Sunday, July 29, 2018

Musings of an aging pastor...

Dear Friends,
I am republishing a letter I wrote a while ago. There is a reason. I received a letter from the priests’ placement board asking about my plans. There are twelve boxes from which one can choose. The box that pertains to me reads, “I will be of retirement age in 2019 but am interested in discussing the possibility of staying in my current assignment beyond retirement age.” I will be 69 years old in a little over 4 months. That means that my scheduled retirement from parish ministry is less than one year away. The date of my retirement will be June 30th, 2019 unless I am asked to stay on, which I will most certainly do if possible, health allowing, and the Lord and the placement board willing. There are however several things to consider. 
The Archdiocese is undergoing a sweeping change. As far as I can tell all parishes are facing one of three possibilities:

  1. To continue as a parish
  2. To join with one or more other parishes to form a completely new parish
  3. To be closed. 

St. Francis Xavier and St. Joseph just north of us are already in the process of becoming one new parish. I don’t think that there is any danger of St. Lambert’s being closed because the vitality of the parish is an important factor. We are a parish filled with young people. We currently have two young men preparing for the priesthood, though we share one of them with an eastern rite parish. Our religious education program is full, and our church is full of children and young families.  However, I worry that the many groups that exercise a ministry in the parish are unaware of the other ministries. This is a potential problem.
Years ago, when I was pastor at St. Thomas of Canterbury, we had a large Vietnamese community. They wanted to have their own ethnic parish, so we had a lot of meetings to figure out how best to accommodate the need. One of the Vietnamese choir members said, “Why don’t we just make St. Thomas a Vietnamese parish. There is nothing else going on here.” I was thunderstruck. He was ready to close the parish because he was completely unaware of what the parish did. We had a school filled to bursting with refugee children who were essentially getting a free Catholic education, a huge soup kitchen, a clothing room, and a food pantry. We had mass in five languages. The parish was a magnet for people who wanted to enter the faith. This Vietnamese fellow had no idea what was going on.
St. Thomas was a very vital parish. So is St. Lambert’s. Did you know that we have five choirs? They are the Latin Mass Schola, the Plain Chant Choir, the High Mass choir (10 AM), the contemporary (family) choir and the beautiful Filipino Choir for special events. We have Youth Church (RE) and then the Youth Group (SLY). There is the Senior Activities group, the Wednesday Novena group, the Rosary group, the Hospitality groups, the Ministers of Care, the Parish Council, the Finance Committee, the Filipino Families of Skokie, Couples for Christ, Spanish Bible Study/Rosary group, the Thursday Bible Study, the Wednesday Bible study, Ushers, Altar Servers, Lectors, the Gardening Committee, the Brat Fest committee, and the monthly prayer chapel. We have the ethnic celebrations, the Haitians who celebrate Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the Sri Lankans who celebrate St. Sebastian. I bet I am missing half the groups in the parish.
I would like to propose an informational meeting of all these groups sometime in early fall. I think that it is important that we have a sense of what is happening here in order to prepare for the future. I am asking that each group put forward a representative and if I have missed any groups I would like to know what they are and who will represent them. The purpose of the group is information. It will not be assigned tasks, it will not be asked to raise funds or make decisions. We need to have a sense of the parish as we go into the future.
The second thing to consider, and the reason I am re-publishing an old article, is that as I age I find myself less able to do what I once did. I really believe that the church must be an intentional society, one that we join because of faith and not simply custom. The person who comes to mass rarely yet demands the sacrament services of the church has killed the church as we knew Her. The church that was just down the block when you needed Her is already dead.  We killed Her by neglect. The church that survives into the future will only survive because of a commitment by Her members. I remember an angry person who once called me to let me know that he was a perfectly good Catholic. He attended mass every Christmas and every Easter without fail!
Lukewarm commitment has killed the casual church and I don’t want to preside at her wake.  I want to serve the living church and her Lord. I am too old to waste what time is left by waiting on a corpse. 
Fr. Simon
The following first appeared January 14, 2018
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”  - John 10:14
