I think it has been like this for many Catholic parishes. At one time, city neighborhoods were filled with immigrants from all over the world, devout Catholics who were supported in their dreams for a new land by the rhythms of the church. But soon, their children grew up and moved away, often taking their aging parents with them. And urban blight descended upon those formerly tough-American neighborhoods, leaving broken homes and broken lives in its wake.
Catholics have often been the champions of the weak and exploited. It is a good thing. Jesus said we would always have the poor with us, but yet He never wavered from His message - that man was a sinner in need of saving. That was the need He addressed first and foremost. Not whether someone was being treated fairly by the Romans.
I have noticed some Catholic parishes becoming caught up with "social justice." However, it seems convoluted, this relentless push for "equality" and "justice." Is that what we are called to be in the world? A group of activists? Or are we to be the Body of Christ, bringing His Good News to a hurt and dying world? I'm not sure if it's the motivation for "social justice" or the abandonment of Catholic identity that bothers me. Most likely a combination of both. At any rate, I am extremely grateful I returned to the Catholic church at this time. If I had returned, say, ten or fifteen years ago, when liberal, out-of-control parishes ran un-checked, I probably would have headed toward Regnum Christi, eventually finding myself in a completely different type of mess.
St. Stephen's in Minneapolis was a church fueled by the Sixties revolution. From what I read, they took the whole "peace, love, and rock-n-roll" idea to the hilt. You can read about what the church looked like for years in this article. A tidbit:
You know the kind of service: with guitars, lay people giving homilies, dancing in the aisles with people who have mental and physical disabilities, gay couples openly participating in worship, along with ex-priests, ex-nuns and sundry other spiritual wanderers.
It's all so 1960s.
Well, the new Archbishop of Minneapolis was cleaning house and St. Stephen's was on the list. Archbishop Nienstedt had dispatched a spokesman to let the parish know it was time to shape up. As expected, the "free love" bunch didn't take the news so well. In fact, they left the church. I have no idea if where they are now is considered a Catholic parish, but a full-time priest was brought in to St. Stephen's to firmly guide it back to Catholic tradition.
Now this young priest is left with a withering congregation.
Father Joseph Williams came "from the farm to the hood" less than a year ago, to a congregation in a spiritual crisis and a neighborhood riddled with poverty and crime. He is only 34, but as he sits in a low-ceilinged office in the basement of St. Stephen's Catholic Church, it seems like the weight of the 110-year-old structure, and the centuries-old institution itself, sit squarely on his shoulders.
Williams -- smart, witty and likable -- talks about providence, his faith that God is directing this drama. But when asked if the congregation could continue if it did not grow, he frowns.
"No," he said. "We're taking on water."
I'm sure some of those who left have a smug "told you so" face over this, but I'm hoping St. Stephen's hangs on. That's why I'm posting this. If you are a Catholic who is faithful to the Magisterium, perhaps you may consider attending church there, or donating. At least keep them in your prayers. Darkness never welcomes the light.