Friday, September 2, 2011

Who Are We?

By Susan Miller

This post relates a part of the thesis Effective Church Operational Systems to both All Saints Parish and the American Catholic Church in general. It’s important to note that the turmoil in our parish is not personal from the viewpoint of SOP. It’s actually a rather common battle taking place in the Church and in certain dioceses in particular, like the Diocese of Rochester (DOR). And it centers on identity. Who are we as Catholics? What is the mission and value of our parishes and churches?

Chapter one of the thesis discusses leadership and social challenges that the Church faces today, as well as a local history of our Catholic parishes. On page 22, there is a summary of the priorities of our pre-Vatican II parishes in Corning:

“…the leadership embraced a basic three-fold vision. First was the providing of the sacraments and chaplaincy services. Second was the provision of a Catholic school. Third was advocacy in following the teaching of the church.”

The implication is that this “basic” vision was insufficient, and we are to do “bigger” things today. We experience this attitude throughout the DOR with a downgrading of the role of priests, the explosion of lay professional staffs, church and school closings, and less emphasis on the sacraments and Catholic devotions, such as adoration and the rosary.

Providing the Sacraments and Chaplaincy Services

The seven sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick) are unique and central to our faith. Parents send their children to religious education until they are confirmed, at a minimum. Receiving the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist keeps people coming to mass despite what is going on around them.

However, it can be easy to take the sacraments for granted. A description of the leadership of Father Joseph Guilfoil, pastor of St. Vincent’s Parish from 1940-1964, illustrates a time when the sacraments truly were most important. “In the dark of night of freezing weather he walked to the homes of his people to bring the Sacraments to those who were seriously ill – people tell you that today (1988).” (Diamond Jubilee Review, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, 1913-1988).

We need our sacraments. And we need our priests.

Provision of a Catholic School

A number of Catholics may agree with this sentiment on page 15 of the thesis:

“Many parishes deeply subsidize the schools, draining needed funds for ministry and building maintenance.” 

It’s true that it costs money to run Catholic schools. Whether that is called “draining needed funds” depends on your perspective. If Catholic education is a priority, then it is considered an investment in the future. In fact, Catholic education was a critical mission in the DOR from its formation in the mid-1800s. Often, parishes were created with the school and church sharing the same building.

As someone who has attended local Catholic and public schools, I can tell you that public schools can do many things well. However, one thing that they can’t do is guide a child’s spiritual development. It is not a public school’s mission to do so. Furthermore, even the best religious education/youth groups only meet for about half the year for an hour or so. It simply can’t compare to being immersed in a Catholic environment for six hours per day, 180 days per year.

This is not to criticize parents who choose public schools. Rather, for parishes to not provide the option of a Catholic education is short-sighted at best. Read a teacher’s perspective in Catholic Education Matters. And consider the Wichita, Kansas diocese that charges no Catholic school tuition for children of active parishioners, meaning that the diocesan parishes fully fund the schools.

Advocacy for the Teachings of the Church

The church has a number of complicated and even controversial teachings. Yet, we don’t hear much about them from the pulpit. Perhaps some homilists don’t want to upset people. Others may not believe in a particular Church teaching. And still others may assume that people already understand these teachings. In fact, a significant number of us probably lack knowledge or could use a refresher. The homily may be the only time that the Church can reach adults and help them grow in their faith. If Catholics don’t feel confident that they understand their faith, how can they defend it, much less evangelize, in a hostile society?


There is much talk of ministries in our parish and in the thesis. Ministries, whether singing in the choir or collecting goods for the needy, are a wonderful way to serve fellow parishioners or the larger community. But these are an outgrowth of our faith, not the mission of a Catholic parish. The primary mission of a Catholic parish is to save souls. This is accomplished through the Mass and sacraments, Catholic education, and church teachings. No other institution in our society can provide these three things. If we let them slip away, then who exactly are we?


  1. There are those who choose only to concentrate on spiritual works, completely ignoring the graces received from the sacraments, mass, prayer and personal devotions. While graces come from works, it pales in comparisons to the graces received from the sacrament and faith. The only way to build the faith and to believe in the sacraments is to fully understand the teachings of Holy Mother Church. This is our faith and we should be proud to proclaim and live it. Unfortunately, there are those who are satisfied with being mere Christians as opposed to fully Catholic, with full participation in the Church that Christ himself and his apostles established. That Church is the Catholic Church. What's worse is they cause those who are fully and authentically Catholic to doubt through ridicule or the assumption of correctness because of secular degrees or supposed expertness. They will even deny the supremacy of the Pope, magisterium, sacred Tradition and put forth their own magisterium. They disobey and bring others along in disobedience. Truly this is the major sin since the council--disobedience through personal lack of humility (pride) to accept the true Teachings of the Church. When those who lead are in Communion with the See of Peter and the magisterium o the Church, we are to obey them. It is when they step outside of that, espouse things that are contrary to the Holy Father, magisterium and Tradition of the Church, then that is when our obligation to obey ends. It is that point we are obligated to charitably correct those who have gone astray. Eventually, through their actions they will separate themselves from the Holy Body of Christ. We can only pray for them and hope they repent and return to the warmth of the bosom of Holy Mother Church. Pray for them, it is as we should. God Bless!

  2. Great article. That is the true question. Who are we?

    Capt Tom, I never thougth of it that way that disobedience thru pride has caused so many problems for the Church. I see that now.

  3. Pride, exhibited through narcissism, is the sin of our time. It leads to the the other six Cardinal/Deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. All of these are abundant in our society. Worse, they are excused, even rewarded and protected. We must pray, especially the Rosary and pray to St Michael for our people and the Church.

  4. good article, Susan. Deacon Condon is a convert, correct? I can tell you that when I first converted, I thought the Catholic Church needed to incorporate some things that protestants do well (and I still think there's some truth to that). But as you say that should never be at the expense of "who we are" as Church. There's a whole mystical dimension to the Church (the sacrament of Christ) that should never be overlooked. If we look only through worldly eyes, then we will always fail (as when Jesus told Peter, "get behind me Satan" or when Peter cut off the soldiers ear). I've realized that the more Catholic I become, the more I'm cleansed of some of my protestant baggage (which I didn't even realize I was clinging to). I've noticed this mindset with some other diocesan leaders who are converts - their mindset that the Catholic Church needs to be more protestant-like (perhaps they don't even realize it).

    This is something I sometimes forget when blogging as well. Jesus didn't give us all these problems for us to fix on our own. Sure, we should do what we can, but ultimately it's His responsibility - not ours. Two resources to consider in regards to "who we are":

    Lumen Gentium

    What is the Church by Dr. Regis Martin

  5. Thanks, Ben. And thank you for the resources.

    What you say about converts and their Protestant experiences makes sense to me, though I do think we cradle Catholics have contributed to this "letting go" of what makes us Catholic. And I remember something on your blog - a Rochester parish that has mostly weekday communion services instead of Mass. I believe the female administrator said it was no big deal. Wow.

  6. No Deacan Dean is not a convert.

  7. A convert from what to what?