Click Here to listen to my Homily for the Corpus Christi Mass

Homily for the Corpus Christi Mass

I explain why our lives should revolve around the source and summit of our Catholic Faith, which is the Eucharist


Identical Twins Ordained to the Priesthood at 26 years old! Both entered the seminary immediately after high school.

Working on weekends as a deacon at St. Agnes Catholic Parish in Fowlerville, Gary Koenigsknecht would occasionally need to gently correct someone who belonged to St. Mary Catholic Parish a couple of towns west.

“You would have somebody from Williamston say, ‘Hey, I saw you last week!’ ” he said. “And it was like, ‘No, you really did not.’ ”

That’s because the tall, blue-eyed deacon with military-short brown hair and an easy, welcoming smile at St. Mary in Williamston was Gary’s identical twin, Todd.

After eight years of study and preparation, the brothers were ordained as priests Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing.

The Rev. John Linden, director of vocations for the 10-county Diocese of Lansing, said he believes Gary and Todd will make excellent pastors.

“They are just down-to-earth, and they make you feel comfortable in their presence,” he said.

“There is nobody those two boys couldn’t get into a conversation with and make the other feel welcome and heard.”

Todd and Gary, 26, attribute much of that to their upbringing on their parents’ organic dairy farm near Fowler.

Todd is the fourth and Gary the fifth of 10 children born to Agnes and Brian Koenigsknecht. They grew up attending Most Holy Trinity Church in Fowler and attended Catholic schools through eighth grade.

The brothers put in many hours tilling, planting, shoveling manure and milking cows on the farm, where the family cultivates 200 acres and has 100 milk cows.

Sometimes, they would work side by side with their uncle, the Rev. William Koenigsknecht.

Now a senior priest in the Lansing Diocese, he has served at a number of Lansing parishes, including Church of the Resurrection in Lansing.

He would often take Wednesday off from his priestly duties to feed cattle or harvest crops with his brother’s family.

The brothers grew up without a TV and with their parents modeling hard work and prayer. They also encouraged all of their children to become involved at church.

“The farm is a good context for family life,” Todd said.

Read the rest here:

Great reflection…on anger. “from te-laudamus blogspot”

My favorite lines from this article are: “It seems the passage of the Gospel the outrage-addicted recall the most is Jesus flipping tables; yet, we know Our Lord did this only once.   Moreover, Jesus did not tell us to imitate Him by flipping tables; He told us to imitate Him in meekness and gentleness.”

Outrage Addiction: Its harm on the spiritual life and on the mission of the Church

Our main goal in this life should be to get to Heaven and take as many souls with us as possible.  We not only have to learn our faith and teach it to others (Mt 25:14-30); we have to know how to share the Gospel with others — with words, and without (1 Cor: 13).  Each of us puts a face on our Catholic faith, for good or for bad, whether it is in person, or online (anonymous or not). We need to convey the hope we have within; not a sense of anger, bitterness, hopelessness and despair.  We must, always and everywhere, strive, by the grace of God, to be blameless amidst adversity and persecution (1 Peter 3:8-17).  This is how we imitate Christ.  Being in a chronic state of outrage over this or that is not an imitation of Christ; it is a manifestation that we have yielded to a rather stealthy form of concupiscence. At it’s root, is a lack of faith, hope and charity.

The outrage-addicted will be outraged that I dared to say this, thinking I don’t see what is going on around me. They may even think I don’t care.  What they don’t know is that I speak about outrage addiction as one who was once afflicted with this anti-virtue, so I am speaking from experience.

Let’s look closer, but first, read the scope I’ve defined for this subject in the context I am using. It’s explained at the bottom of this post 1

What is outrage addiction?

Outrage addiction, which some refer to as outrage porn (a term I prefer not to use2) is where we seem to get our “fix” by getting fired up over something. By it’s nature it is addicting, so the more we get through reading, watching, and discussing, the more we seek.  Anyone can suffer it for a period of time. Some eventually pass through and are purified of it, while others seem stuck there for many years.

