Sunday, December 05, 2004

"We never should have been closed."

So say parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rochester, Massachusetts in an article in today's (New Bedford) Standard-Times. Some readers may remember a previous post in which I commented on the suppression of St. Rose of Lima, the church I grew up in and still think of as my home parish even though I haven't attended Mass there regularly in some time. The Standard-Times article fills in the blanks on what has been going on since St. Rose of Lima lost its status at the end of October. I share the frustration expressed by one of the parishioners named in the article about the decision to close the parish and the way the reconfiguration process has been handled; it's also important to note that, despite the article's emphasis on how little the church has changed since its suppression as a parish, the Archdiocese has made no commitment to keep St. Rose of Lima open as a "worship center" beyond next year. For the most part, I stick by what I wrote in my initial post on the demise of the parish and in later comments on Archbishop O'Malley's letter. The only thing I'll add has to do with an oft-cited rationale for parish closings, the declining number of Catholic priests. Rather than rehash what I've already written, let me add some further reflections stemming from my own experience.

For most of my life and certainly when I attended St. Rose of Lima as a kid, I gave absolutely no thought to becoming a priest. It wasn't until I arrived at Georgetown and got to know the Society of Jesus that I began to actively consider a religious vocation, and even then it took seemingly unrelated and certainly unsolicited bits of advice from Jesuits and lay friends to prod me in the direction of serious discernment. My experience has taught me the critical role that personal encouragement, invitation and support play in vocation promotion. In the religious environment of my youth, priestly and religious vocations simply weren't promoted. At no time in my childhood did anyone urge me to think about becoming a priest, and I don't recall my parish ever undertaking any kind of collective effort to encourage vocations. Regrettably, my personal experience of the Church in Massachusetts has been of a community which hasn't been particularly nurturing or welcoming of priestly and religious vocations. A lot of work needs to be done to build the "culture of vocations" that is much discussed but seldom seen in Boston. The rocky process of reconfiguration suggests that things will get worse before they get better, as it's difficult to imagine that many parishioners whose churches have been closed will step forward to serve the institution that ordered the closing.

I recognize that the above reflections are gloomy ones, but I have a hard time feeling optimistic about the situation I'm describing. I am optimistic about my own vocation to the Society of Jesus, in which I feel more and more confirmed each day and for which I'm deeply grateful. If readers get anything at all out of the post, I hope you'll take the following point to heart. Praying for vocations isn't enough; personal encouragement, invitation and - on the part of some - response to the call are also required. I'm doing my bit - now it's your turn to do yours. AMDG.


At December 07, 2004 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post--thanks for the advice.

I, too, attended a parish that had never had a vocation (I mean a priestly vocation) among its parishioners. I wonder what that says about the "health" of the parish and wonder what role (either practically or even supernaturally) the lack of vocations played in the decision to close your home parish.


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