DURING the past 15 years, my ministry has brought me from coast to coast in Canada. I have been everywhere from big city parishes to little country churches standing on the edge of wheat fields. I have met many souls who have a deep love for God and great desire for others to know Him too. I have encountered many priests who are faithful to the Church and doing whatever they can to serve their flocks. And there are those little pockets here and there of youth who are on fire for the Kingdom of God and working hard to bring conversion to even just a handful of their peers in this great counter-cultural battle between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel.
God has granted me the privilege to minister to tens of thousands of my fellow countrymen. I have been granted a bird's eye view of the Canadian Catholic Church that perhaps few even among the clergy have experienced.
Which is why tonight, my soul is aching…
I am a child of Vatican II, born in the year that Paul VI released Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical which clarified to the faithful that birth control is not in God's plan for the human family. The response in Canada was heartbreaking. The infamous "Winnipeg Statement" released by the Canadian Bishops essentially instructed the faithful that the one who does not follow the Holy Father's teaching but instead…
…that course which seems right to him, does so in good conscience. —Canadian Bishops response to Humanae Vitae; Plenary Assembly held at St. Boniface, Winnipeg, Canada, Sept 27th, 1968
Indeed, many did follow that course which "seemed right to them" (see my testimony on birth control here) and not only in matters of birth control, but just about everything else. Now, abortion, pornography, divorce, and a shrinking family demographic have been found to the same degree within "Catholic" families compared to the rest of society.
While called to be salt and light to the world, our morality and standards look pretty much like everyone else's.
A PAINFUL WANDERING
For forty years this country has wandered in the desert of experimentation, and not just morally. Perhaps nowhere in the world has the misinterpretation of Vatican II been more prevalent within a culture than here. There are post-Vatican II horror stories where parishioners entered churches late at night with chainsaws, cutting down the high altar and smashing statues in the graveyard while icons and sacred art were painted over. I have visited several churches where the Confessionals have been turned into broomclosets, statues are gathering dust in side rooms, and crucifixes are nowhere to be found.
But even more disheartening has been the experimentation within the Liturgy itself, the universal prayer of the Church. In many churches, the Mass is now about the "people of God" and no longer the "Eucharistic Sacrifice." Even to this day, some priests are intent on removing kneelers because we are an "Easter people" unfit for "archaic practices" such as adoration and reverence. In some instances, Mass has been interrupted, and parishioners forced to stand during the Consecration.
This liturgical perspective is reflected in the architecture where new buildings tend to resemble conference rooms rather than churches. They are often devoid of sacred art or even a cross (or if there is art, it is so abstract and bizarre that it belongs in a gallery at best), and sometimes one has to ask where the Tabernacle is hidden! Our songbooks are politically correct and our music often uninspired as congregational singing becomes quieter and quieter. One churchgoer, a child of Generation X, compared homilies in general to "Hallmark Card" greetings. As Ralph Martin once put it in his landmark book, there is "a crisis of truth."
I tell you, there is already a famine in Canada: a famine for the word of God!
Yes, days are coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send famine upon the land: Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the LORD. (Amos 8:11)
Our priests are aging along with the congregation, and our once great missionary orders are steadily shrinking as many have adopted a theology at odds with the universal and timeless teaching authority of the Church. The priests who immigrate here from either Africa or Poland to fill in the gaps created by the shortage of priestly vocations (many of them aborted in the womb) often feel as though they've been dropped off onto the moon. The lack of true community spirit, orthodoxy, zeal, Catholic culture and tradition, and sometimes the replacement of genuine spirituality by intense politics, has been truly discouraging to some I've spoken with. Those Canadian-born priests who are orthodox, particularly those who have either a strong Marian devotion or "charismatic" spirituality, are sometimes relegated to the far reaches of the diocese, or quietly retired.
Our convents are either empty, sold, or torn down, and those which remain have often become havens for "new age" retreats and even courses on witchcraft. Only a handful of clergy wear collars while habits barely exist since nuns—once the foundresses of Canadian schools and hospitals—are mostly in retirement homes.
In fact, I recently saw in a Catholic school a row of photographs taken over several years which unintentionally tell a story. In the beginning, you can see a fully habited nun standing in the class photo. Then a few pictures later, you see a nun no longer in a full length habit and wearing only a veil. The next photo shows a nun now in a skirt cut above the knees, and the veil is gone. A few years later, the nun is wearing a shirt and pants. And the last photo?
There are no nuns. A picture is worth a thousands words.
Not only will you no longer find sisters teaching the Catholic faith in our schools, but sometimes you won't even find a Catholic teaching the religious class. I have visited over a hundred Catholic schools throughout Canada and I would say that the majority of teachers do not attend Sunday Mass. Several teachers have recounted to me how trying to uphold the Catholic faith in the staff room has led to open persecution by other teachers and administrators.
The Faith is presented as something secondary, or perhaps even third or fourth down the rung after sports, or even as an "optional" course. Were it not for the cross on the wall or the "St." in front of the name above the entrance, you might never know it was a Catholic school. I thank God for those principals I've met who are doing everything in their power to bring Jesus to the little ones!
I have given concerts and parish missions in hundreds of churches. On average, less than five percent of those registered with the parish attend the events. Of those who do come, most are over the age of 50. Young couples and teenagers are nearly extinct, depending on the parish.
Really, by no fault of their own, they are the fruits of the "Great Experiment."
I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,' and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. (Rev 3:15-19)
HOLDING BACK TEARS
It seems that I am preaching more and more to empty pews than to people. The new church in Canada is the hockey arena. And you'd be amazed how many cars are parked outside the Casinos on a Sunday morning. It is clear that Christianity is no longer perceived as a life-changing encounter with God, but merely another philosophy among many which one can either choose or not.
While visiting my dad recently, I noticed a calendar on his table with daily quotes from Pope John Paul II. This was the entry for that day:
Christianity is not an opinion nor does it consist of empty words. Christianity is Christ! It is a Person, a Living Person! To meet Jesus, to love him and make him loved: This is the Christian vocation. —Message for the 18th World Youth Day, April 13th, 2003
I had to hold back the tears, for these words summarize the burning in my heart, the reality of the One whom I have met and continually encounter. Jesus Christ is alive! He is here! He has risen from the dead and is who He said He is. Jesus is here! He is here!
O Lord, we are a stiff-necked people! Send us the grace to believe! Open our hearts to Him that we may encounter the Messiah, that we may repent, turn back to You, and believe the Good News. Help us to see that only Jesus can bring ultimate meaning to our lives, and true freedom to our country.
Only Jesus knows what is in your hearts and your deepest desires. Only He, who has loved you to the end, can fulfill your aspirations. —Ibid.
A WHISP OF DAWN?
In the same message addressed to the young people of the world, of which I was one, the Holy Father says,
Now more than ever it is crucial that you be "watchers of the dawn", the lookouts who announce the light of dawn and the new springtime of the Gospel of which the buds can already be seen… Courageously proclaim that Christ, who died and is risen, has vanquished evil and death! In these times threatened by violence, hatred and war, you must witness that He and He alone can give true peace to the heart of individuals, families and peoples on this earth.—Ibid.
There is more to say. I see upon the horizon of not only this nation, but the world, opportunities coming for repentance. Christ is going to pass by… and we must be ready!
More on that in the next writings.