Those who pass through the first phase of outrage addiction might suffer from a second phase where they become outraged with everyone else who is chronically outraged (think: ex-smoker syndrome).  Others skip the first phase and have their only experience with it in the second sphere.  In reality, such behavior changes nothing.

In either case, outrage addiction becomes a sport, giving rise to adrenaline. Perhaps that is what makes it so addicting.  Often, the outrage addicted yield to imprudence by shooting first and asking questions later. Things are seen in black and white and the subjective becomes objective for them.

Outrage Addiction in Catholics

A Catholic who begins to take his or her faith seriously after a period of lukewarmness, takes interest in learning about the faith, so errors and abuses begin to stand out. Outrage swells at the now visible evil happening around us. Bad theology being pedaled from some pulpits, and liturgical abuses are some of the first things that become apparent (and with newer priests trained better, this is gradually fading).  In other cases, it’s not even evil that causes the outrage, but an overly narrow view of what is right and wrong in areas where the Church allows a range of freedom.  Make no mistake – this is not a problem with just one group.  Some mistakenly believe that only traditionalists can be “rigid,” when there are many examples of non-traditionalists, and progressives, worthy of the description.  It’s not uncommon to find priests, or even lay people who went through seminaries in past decades, walking around today still bruised from experiences with rigid types who hindered them from gathering to pray a Rosary.  A woman I know left a Catholic choir she sang with for years after the rigid music director forbid her to keep a Rosary wrapped around her hand as she sang – a practice that went back to her childhood. Mind  you, she wasn’t praying it during Mass; rather, holding it gave her comfort.

Sometimes, these kinds of experiences give rise to outrage, but we should never remain there, praying instead for such people and handling it as we would any other kind of persecution – with grace and never ceasing to love and pray for those who offend us.

The Spiritual Damage of Persistent Outrage

By the grace of God, some come to see  that the anger within is consuming them to the point that this chronic state of outrage is leading to persistent disquiet and is hindering their spiritual growth. The outrage-addicted is stunted spiritually by virtue of the fact that so much energy is spent looking outside of themselves, that there is no time left to look inward.  It’s also taking a toll on their relationships with friends and family.  Even their relationship with God suffers as the outrage itself becomes an idol unto itself.  The outrage-addicted seem to believe that the power of outrage is greater than the power of God to move hearts and souls.  One clue is when more time is spent reading and discussing things to be outraged over than being in prayer over those things and for the people involved in them.  A cloistered monk or nun does more to move hearts of stone through their sacrifices and intercessions without even having a single thing to be outraged over.

The outrage-addicted can push people far from Christ and the Church, and they won’t even know it. Rather than bring others to Christ as witnesses to the hope that is within, those in this state of disquiet push others away through their bitterness and abrasiveness. Most of the time they have no idea they are causing harm because their outrage is motivated by wanting to see a good outcome. The problem is that the outrage it is not well moderated.  This is corrosive on both the soul and on the Church.

It’s true that there are right times to be outraged, but it is not right to be outraged all of the time.  In this sense, such souls are stuck in a state of spiritual immaturity.  Those filled with the graces of faith, hope, and charity do not have such habitual manifestations of outrage.  It seems the passage of the Gospel the outrage-addicted recall the most is Jesus flipping tables; yet, we know Our Lord did this only once.   Moreover, Jesus did not tell us to imitate Him by flipping tables; He told us to imitate Him in meekness and gentleness.  Incidentally, there is so much more to the table-flipping incident than people realize, and the richness of that discussion is lost in the way it is used and abused. But I digress and that is for another post.

The emergence from outrage-addiction

When one sees the corrosiveness on the self and to the mission of the Church caused by persistent outrage, they are still fully aware of the evils around them, but have begun to moderate their reaction with a more careful approach to discussion. They also spend more time in prayer and in deeper spiritual affairs, the fruit of which is an increase in charity on many fronts.

