(Letter to Frieda Begue, continued yet again. Will this guy never shut up?)
So let me recap, in case you have lost the thread of my argument.
1) No matter how many programs we initiate and no matter what we do to fund them, it seems that many, though certainly not all, parishes are failing to draw and keep young people. The conclusion can be drawn simply by looking at the absence of young people in many churches after they have received the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. In addition, it seems that the behavior of Catholic college students is even more embarrassing than that of non-Catholics, and as adults, Catholics in this country have abortions, practice artificial birth control, get divorced and sleep in on Sundays pretty much at the same rate as pagans. (I made that last one up, but I bet it’s not far from the truth.) Religious education whether in Catholic schools for kindergarten to college is not working very well the way we are doing it now.
2) The case can be made that many people send their children to religious education classes of the “Sunday School” variety because they want their children to “get the sacraments” as rites of passage, not because they want them to live the Catholic life. They themselves don’t live the Catholic life, as evidenced by multiple marriages and refusal to participate in the liturgy. The hemorrhaging of resources and energy is particularly distressing in urban Catholic schools. Though many people sacrifice to provide a good Catholic education for their children, they are sometimes outnumbered by the non-practicing Catholics who in fact don’t care one way or the other whether or not their children live the Catholic life. They want a relatively inexpensive private school education provided by Catholic parishes. They will put up with a little religion if they must, but they have no intention of observing the Commandments and precepts that we Catholics believe define our service to God and our fellow human beings. This is particularly true in urban areas where public schools are educationally deficient and physically dangerous.
3) To be Catholic is to believe as St. Paul says, “If we have believed in Christ for this life only, we are the sorriest of all people.” (1Cor.15:19) There are four last things that await us; death, judgment, heaven and hell. If you believe the Catholic life is optional, then you cannot sustain Catholic parishes, Catholic religious education and certainly not Catholic schools. There is not enough fire in the belly to find the millions of dollars necessary for the project where there is no passion nor faith in the heart.
Two stories: A fellow pastor told me about a woman, a former Catholic who now went to an evangelical Protestant church. She wanted her child to be enrolled in the parish school, not just at the already reduced rate given non-Catholics, (about $5,000), but at the Catholic rate (about $4,000) The cost to the parish per child was at least $6,000, of which the parents only provide part. The pastor suggested that she ask her evangelical Protestant pastor to provide a $2,000 scholarship, rather than expecting it from a parish she had abandoned. She expected a church in which she no longer believed to provide for her children. She had no worries that they would return to the faith she had rejected. The religion curriculum, at least at that time, was fairly generic and very bland. Her child would be exposed to no undue fanaticism. The same pastor said that about 1/3 of all parish revenues went into the operating costs of the school. It would be like bringing a wheel barrow into the church for three months every year and just wheeling it over to the school. This rather bold woman is really not different from a great many parents who want their children cared by a religion with which they wanted nothing to do. She was just a bit more honest about it.
A second story: In the never ending struggle to keep enrollment and thus revenues up, a neighboring parish sent a member of his school board over here to St. Dymphna’s of Frostbite Falls. He spoke at all the Masses inviting parents to enroll their children in the local Catholic school. The speaker pointed out that it was a great school, which it is. He let people know that it was a safe environment, with good computer courses, small class sizes and an excellent record of high school and college success. .........(long pause).......... Nothing mentioned about the fact that the school was Catholic, or that it was a matter of the eternal salvation of the souls of those most dear to parents, their own children. That’s because despite all the lip service we pay to our Catholic faith and to Catholic “values,” it just isn’t very important and deep down, we don’t think it’s true. Remember that this was a school board member who failed to point out the one thing that matters about Catholic education, namely that it is CATHOLIC!!!
I am as tired of saying it as you are of hearing it. It is idiotic of us to drag down those people who want to live the Catholic life and who want their children to live the Catholic life, by wasting, yes wasting, our resources providing private schools and rites of passage for people who find our faith unimportant.
Comment #1 “Who are you, you self-righteous curmudgeon to judge what is important to whom?” To which I respond that I have been in this business for 43 years. I have been involved with three schools and five religious education programs. I was the pastor responsible for one of those schools for 20 years. It doesn’t take a microscope to notice a train wreck.
Comment #2 “Schools are our biggest means of evangelization! The church will die without them!” Haven’t you been paying attention? More often than not churches are dying because of them. I have watched parish after parish close because the school could not be sustained and the school, having absorbed the resources of the parish for years, was the only thing the parish had going for it. If the schools, as they exist now, were a successful use of resources for the purpose of evangelization, we would be overflowing with fervent Catholics. How many thousands, even millions of children have passed through our doors and have received “their sacraments?” Now tell me this. How many thousands, even millions of empty seats are there in Catholic churches every Sunday?
Here is the point of Today’s installment:
IT’S TIME TO STOP KIDDING OURSELVES. WHAT WE ARE DOING ISN’T WORKING AND WE HAVE TO HAVE A COMPLETELY NEW PARADIGM FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION, IN SCHOOLS AND RELIGION CLASSES, THIS INCLUDES COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES,
which I, your friend, the Rev. Know-it-all, will helpfully provide in the coming weeks.