little unnerved when my GPS said I had arrived… at this very picturesque small house. That is how I learned the ray of knowledge-sunshine that the word Gîte is Québécoise for “Bed and Breakfast.” That wasn’t what I had in mind, but there was no room in the inns (because of the air show I wrote about last week). The Gîte was at the “old school,” except that the old school across the road had been torn down long ago.

Maude and Yvon (who turned out to be a guy) are a happily married couple who have given themselves over to the ministry of hospitality. Maude was/is a decorator and designer, while Yvon is a retired scientist/teacher/pilot. They are colorful and effusive characters without being overwhelming; they were great hosts. Maude and Yvon live in a medium sized trailer behind the house, which is totally given over to their guests. Maude designed the remodeled interior, and Yvon built it. And so people come.

During the winter, their trailer goes out on the frozen fjord, along with hundreds of other trailers and ice houses, to form a new village on the ice where everyone fishes. The ice is four feet thick. Pizzas and the mail get delivered to the addresses in the ice village. They said I should really come back in the winter to see it, but I explained winter wasn’t my thing.

Maude is a great cook. There was Eggs Benedict the first morning, though she was disappointed I didn’t eat more. Maude and Yvon were very casual but very helpful in letting me know what was in the area, the best sights and vantage points. They knew the back roads and the pitfalls.

My visit there was going to end on Quebec’s “National Holiday.” Quebec, although a province of Canada, is definitely a national community of distinct people, and they celebrate that. The Quebec flag was flying everywhere in readiness. On that day, they pointed out, EVERYthing would be closed. So it was good my drive that day was only 3 hours. In talking about Quebec, Maude brought out an old flag, the original flag of Quebec. To my great surprise, dead center in the flag was the Sacred Heart, embraced by the Crown of Thorns, topped by the flame of Divine Love and encircled by a wreath of Maple leaves. How Catholic can you get?

The sad fact is that it was the old flag. There is no trace of that Catholicity in the new flag; the cross in the center might just as well be an icon for a traffic intersection. For all its heritage, art and architecture, for almost every town and village bearing a saint’s or some other religious name, for all those churches with gleaming silver steeples, there is very little faith or participation in religion or the Church. Most of those pretty churches are unused or even closed. Maude and Yvon could talk about the religious practice of their youth, but that was “back when people went to church.” It is definitely not now.

I didn’t have time to find out exactly what happened, but I’ve gotten bits of information from here and there. The faith was too European; the priests and religious were too authoritarian, too demanding and even mean. They were too self-righteous and insistent on their privilege. They alienated parents, children and young people, who respond to a loving God, not an angry one. When you read the Gospel, think about what group of people Jesus called a brood of vipers and whitened sepulchers. If the transmission of faith is rejected by a whole generation, the line will come to a practical end. Of course, there is a faithful remnant there, but it is mighty small.

It’s a lesson about what could happen here and, in fact, is happening. Already our Millennial generation has signaled their profound lack of interest in organized religion. They are not so much anti-religious and totally disinterested. But there are those in our society who ARE anti-religious. We might ask why. How could so many be anti-God and religion if we the Church were presenting them TRULY with a loving God and the joy of the Gospel? We can’t blame the devil for this. In the book Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones, the author examines the devastating flight of young people from religion, and among Catholics, there is much anger driving the flight.

We the Church must blame ourselves. Clericalism IS a problem here; tepid, comfortable faith in the laity IS a problem here. Abortion is a terrible thing, but there are many other terrible things that need our attention too, things that speak more to the problems most people face in their lives. How long before the God-alienated here send “In God We Trust” the way of the Sacred Heart in Quebec? Our loud protests won’t be able to stop that... only the vivid and loud action of living the Gospel, of being Jesus Christ to all people will… all colors, races, cultures, immigrants, illegal aliens, trans, gay. There is no human being in any category that is not made in the image and likeness of God, whom God does not love, whom God does not want us to love, from whom Jesus did not sacrifice himself. That truth will set us free and make us great again.

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