The realization is there that it is not a battle against men, but one against powers and principalities.  For a time people emerging from this chronic state of outrage may feel as if something is wrong with them. They may think they are not fulfilling their duty as a Catholic to get all rile up about something when in reality, the Holy Spirit is leading them in a different direction.  They also begin to drift from old relationships with those they once commiserated in outrage with and form new relationships with others who are not outrage-addicted.

At this point, abrasiveness gives way to better forms of communication aimed at winning others. The understanding comes that everyone has a free will and use of reason is how we must proceed. This takes the patience of a farmer who tills the soil, plants the seed, waters it, thins the sprouts, weeds delicately at times, and then waits.  Chronic outrage is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit and it opens a door to diabolical influence, making it more difficult to hear that still, small voice of our guardian angel.  Satan is a great imitator who knows how to mix 9 parts of something holy to just one part of something evil in order to bring about corruption.

Outrage over the outrage-addicted

There’s nothing worse than an ex-smoker, so the saying goes.  When one emerges from a chronic state of outrage, sometimes they can fall into being outraged over the outrage-addicted.  For some, it is the only outrage they will ever experience and it is still damaging to their own spiritual life and to the mission of the Church.  The most ineffective way to change the outrage-addicted person is to show outrage with them.  Even reason will not work in many cases.  The good approach is to simply ignore them and allow them feel the burn of their own bile.  It helps to pray for them too. They need to have an epiphany.  Challenging them publicly only fuels their outrage so it does not pay to give them attention.

Countering the damage on the mission of the Church by outrage-addicted souls, is simply to address issues without discussing the people behind them.   Prudent souls will find the dispassionate explanations and the Holy Spirit can influence them.  The outrage-addicted want to force change through their outrage and abrasiveness, but this does not respect the fact that God gives to all a free will.  We are commanded to spread truth with charity, not to defend Jesus by cutting off the ears of those who offend Him.

Self-help for the outrage addicted.

If you suspect that you suffer from outrage addiction, the best thing you can do is to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in silence.  Do this especially when you are angry and bitter over something happening in the world or in the Church.  Ask Jesus for help in discerning, mindful that all those problems will still be there whether you discuss them or not.

Pray about those things and people who cause you the most angst.  Prayer is powerful.  Pray the Rosary and other devotions and remind yourself that you can put your burdens on the shoulders of the Lord, not carry them yourself.  Where your words and outrage can change little, God can move hearts with our prayers and fasting.

Read Scripture – not just some of it, but all of it. Read daily.  We cannot take one part without the whole.  Truth proclaimed without charity is out of harmony with the Gospel.

Read wholesome spiritual material like that of St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, and others. Read daily from something like that even if only for 15 minutes.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is manifest in us to others when we have the peace in Christ within amidst a barrage of artillery coming from every direction

Sorry for the long abscence and interesting article…

Over the past few weeks I have been keeping busy, but absent from the blogosphere.  I trust you understand.  Just in recent weeks the Diocese of Wichita celebrated the ordination of two new priests: Fr. Andy Walsh and Fr. Sam Brand.  Fr. Walsh discovered his vocation at the St. Paul Newman Center at Wichita State University, so we are particularly proud and rejoice with them both.  Also, six new Deacons who will, God-willing, be ordained to the Priesthood next year.

I thought I would share this article I found on The Anchoress Blog:

Suffering Servant: Did Benedict Actually Resign?

This whole piece by John L. Allen is fascinating, but scroll down to the question:

Did Benedict resign?

Yet another point of interest from the recent press conference came when Francis took a question about papal resignation. He didn’t reveal his own plans, saying only that he’ll do “what the Lord tells me,” but did insist that he believes Benedict XVI historic decision to step down is not an “isolated case.”

In that connection, an essay on Tuesday by longtime Vatican watcher Vittorio Messori is intriguing. […]

The way Violi and Messori’s analysis goes, being pope has two basic components: agendo et loquendo — acting and teaching; and orando et patendo — praying and suffering. They believe Benedict laid down the former but never the latter, which explains his continuing residence in the Vatican and his continuing use of papal vestments. In effect, they believe he is continuing in some ways to function as pope, while leaving the work of governance to his successor.