Happy New Year! Things change. The Church and the world are facing new realities. Catholicism is not hereditary. God has no grandchildren, only sons and daughters. The Catholic Church will continue to exist only where its members and leaders understand that personal conversion to Christ is necessary for church membership. In other words, I am not a Catholic because my parents were Catholic. I am Catholic because I choose to be Catholic and hold Catholicism to be true and beautiful.  Our current way of doing business, and I do mean business, is counterproductive to the mission of the Church. For instance, it is absurd to want a Catholic wedding when I have not been to church since I was a child. It is absurd to want to receive Holy Communion unless I believe that it is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and intend to live the Catholic Life.
We don’t worry much about this now, but in times past people wondered what happened to a non-baptized soul after death. The theory was that if they had lead good lives, they would live in eternal happiness in the limbo of the just. Only the baptized who had died in the state of grace would see God in heaven. If, however, a baptized soul did not fulfill the obligations of the Christian, that soul would be cast out into the outer darkness.
Pope Benedict reminded us that this is just a theory and that God in His justice and mercy will work things out. The catechism says that we are bound by the sacraments. God is not. However, I bring up this old theory because when a person is baptized, it is still true that he takes on the solemn obligation to attend Mass weekly and on holy days of obligation. He takes on the obligation of charity, of regular confession and communion and a whole host of other obligations. It is mystifying to me why someone would want to have their children baptized when they are not living the Catholic life and have no intention of teaching their children to fulfill their obligations as Catholics. Why would I want to hold someone to a solemn oath that they have no intention of fulfilling themselves? I suspect that by baptizing a child, who will never practice the faith, you hurt them more then you help. You start their lives off with a lie. Baptism and all the other sacraments are the most solemn oaths; they are not good luck charms or photo events.  I will no longer participate in a dishonest exercise of sacraments. If I don’t think that a person has made a decision for Christ and the Church as is evidenced by participation in the life of the Church, I will not join in their act of perjury.
I am bound as a pastor to serve my parishioners. If someone who is legitimately my parishioner thinks that they are in good conscience I am bound to share the sacraments with them. This being so, it is very important to define a parishioner. A parishioner of St. Lambert’s is a baptized Catholic living in the square formed by south of Greenleaf, east of Kenton, north of Jarvis and west of McCormick.
That definition also extends to people who attend St. Lambert’s regularly, are registered in the parish and use the Sunday envelopes. Why the Sunday envelopes?  They are the only objective evidence I have that one is regularly attending. I have often said that it does not matter how much if anything you put in the envelope. I don’t count the money. I have no idea who gives what. I never ask and don’t want to know. It is an offering to the Lord. Not to me.
It is common to have people register and then to request a sacrament next week, never to be seen again. This is just plain dishonest. It is fine for a person to register and begin regular participation and then after a reasonable period to request the services of the parish, but to register one week to have a baptism and then forget about the parish is dishonest.
There is a third category that I would define as parishioners, that is someone with whom I have a pastoral relationship. Remember that for me to participate in sacraments, I must have a canonical obligation to do so, or a real belief that the person requesting the sacrament is involved in real conversion to the Lord and the faith. Please don’t count on this third category. I see about two thousand people on a weekly basis. If you say, “Father, what do you mean you won’t give me a letter of recommendation to be a godparent to my niece? I come to church every week!” Perhaps you do but go out the side door and I have never seen you or talked with you but once or twice. I stand in the vestibule after almost every mass. USE THE ENVELOPES!  Again, I am not out for your money.
I want your soul!
If a person has grown up in this parish and has parents or significant family still participating in the parish, an exception can be made by providing a letter of good standing from the church where they currently participate. Sacraments should be received in the church community where people are currently active. The same is true of funerals. The church is not a building or a reminiscence. It is a living relationship.
This all may seem harsh, but if we don’t get used to the Church as an intentional society it will die. I have no desire to participate in the destruction of the Church to which I have dedicated my life by reducing her to a fond memory, a good luck charm or a photo event.
Fr. Simon
P.S. You can register with the parish by using the following link:

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