Today I begin something I never thought I'd do: blogging. What I'd previously mocked as a pathetic exercise in narcissism and digital anti-social pathology, I now feel compelled to attempt. And why? Probably for the same reasons a lot of people blog: I need to release some steam by verbalizing my frustration with a certain situation...I feel utterly alone in my opinions and want to cry out to the world for some echo of acknowledgement and agreement...and I optimistically (perhaps megalomaniacally?) think that perhaps I can change things, if only a little, by speaking home truths from a global soapbox and coalescing like-minded people into a force for reform. And what is this situation, this problem that has stirred a normally reserved and retiring young man into action? Well, although there are many things about this fallen world I think are worth ranting about- political, social, cultural, etc. - the subject I want to focus on here is the parlous state of my church, the Catholic Church, as I see it on the parish level in my hometown of Staten Island, NY.
The problems of the universal Church are well known to the informed Catholic: falling membership, doctrinal anarchy, lack of vocations, sex scandals, etc., but I want to talk about the things I witness Sunday to Sunday from the pew and see if there are other people out there who see things the way I do. And what I seem to be witnessing is the suicide of the Catholic Church. I want to talk about why this is and what we can do about it.
Rather than reproduce and comment on national and international church news, I would like to relate my experiences and impressions as an individual Catholic trying to live his Faith in a particular community. There are several publications which do an admirable job reporting and commenting on Vatican pronouncements or clerical scandals or theological controversies, but I have rarely seen any reporting from the perspective of the man in the pew. What are his experiences? How is his faith? What does he think? Does anyone even care? Whether anyone cares or not, we shall soon see, but this Catholic will at least get some things off his chest.
If all politics are local, as the adage goes, then religion is even more so. Most people don't know who their Congressman is, but the parish priest has a central role in a Catholic's spiritual formation. Of course the Faith is implanted at the cradle and the hearth (e.g. the family), but it's nourished, informed and preserved at the altar. It is the clergy that dispenses the Sacraments, guards the truth of the Gospel, and is responsible for the spiritual well-being of the Church. For that reason, the parish priest is such an important factor in our spiritual lives. A good priest will build up a godly flock; a bad priest can cause souls to be lost. Unfortunately, I have seen all too much of the latter category and it is for that reason that much of what I say will deal with the actions of our priests.
Yes, we the laity can be rather pathetic, but let's remember that a fish stinks from the head. James 3:1 says that the teachers (i.e. religious leaders) will be judged more harshly than others. The Church is suffering from a crippling lack of leadership. That can be seen in bad preaching, apathy, weakness, irreverance, general incompetence and outright heresy. I hope this blog will be read by priests, who I don't think get much feedback from their congregations. I think our current problems began in the priesthood, and if our Church is to experience a renewal, it has to begin there as well.
Although I do hope to reach fellow Staten Islanders, I think the experiences I will relate will probably be familiar to many other American Catholics. So I do look forward to exchanging ideas and commiseration with my brethren both distant and dear. Therefore, a description of this strange locality might be in order for non Staten Island readers.
Staten Island is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. It has a population of around 477,000, at last count. It has the largest percentage of Italian Americans of any county in the US, which has earned it the nickname of "Staten Italy". Due to the large number of Italians, as well as Irish, Polish and Germans, Staten Island has a large Catholic majority. I recently read that around 62% of the island is nominally Catholic, but I find that number perhaps a bit low. I live in the most diverse section of the island and I never even knew a non-Catholic until I went away to college. Staten Island is known for its insular worldview and conservative politics. It's the only borough to regularly vote Republican.
As for myself, I will start out being publically anonymous. Perhaps we will all get to know each other better though.