As Violi puts it, Benedict “did not renounce the office, which is irrevocable, but only its concrete execution,” and even then only in part.

Messori argues that Francis may see things the same way, which perhaps helps explain why he prefers the title “Bishop of Rome,” of which he is unquestionably the only one at the moment, to “pope” or “pontiff,” of which there would now be two.

Messori gives all this a happy spin, writing that “it’s a gift [for the Church] that there is, physically shoulder to shoulder, one who leads and teaches and one who prays and suffers, for all, but above all to support his brother in the daily papal office.”

Time will tell if Francis himself will provide the next chance to see how a pontiff who steps down understands his act, and if he does, whether he’ll take the same approach as Benedict or blaze yet another a new trail.

In a way I cannot explain, reading this filled me with joy. I’m sure it is filling others with horror and fear. They run to Revelation all-too-willing to consider verses about imposters and anti-Christs than to consider verses about two witnesses. Or anything else.

In reading Messori’s essay (in my very lame Italian) I like this, part very much. It begins:

Il papa ha inteso rinunciare solo al ministerium , cioè all’esercizio , all’amministrazione concreta di quell’ufficio. Nella formula impiegata da Benedetto, si distingue innanzitutto tra il munus , l’ufficio papale, e la executio, cioè l’esercizio attivodell’ ufficio stesso. Ma l’ executio è duplice…

I get it as:

The pope intended only to give up Ministerium, that is the practical everyday (administrative) work of that office. The formula by Benedict…there is distinguishing a double (or two-fold) way…But also there is a spiritual aspect, of equal importance, which is enacted via suffering and prayer. Benedict said: “I do not return to private life…I do not wear more leadership in the Church, but for the Church’s good and with prayer I rest in the enclosure of St. Peter” but “enclosure” should not be comprehended only as a material place to live but is also a “place” theological.

I always suspected Benedict was a mystic at heart — that after his tireless work in administration for John Paul, and then his papacy he needed to serve in a different sphere. This confirms it for me. Having long appreciated the efficacy of prayer that is offered up through private suffering, this speaks to me. Benedict (whose papacy was not exactly an easy thing, as he was perhaps the most unjustly hated man on the planet for much of it) has chosen to enter into his suffering — not publicly, before the eyes of a world that devalues it, but privately, before God, who allows it and understands its value — not only the suffering that was thrust upon him but what he has actively embraced, for the good of the church.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss him. He is always my dear Papa. But this just makes me appreciate him all the more.

Here is what Benedict said about suffering, to Peter Seewald in the long-form interview that is God and the World, which everyone should read:

Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand by it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.


Which direction?

When I was in my senior year of high school, I did a report on Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.  At that time, I had no idea how to comprehend the social, political and philosophical implications of this work of fiction.  I knew it was frightening, but that was it.  And at the time, I was unaware of another book, similar and yet different entitled “1984” by George Orwell.  Since then, I have read both books and have come to understand their larger implications of what happens when we try to create a utopia on earth.  It always ends badly and with terrible atrocities against human life and dignity.  Here’s an interesting book coming out that blends the two and explores their implications more fully: “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”


1984 or Brave New World?

amusing ourselves to deathWe were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another—slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.

Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

This is an excerpt  from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Kindle Locations 239-255). Books on the topic of this essay may be found at The Imaginative Conservative Books

Pope Paul VI to be Beatified this year!

Pope Paul VI, who died on August 6, 1978 (the day of his favorite Feast, the Transfiguration) and brought the Second Vatican Council begun by Pope Saint John XXIII to it’s completion.  Here is the story of the miracle attributed to him; and it happened right here in the United States!

The canonization of Vatican II continues: Paul VI beatification in October

I read today at Vatican Insider that the Congregation of the Causes of Saints has approved unanimously (what else) a miracle through the intercession of Ven. Paul VI.

I suppose now the only thing left to do is beatify the Pope everyone forgets to remember and the set will be complete… at least until the pool grows by one more.

