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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Where Have the Churches Gone?

Bill and Susan are both baptized Catholics. But they rarely went to Mass. You might see them in the pews at Christmas and Easter, but that is about it. One Easter they came to Mass and had the surprise of their lives. The parking lot was empty. Going up to the church doors, they discovered that everything was locked. Confused, they almost decided just go home but it was Easter so they drove a little further to another church. Again, they were shocked. There was no one there, either. Now the mystery was intriguing them. What had happened? Had there been a revolution and the churches forcibly closed? Were the Protestants right and all the good Christians taken away by the rapture? They traveled outside of town to a third church. Here they found cars but services were ending. Although they had missed Mass, they entered the church for a quick visit and to find reassurance that nothing else had suddenly changed. Everything appeared to be in place, although the congregation seemed a bit small from the celebrations remembered in the past. They saw the priest and approached him with their puzzlement.

Susan spoke first, “Father, we are sorry about missing Mass but we had trouble finding an open church.”

Father Flynn responded, “I take it that you are new to the area. We would love to have you register here. We can always use new members.”

“No Father,” said Susan, “we have lived here all our lives. We were married at St. Margaret’s.”

“Oh my,” responded the priest, looking somewhat disturbed and maybe upset.

Bill entered the conversation, “We went to St. Margaret’s this morning and finding no one there went over to Holy Spirit. Both places were empty.”

“Yes,” lamented the priest, “I guess you both feel inconvenienced.”

“It certainly ruined Easter, what is going on Father?” asked Susan.

“You won’t like my answer. It might even make you angry,” added the priest.

The priest motioned for them to sit in a pew next to him.

“What is it, Father?” asked Bill.

“I will tell you,” said the priest, “it is your fault.”

Taken aback by the answer, they immediately insisted that he explain.

“You and so many people like you, killed St. Margaret, Holy Spirit, and almost a hundred other churches in the diocese. You want the church for a wedding, as if the building is only a decoration on a cake. You might ask for a baby’s baptism, when grandparents nag you. But then we have trouble finding a godparent who is not in mortal sin. Everyone who comes is a stranger. No one is practicing his or her faith. You come to Mass a couple times a year, throw a few dollars in the basket and expect the church to still be here waiting for you when you feel like coming back. Some only come to church twice in a lifetime, the day of baptism and the day of final repose. You did not know about those churches because they were not a part of your life. You did not support your parish through donations. You did not add to the parish life by your participation at Mass and in the various volunteer opportunities. You did not have children or if you did, you did not encourage vocations. How did you expect us to keep the churches open when we have no priests and empty pews? You broke the hearts of your priests who gave up the possibility of spouse and children to take care of the family of God. Priests weep over their people who neglect Confession and the Mass. Priests yearn to forgive your sins. You became comfortable with sin and made excuses. You said by your neglect that our sacrifices did not matter. Some of you were even vocal in arguing for married priests and condemning all celibate men as deviates and predators. In essence, your dissent and absence told the priests that we were wasting our time. Worst of all, you were saying that you did not need the Church. You forced God to the periphery of your lives, if he were there at all. The churches closed were wonderful places once. God lived in those houses and in the hearts and souls of the people. But when you stopped coming, things began to run down. Where there were once three priests, now there was one. Eventually even that one was shared between parishes. Many young people stopped coming. The congregations got older. The average parishioner age at Holy Spirit was around eighty! God called the faithful remnant home. Grandparents tried to give the faith to their grandchildren, but sometimes with opposition from their own children. They suffered terrible guilt. What had they done wrong? Why did their children stray? Bills started to grow and resources were strained. The new Bishop had to take action. Critics hated him and spouted condemnations when he closed beautiful old churches. Many of these same voices were those of fallen-away Catholics. They still had sentiment about their childhood parishes, but nothing of a deeper or lasting value. Catholics today are twice as populous as in the old days, but less than 15 to 20% go to weekly Mass. Back in 1960, that figure was 90 to 95%. Our schools are dying and increasingly expensive. Our churches are relegated to the status of museums instead of as places of worship and community life. You did not pray— you did not pay— and now you are upset that the churches did not stay. We are drowning in a sea of hypocrisy. A housing developer will be bull-dozing Holy Spirit within the month. Who knows what shall become of St. Margaret Catholic Church? There is talk that a Baptist group might buy it. Some of the churches have become condominiums with the guts torn out. What the enemies of the Church could not do, we have done to ourselves.”

The couple was silent. The priest reached into his pocket and pulled out a broken piece or marble or plaster made out as marble.

