My head these days seems filled with scattered, maybe idle, thoughts about church life and vitality, and about priestly vocations. While most of this distraction stems from my shared reflections with bishops and priests here in Ukraine, some of it is also provoked by posts from my friends at RORATE CAELI, viz. recent posts on faith life and practice statistics from France today, on the parish cluster project due for implementation in a failing Catholic Austria, and now Gloria.TV's new HD fundraising video for the bigger and better SSPX seminary they hope to build in West Virginia.
The fundraising video hit me hard for a number of reasons:
1. Although lip service is paid to Catholicism in its traditional form, the movement traced by the video is unequivocally "Los von Rom"... I'm sorry.
2. If you need space, because you are so successful, you open an additional seminary; you only go "mega" if you're short on teaching and formation faculty. Bigger doesn't always mean better; sometimes it's tainted with desperation or short-sighted calculation. It's like some years ago in NW Arkansas where instead of opening new parishes in an affluent and growing area of the state, they tore down old churches and built bigger (the excuse was the shortage of priests and the need to forge bonds between the Anglo originals and the massive influx of Hispanics).
3. And then there are my memories of Winona (1968-72), my college years at St. Mary's! I remember visiting St. Thomas Aquinas back then; the former Dominican scholasticate had already been abandoned by some years; it seemed to be a church ruin in the making with no prospects of either a buyer or a savior. On campus at that time was also the abandoned novitiate of the Christian Brothers de la Salle in Yon Valley; some lay students were already beginning to move into what became a dorm, I think. I saw the last of the Sacred Hearts coming to Winona from as far away as New England or Hawaii to attend class with us for their pre-theology; by the time I headed on to theology, that house too was a campus dorm.
Will St. Thomas Aquinas have another buyer or savior before the buildings have stood a hundred years? I saw the place in the winter time and in the dark, not nearly as cheery as the images chosen for the video. Building bigger in West Virginia may not be an act of defiance, but it certainly does put the rest of us (losers?) in our place. As I say, I'm very sorry to see the fraternity turn its back on the Church. The bravado with which the video is shot through should not be mistaken for an esprit du corps.
The Dominicans who abandoned Winona long before the publication of the so-called Missal of Paul VI have known terrible excesses over the years, but they seem to be making a healthy comeback elsewhere in England, Ireland and the United States. I don't know how the CB's and the Sacred Hearts are doing, but nothing precludes their making a comeback within the Church some day either. Quo vadis, SSPX?
I don't know of anywhere in the world, with the exception of Poland today and the Archdiocese of Boston in the 1940's, which has know an excess of secular clergy. The big vocation booms in the Church since the Catholic Reform of the 16th Century have been missionary in nature, they have been frequent and bounteous. If I could beg the Lord for a particular fruit from the present World Synod on the New Evangelization, it would be for the spark needed to unleash such vocations for the sake of restoring the Sacrament of Penance to our people and assuring the devout celebration of the Eucharist. If I could hope for something from the Year of Faith, it would be that families would open the door to Jesus Who knocks and waits for an invitation to come and dwell in our homes.
As I say, I'm sorry, but bravado just doesn't get the job handled. You can criticize the failures of Church leadership on most fronts in the whole second half of the 20th Century and up until today, but your saying it won't convince me you're any better than the countless men and women of the period, who neither abandoned their posts nor donned pantsuits and earrings. The tragedy could have been worse and the recovery farther off.
Silence, darkness and the cold of winter may once again envelope St. Thomas Aquinas, but the Lord does not leave His flock untended.