This morning, cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave their final approval for the late Pope’s healing of an unborn child

Giovanni Battista Montini’s beatification is near: this morning cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously approved the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Italian Pope from Brescia, who died in August 1978. The year which marked the canonization of two Popes – John XXIII and John Paul II – will also be the year of Paul VI’s beatification. In the next few days Pope Francis will be promulgating the decree on the miracle attributed to the late Pope and the date suggested for the actual beatification is 19 October. The beatification is expected to take place in Rome on the occasion of the concluding ceremony of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family: [HEY!  This is the canonization of HUMANAE VITAE too!] it was Paul VI himself who established the Synod in September 1965 in response to a request made by the Council fathers. [And what a day’s work that was.] It should be noted that next August will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Paul VI’s first big encyclical, the “Ecclesiam Suam”, which he wrote and edited entirely by himself.

The miracle attributed to the intercession of Paul VI was witnessed in the United States in 2001. It involved the healing of an unborn child, which was found to have serious problems and a high risk of brain damage: the foetus’ bladder was damaged and doctors reported ascites (presence of liquid in the abdomen) and anhydramnios (absence of fluid in the amniotic sac). All attempts to correct the problem proved futile and in the end the doctors said the child would either die in the womb or it would be born with severe renal impairment. Abortion was offered as an option but the mother refused. Instead, she took the advice given to her by a nun who was a friend of the family and had met Montini: she decided to pray for Paul VI’s intercession using a fragment of the Pope’s vestments which the nun had given her.

Ten weeks later the results of the medical tests showed a substantial improvement in the child’s health and it was born by Caesarean section in the 39th week of pregnancy. The case was presented to the former Postulator of the Cause, the Jesuit Paolo Molinari – who passed away last week – in Rome. Faith weekly Credere revealed that the diocesan inquiry was launched in 2003 and all witnesses agree that the case in question cannot be explained scientifically.

The child has made it to thirteen and his health is constantly monitored to ensure that his psychophysical state is normal. [Healing miracles have to be sudden, complete and lasting.] Doctors are especially keeping an eye on the child’s renal function. On 12 December last year the medical consultation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints headed by Professor Patrizio Polisca, confirmed the impossibility of explaining the healing and the dicastery’s theologians gave their approval last 18 February. [Along with the doctors’ and scientists’ statement that the healing can’t be explained, then theologians have to judge whether people were praying to Paul VI, and not, for example, to “Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the saints and holy angels, and St. Rita and St. Jude, and Paul VI, and Fulton Sheen and Pauline Jaricot and….] Benedict XVI promulgated Paul VI’s heroic virtues on 20 December 2012.


What Your Pastor Is Really Worried About: In His Own Words…

Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church’s self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.

The research presented below is based on a content analysis by CARA student researcher Michael Budzinski (Georgetown Class of 2014). 

What is your pastor worried about? CARA recently asked a random sample of pastors in our National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP), “What is the greatest challenge facing your parish in the next five years?” Each pastor could respond in their own words. These were then examined for common themes and content.

First among their worries is finances. Twenty-one percent mentioned a financial issue as their top challenge. This strongly correlates with the 25% of parishes nationally that ran a budget deficit last year as estimated by the NSCP. This is also strongly related to the demographic changes described in our recent “Tale of Two Churches” post with parishes in the Northeast (32%) most likely to run a deficit and those in the South least likely to face this challenge (15%).

Some of the representative “financial issues” comments from Northeastern and Midwestern pastors are shown below.

  • Increasing costs of running a parish. Concerns about offertory and fundraising ability.
  • We are struggling to survive financially. We are encouraging people to contribute more to the collection and examining the possibility of merging with another parish.
  • Planning to get rid of a few old buildings and start new stewardship programs.
  • The local economy, no jobs, high school and college graduates are not returning to the area.
  • Declining numbers. Loss of young people. Number of aging parishioners. We are looking at how we can tighten budget due to the ‘givers’ declining in years.
  • Fundraising. We will need to go to foundations. Parishioners are generous but limited in resources.
  • Old facility needs some major repairs. Pray to find ways to bring in more revenue and save it for the future needs.
  • Largest challenge is dealing with rising expenses and fewer parishioners.
  • Finances. We are cutting staff.

