What was the purpose of the Catholic parish 80 years ago?
Eighty years ago, we knew which parish we belonged to by our street address. Technically this is still the case today although some Catholics may neither know this fact nor feel compelled to abide by it. The only exceptions to this strict territorial designation were “national” parishes. However, the purpose of every parish was clear: serve the people, in English or in their native language, by providing Mass, the sacraments, education, even banking amenities in some cases, and establish clubs and build halls for community gatherings and entertainment. The boundaries were strict, but the services were far-reaching which made the purpose of the Catholic parish evident: fulfill the spiritual, educational, physical, psychological and social needs of the faithful.
What is the purpose of the Catholic parish today?
The needs of Catholics have changed over the past 80 years. Has the purpose of our parishes kept abreast of these changes? The need for national parishes in most cities is nonexistent. Government agencies now offer such a plethora of social services that Catholic hospitals and nursing homes are rare and just as rarely administered by the religious sisters who founded them. The same is true for Catholic schools which were visible in nearly every parish plant. Now, religious education programs are becoming clustered and diocesan offices have assumed the fiscal oversight and financial accounts, which used to be handled at the local level. The parish is becoming a purely sacramental dispensary for Deacon- and lay-led communion services, with baptisms, weddings, funerals and confessions by appointment only. The parish rectory itself may or may not have a resident administrator who may or may not be a priest. Times have changed and the purpose of the parish as the center of community has diminished significantly.
What will be the purpose of the Catholic parish in the future?
To imagine the purpose that our parishes will need to embrace, we need to forecast two variables: 1) What will the needs of future Catholics be? 2) What will the purpose of secular science become?
To discover the needs of future Catholics we can focus on Catholic millennials whose needs will have to be addressed by the parishes and pastors of the future. Based upon current studies, we can project that the needs of future Catholics will be fulfilled only if their three general desires are addressed: community, authenticity and purpose.
Why are young Catholics looking for community, authenticity and purpose?
Their search for community is evidenced by the short string pods hanging from their ears, which are wirelessly tethered to the smartphones in their watches. They are hungry for independent connectedness, an oxymoronic path with no exit. One liturgist has suggested that instead of taking up a collection, we should shorten the offertory procession to 15 seconds of texting time so folks can transfer a contribution from their personal bank account to the parish account via Wi-Fi deposit. Phones down. Offertory done. And sacred gathering is sacrificed at the altar of efficiency.
Their search for authenticity is, in fact, a hope for objective reality. The solid earth they trod is beginning to resemble an undulating lava pit where nothing is solid, permanent, or dependable. This includes consumer products, the environment and relationships. No matter where they step, their sinking shoe will emerge with a hotfoot. Everything is in flux and truth, if it exists at all, is relative at best. Imitation, once hailed as the highest form of flattery, is becoming a plastic substitute for concrete actuality. Even the most gratifying of human senses have suddenly become artificially flavored calories, cacophonic impersonations of art and solitary sexual encounters fostered by internet pornography.
Their search for purpose, meaning the purpose of faith, will eventually capitulate to the purpose of science. How so? The purpose of faith is hope for a rewarding future, won by practicing charity in the present. What purpose did God have in mind when He created us? To know Him, love Him, serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next. This is the purpose of faith and the proclamation of Christianity: We should live lovingly now so that when we die, we will love living forever in the heavenly Beatific Vision and reunited with the loved ones we lost on earth.
This is not the purpose of science. The purpose or goal of science is to do away with death. Science sees dying as the nemesis of life on earth. The purpose of the Church is to proclaim that death does not mean life is ended but merely changed. Science scoffs at this concept and seeks an opposite purpose: to discover a way to overcome death and live forever in this world. Two scientific methods aim to accomplish this purpose: 1) medicinal eternity which strives to cease the aging process and cure every ailment that threatens human life and 2) transhumanism, which hopes to wed human beings with self-repairing, self-sustaining, incorruptible robots.
The purpose of the parish of the future will be to remind people of the reality about what it means to be human, to explain why we exist in this temporary vale of tears, to encourage doubters to believe in an afterlife, and to baptize and call sinners to repentance while proclaiming this very Good News: do not be afraid of dying because Christ has overcome death by rising and leading us to the way, the truth and the life eternal, which is peace and happiness forever.
For Holy Homework:
Please take a moment to complete the following sentence: God loved me into existence and placed me on earth to fulfill my purpose in this life, which is…
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