“See this,” said the priest, “this is a fragment from the altar at Holy Spirit. I was pastor there. On the morning I came by to pay my final respects, demolition men were hacking the altar to pieces. It was on that altar that bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus. It was from that altar that the faithful received the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. I did everything I could think of to save the church. I went door-to-door in an attempt at outreach. But there was a bigger Catholic church down the road and we had no school. Even they were struggling. Most people of faith in the area were Protestants. Others spurned all religion. Many Catholics had moved away and those who remained did not come, except for my small faithful remnant. I buried most of them.”

Staring straight into the faces of the couple, he lamented, “I cried and cried after seeing that altar destroyed. Here, take this,” offering the altar fragment.

“It means too much to you Father, no, we couldn’t take that,” returned Bill.

Not taking no for an answer, the priest forced the fragment into his hand, and said, “It is okay, I really want you to have it. You are right, it meant a lot to me, but it is my hope that someday it might come to mean something to you and your wife.”

7 Responses

  1. Dear Fr Joe,

    That was a very pertenant and thought provoking parable but I fear that some of your words were a bit like the first Adam’s when he said: “The woman gave me and I did eat”. It is wrong to blame simply one person other than Satan.

    Sadly, since the sixties, there has been no compulsion to follow the Commandments of The Church and those ‘politically incorrect’ facts of life such as Mortal Sin, Over night fast, Friday abstenance, staying away from Protestant worship, and all of the ‘incidentals’ of being Catholic were underplayed. Catholic Identity was lost, sin was seldom mentioned lest it upset the faint hearted and The Sacrifice of The Mass became a sort of bonanza of bongos, banaal babble and bingo. In fact many Churches went through a period of encouraging an ‘anything goes’ stance almost like a closing down sale.

    And of course, the real enemy here is the one that became mentioned least of all. Who has heard Satan mentioned from the pulpit lately? In fact where has the pulpit gone? I would suggest that few if any have heard mention of the evil one and his domaine, and that is because he is playing his trump card. He has not only convinced practically the whole world that he does not exist, he has so contrived things that The Church, my Church, will never even mention his existence lest it offend the sensitive amongst its congregation.

    His plan has been thoroughly evil and cleaver from the very start. He managed to infiltrate The Organisation with dozens of his accolytes and through their sins of terrible child abuse and sexual depravity he had tainted the whole of our heritage. It became very easy and ‘justified’ to point a finger of condemnation at that which Jesus gave to us. And it was Jesus who warned of the consequences of damage to even one of these little ones.

    The Church must accept Her part in this falling away of its members by reversing the trend of a wishy-washy apologetic sort of sadness and stand up, once again, for the Truth, even if that truth is hard to hear.

    When Jesus confirmed that His flesh was real flesh and Hid Blood was real drink, many just walked away as it was too hard to accept. The Catholic Church has been guilty of walking away from that and many other truths lest it offend the other Christian denomintaions, just as we, as parishioners, are guilty of temidity.

    Imagine what might happen to The Jewish faith if their leaders said that circumcision was no longer necessary, that it was OK to eat bacon, that they need not follow the rituals of the old way!!! Identity would be lost, the feeling of belonging would be lost and ultimately the faith would be lost. And so it is for us. The Universal oneness of The Latin Mass went at the start of this demise, the rules and regulations were watered down and made easier for the faint hearted and the reason to belong was understated. Never was the possibility that souls could and would go to Hell ever told from the priests lips, it might frighten little children, so we will sanitize all of those aspects and a sort of unofficial endorcement of “Well, just come to Mass if you ever feel like it” was inferred.

    As a child I was told and told again that to miss Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation was a Mortal sin, and those who die in Mortal sin will go to Hell for all eternity…….simple!!! I also know the three necessities for sin to be Mortal so there is a sort of balance to all this, but the Church used to be firm and dogmatic, a bit like you Fr Joe. We might not have liked it some of the time but we did love it and respect it and fear it.

    So when I say the ‘mea culpa’, I mean it, and I hope that my priest does too.