At the same time, many in the South and West raised a primary challenge related to their property and need for facility improvement or expansion. This was noted by 13% of pastors overall. It is most common among pastors in the West who have the largest numbers of parishioners, on average (about 4,000 including registered and the unregistered who regularly attend Masses). Representative comments include: 

  • The building of a new and larger worship space.
  •  Parish growth is the problem. We plan to secure more land across the street for parking so we can build a larger church on our current lot.
  • Our parish is a growing parish with many young persons. We are building a larger church and are currently in the middle of a capital campaign that has been very successful.
  • Need more space. We are in the process of planning for the future. We are doing a pastoral plan that includes the need for more staffing in the parish and a multifunctional building or hall.
  • Growth. Good problem! Building accommodations for classes, meetings, etc. Of course with that comes financial needs, building campaigns, etc.
  • Increasing growth. More than a thousand houses are scheduled to be constructed in the area around the parish in the next few years. We need an addition to our church, doubling its capacity.
  • Not enough space to continue to grow. We are raising funds to be able to buy more land.
  • Limited parking and our solution would be to partner with nearby agencies to share parking on Sundays to take of our ‘virtual members’ of the parish who are worried about driving and not finding parking.
  • We are in capital campaign to build a K-8 school, a 2,000 seat church, a 300 seat chapel, and administrative offices.

There are some parishes in the Northeast and Midwest that are also dealing with similar needs but for very different reasons. When a parish closes another nearby parish becomes the new home to more parishioners. In areas where a closure does not occur but parishes instead share a pastor, ministers, and/or ministries (i.e., multi-parish ministry) a larger community is created and served by fewer parish leaders. The NSCP estimates that 19% of parishes have started using multi-parish ministry in the last five years and 6% have been affected by a parish closure during that time. Multi-parish ministry has most often been adopted in the Midwest (33%) and parishes have been affected by closures most often in the Northeast (12%). Seven percent of pastors cited their biggest challenge is merging and/or the creation of “mega-parishes.” Representative comments from the Midwest and Northeast include:

  • Developing a partnership between three parishes. Overcoming fear that a parish will be closed. Being open to a decision which parish will be the center parish. The challenge of making partnerships. 
  • Because of the priest shortage we were forced into clusters but it was up to each cluster to determine how to function. Too often the cluster is looked at as a merge and the small parishes are getting gobbled up by the larger who believe they are entitled to all the best Mass times, staffing, preferences, etc. Also, comfort parishioners who are afraid that we will be closed. Sadly some have said they will simply move next door to the Lutheran Church where they have friends rather than travel 20 miles to the next Catholic church.
  • We are clustered with four other parishes. The challenges facing us are the shortage of priests which comes the clustering/linking of parishes or closure.
  • The challenge facing our parish in the next five years is the possible merger with two other churches. The office for these churches has merged and the bulletin has merged. We are proceeding with a unified approach, in hopes to unite the people of each church. 
  • Currently in the middle of the consolidation of six parishes into two, and eventually one. That is enough of a challenge for anyone; e.g. worship schedule too many buildings, real estate.
  • Merging four parishes into a new parish having two worship sites. The parish covers two cities with very different demographics and economies. We engage people in listening sessions striving to provide good liturgies and activities bringing people together.
  • Clustered with three other parishes. One of them has been closed. The number of priests is still shrinking in the diocese. There is anxiety about future leadership and configuration as some rearrangement has been happening each year somewhere in the diocese. Mostly we are in denial.

Many other challenges do not have the regional divides evident in the responses noted above. Following financial issues are three semi-related concerns common throughout the country: evangelization, parishioner apathy, and engaging young people. Representative comments include:

  • People who are no longer practicing their faith regularly. We have established an Evangelization Team to work on the helping all to grow in their relationship to Christ and to invite back those who no longer actively worship with us.
  • We are evaluating many initiatives to reach out to the “unchurched” and fallen away Catholics.
  • Awakening the faith of the parishioners and those who do not join us on a regular basis. Continue to evangelize and spread the word. Growing Mass attendance and expand our volunteer base.
  • Evangelizing parents. Many of our 30 to 45-year-olds don’t know their faith.
  • Retaining and attracting participants (especially on the younger end of the age spectrum).
  • Reaching out to the 70% of registered parishioners who are not attending Mass regularly.
  • No one is locked in to church. While we can count on some Catholics to be faithful no matter what, a growing portion of parishioners is fickle and choosy. Every weekend is an audition.
  • Keeping young adults close to the church.
  • Encourage young families to come to church and bring their children. Sports programs have become the churches for this group.

Other issues of concern across the country include a lack of priests and a lack of staff or resources. Representative comments include:

  • Priest shortage. Pastor with multiple parishes.
  • I expect that this parish will be closed when the diocese finalizes a plan to deal with declining priest population.
  • Declining number of priests and deacons, especially those who can serve Hispanics and minorities.
  • Priest shortage may cause combining of parishes.
  • There is no longer a resident pastor and a handful of devoted parishioners are keeping the Catholic identity alive.
  • Staff is part time and turns back half their salary in order to keep the place operational.
  • Recruiting and training competent, capable parish volunteers.
  • Not having a resident pastor or sharing one and having fewer liturgies.
  • The need for someone other than the pastor to provide for adult formation and catechist training and liturgical music. We need professionally trained and salaried Adult Formation Director and Liturgical Musician.

A variety of other challenges were noted by pastors as shown in the graph above. Some were rather unique and were unnamed by others (i.e. “other” comments). A sampling of all these other challenges includes:

  • In the process of a complete merger. The primary challenge will be retaining the cultural/ethnic identities and the historical traditions moving forward, as well as redefining what it means for us to be parish.
  • Bringing three diverse communities together in one parish: Anglo, Hispanic, and Vietnamese. They have evolved into three distinct communities which share very little in common.
  • Aging congregation. Nothing I can do about it. Young people must leave for employment.
  • Keep the school open. Our families are old. We have to find kids outside the parish.
  • Our parish is changing due to an influx of immigrants. The older parishioners are not ready for the change because they see what is familiar changing fast. I basically have two parishes. One Anglo and the other Hispanic. Very difficult to merge the two. We have opportunities for the two communities to come together, but we don’t have good participation.
  • Demographics indicate that after high school, young people get as far away from this area as possible. It an old steel town that has not retooled itself and so they are few jobs and basically nothing to do around here.
  • The consumer culture is a huge challenge to us. Young adults are too busy for church at this point in their lives. They look for more exciting places. Many of our families are ‘transit’ Catholics who go where it is convenient either because Mass is quicker or times are more convenient. They aren’t engaged or attached to a parish until they want something.
  • Maintaining Catholic identity in culture that rejects and openly mocks religion. The secular influence by schools and sport teams and other social events have made the Church far less than third class.
  • Parishioners do not know each other.
  • Dealing with people polarized on different church and political issues.
  • We need to find and encourage people who have a preference for the 1962 Mass to come and join us.
  • Keeping up with the integration of technology in the life of the parish.

The NSCP included a series of questions, commissioned by St. John’s School of Theology Seminary, about the recently revised English-language Roman Missal. Results from the responses to these questions have gained some media attention. It is important to note that none of the NSCP respondents mentioned the revised Missal as a major challenge facing their parish in the responses to the open-ended question analyzed above. Thus, even though about half of priests say they don’t like the revisions, few apparently see this as their most pressing problem. This could be because, as other CARA research has shown, an overwhelming majority of those in the pews agree that the revisions were good.

Look for more results from the NSCP to be released by CARA soon. Also be sure to visit the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership research archive where you will find an enormous amount of related research on parish life in the United States.