    With love and eternal thanks,


    I am sure Satan rejoices and has had a part to play in the loss of faith, the neglect of Christian worship and the abandonment of our churches. However, we should never underestimate the human capacity for sin and religious indifference, even without demonic manipulation. We have brought this plight upon ourselves. While there have been isolated and/or regional liturgical abuses and passivity in preaching, most priests have worked hard to preach the truth and to preserve authenticity and dignity in our liturgies. Priests speak about the dangers of the evil one and about the need to make proper moral judgments. Current religious catechesis is a great improvement from past efforts and stresses the universal catechism and strict standards. But you cannot give religious formation or preach the truth to people who are rarely or never in the pews. The problem with secularization and defection was with us long before the issue of clergy misconduct became an explosive scandal. However, you are right that it has further discredited the reputation of the Church. Of course, a genuine Christian and Eucharistic faith is not based upon the sanctity or depravity of members or a few in the ministries. Every missal and missalette tells non-Catholics to pray for unity and make a spiritual communion, but not to receive Holy Communion. We applaud the love for Jesus that many Protestants possess, but should not shy away from enunciating the important differences. I think Pope Benedict XVI has done much to clarify what is and is not a proper ecumenism. Religious indifferentism is not something to be tolerated. Again, Paul, you are right that mistakes were made and some people may have been given the false impression that Catholicism is merely one denomination among many instead as the embodiment of the true Church instituted directly by Jesus Christ.

    Your remarks about “what might happen to the Jewish faith” if they dismissed circumcision, dietary laws and their rituals, made me chuckle because this did indeed happen… and they became Christians and Catholics! I believe the reformed Mass can and does transmit the Catholic faith. I also agree with the Holy Father that we should embrace freedom in preserving the rights of Catholics to use the older ritual and Tridentine Latin Mass. If you look at approved catechisms, they speak about the Mass as a sacrifice and as a re-presentation of the oblation of Jesus on Calvary. These texts and catechetical lesson plans also speak about confession and about sin, both venial and mortal. They also list and ask children to reflect upon the Decalogue. We discuss God’s spiritual creation, the good angels and the fallen ones under Satan. We teach about Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. The precepts of the Church are regularly asked in the questions of the bishops at Confirmation and our teens again echo the universal catechism. Mistakes were made in the past, but we should not despair and sin against hope. There are a lot of good things going on. I would urge Catholics on fire for the faith to get involved with adult religious education and the catechesis of children. I have known many people who complain but never make the slightest effort to help in the transmission of our holy faith.

  2. “How did you expect us to keep the churches open when we have no priests and empty pews? You broke the hearts of your priests who gave up the possibility of spouse and children to take care of the family of God. ”

    This is so true and touching. Tears are coming from my eyes. LORD JESUS CHRIST have mercy on me and on the whole world. Amen.

    Thanks a million Fr. Joe for this excellent reminder. God bless you.


  3. Father Joe,

    There is a lot of blame to go around, but don’t you also blame compulsory public education? Parents are forced to pay a huge amount of taxes to support public schools, which spend approximately $10,000 per pupil per year. Parents who send their kids to Catholic schools are forced to pay twice: they pay for public schools through taxes, and for Catholic schools through tuition. Is it any wonder that Catholic schools are unaffordable for most parents? Abolishing public schools would lift a huge tax burden off parents, allowing them to purchase education for their children in whatever form they deem best. I would guess that Catholic schools would see a resurgence, and so would the Catholic faith. In the old days, when laypeople when to church and vocations were high, most Catholic children went to Catholic schools. How can we expect young Catholics to embrace their faith when their only formal Catholic education comes from CCD classes they attend for 8 weeks before confirmation?

    All of this is by design: One of the main reasons that compulsory public education was established in the United States is that Protestants wanted to Protestantize Catholic children.

    It seems to me that all Catholics should be opposed to compulsory public education. Public schools were established to destroy the Catholic faith, among other evil reasons. And they are succeeding!

  4. […] is, perhaps, a bit over-the-top. It might even be called pessimistic. But it’s also thought-inducing. Share and […]

    FATHER JOE: I read recently that Camden is closing 70 parishes. Pittsburgh has closed as many as a hundred. There is even a website for Boston which features churches transformed into luxury condominiums. In my own diocese we have a number of parishes in trouble but so far holding on. I wish it was all farfetched. By it is based on true stories, paraphrased into a type of parable… and a warning.

  5. Thank you Father, I am sending this on to my parish’s prayer chain and to all my friends!

  6. Thank you for this, Father Joe. It is a very powerful article and really makes you think. I’m 42 and a new Catholic. Well, I’m not officially a Catholic, yet, but I am going through the RCIA classes to become Catholic. My wife is Catholic and my 4 year old daughter is going to be raised Catholic. We are looking forward to the day that our daughter can attend Catholic school. I had a calling, of sorts. It was 20 years since I entered a church and then one morning, I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to be in church. I went to Mass one Sunday morning with my wife and daughter and new that this was something that I needed in my life. Again, thank you for your blog and your writing.

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