About the National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP)
The research was made possible through funding provided by SC Ministry Foundation and St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC. In October 2013, CARA began sending invitations to 6,000 randomly selected parishes (5,000 by email and 1,000 mail) to take part in the National Survey of Catholic Parishes (NSCP). Stratification was used. The total number of parishes randomly selected in each diocese was determined by weighting the diocesan averages of the percentage of the Catholic population and the percentage of Catholic parishes in the United States in each diocese as reported in The Official Catholic Directory (OCD). This stratification ensures that parishes representing the full Catholic population were included rather than a sample more dominated by areas where there are many small parishes with comparatively small Catholic populations. A total of 486 email addresses were not valid and 68 of the mailed invitations were returned as bad addresses or as being closed parishes. Thus, the survey likely reached 5,446 parishes. The survey remained in the field as periodic reminders by email and mail were made until February 2014. Reminders were halted during Advent and the survey closed before Lent in 2014. A total of 539 responses to the survey were returned to CARA for a response rate of 10%. This number of responses results in a margin of sampling error of ±4.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval. Respondents include those returning a survey by mail or answering online. The survey consisted of 169 questions and spanned eight printed pages. A slightly smaller national CARA parish survey, including 141 questions from 2010, obtained a 15% response rate. Response rates for CARA parish surveys are correlated with the length of the questionnaire. Responding parishes match closely to the known distribution of parishes by region. Data for sacraments celebrated also match the OCD closely.

Parish image courtesy of Ryan Basilio. The addition of the thought bubble wordle is based on all of the responses to the challenge question.

Church Stats from the Register

Vatican statistics report Church growth remains steady worldwide


CNS photo/Paul Haring.


Vatican statistics report Church growth remains steady worldwide

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

  • May 5, 2014

VATICAN CITY – The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests, permanent deacons and religious men all increased in 2012, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, according to Vatican statistics.

The number of candidates for the priesthood also showed its first global downturn in recent years.

The statistics come from a recently published Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which reported worldwide Church figures as of Dec. 31, 2012.

By the end of 2012, the worldwide Catholic population had reached 1.228 billion, an increase of 14 million or 1.14 per cent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which, as of 2013, was estimated at 1.09 per cent. Catholics as a percentage of the global population remained essentially unchanged from the previous year at around 17.5 per cent.

However, the latest Vatican statistical yearbook estimated that there were about 4.8 million Catholics that were not included in its survey because they were in countries that could not provide an accurate report to the Vatican, mainly China and North Korea.

According to the yearbook, the percentage of Catholics as part of the general population is highest in the Americas where they make up 63.2 per cent of the continent’s population. Asia has the lowest proportion, with 3.2 per cent.

During the 2012 calendar year, there were 16.4 million baptisms of both infants and adults, according to the statistical yearbook.

It said the number of bishops of the world stayed essentially the same at 5,133.

The total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around the world grew from 413,418 to 414,313, with a modest increase in Africa, a larger rise in Asia, and slight decreases in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Asia saw a 13.7 per cent growth in the number of priests between 2007 and the end of 2012.

The number of permanent deacons reported — 42,104 — was an increase of more than 1,100 over the previous year and a 17-per-cent increase since 2007. The vast majority — more than 97 per cent — of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas or in Europe.

The number of religious brothers showed 0.4 per cent growth worldwide. The number of religious brothers totaled 55,314 at the end of 2012. Slight growth was seen everywhere except the Americas.

The number of women in religious orders continued its downward trend. The total of 702, 529 temporarily and permanently professed sisters and nuns in 2012 was a 1.5-per-cent decrease from the previous year and a 5.9-per-cent decrease since 2007.

The number of candidates for the priesthood — both diocesan seminarians and members of religious orders — who had reached the level of philosophy and theology studies showed its first downturn since 2003. The number of candidates dropped slightly to 120,051 men at the end of 2012 as compared to 120,616 at end of 2011. Increase were reported in the traditionally vocations-rich continents of Africa and Asia, although the increases were modest; Africa reported 245 more candidates than in 2011 and Asia reported 179 more men in their final years of study for ordination.


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