Dear parishioners of St Philip Neri
After we had our meeting several weeks ago I expected that somebody would have written a report (at least I believed that was agreed) but since this did not happen, I have to write it.
So before the meeting we celebrated mass which was well attended and more people joined us after the mass. The first mass reading was from the prophet Daniel describing our situation:
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, ... to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; … for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you.
We needed to hear it because it speaks how our parish is brought low just like people of Israel. We could see that what happens to us is the same as what happened in the life of the chosen people. So our response to come from this situation should be the same, with contrite hearts we need to look on our sins and not the sins of others (means stop blaming others) and then we can be sure that “those who trust in God cannot be put to shame.”
Second reading from Ephesians urged us to “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Mind you these are not just some words urging us to live some unattainable goal - this is the word of God which wants to be incarnated in us - which wants to be fulfilled in us. The Gospel which was proclaimed spoke about the miraculous catch of fish with the promise to Peter (and us) that from now on he will be a fisher of men. Message for us is that if we obey Christ’s word than there will be a miraculous catch of men for our parish.
So why do I spend so much space summarizing the readings of the mass? Because any action we do has to be guided by God and done with a strength which comes from him and not from us. So in the meeting, we first prayed for the assistance of the Holy Spirit to give us discernment and to guide us in seeking solutions.
First question from the people concerned Fr. Tony, some said it was not fair that he was not present, I answered that I spoke with Fr Tony over the phone and explained to him that I wanted people to be free to express their opinion and that I would if needed defend him from any attack and he assured me that he was Ok with this. Main purpose of the discussion was not to find the guilty one or to put the blame on somebody but to understand why we are losing people and to find out what we can do, what we need to change to stop hemorrhaging.
We discerned that reasons for losing the people can be grouped into two groups, one is external to us where we can do little. In that group belongs overall decreasing number of people who attend any kind of church, and the problem of sexual scandals in the church. Some people feel “that we can never apologize enough” for the sins of the Church and that we have to speak more about what is done to stop sexual abuses. And some people (in letters) have asked to change the teachings of the church which is obviously out of the question.
If I would give a complete answer to all this it would take several pages. Let me just say that the bishop has already answered about the policies which are in place to stop sexual abuse. Letter from the bishop was available in the Church and is still available on the internet. On the demand of one parishioner I offered to read it after masses on one weekend. Probably I should also mention that last alleged (not proven) sexual abuse case in the territory of the diocese of Gaylord did happen about 35 years ago. Many people in our parish feel that this topic, for now, was spoken enough about. Although some would say was not spoken adequately.
When we come to internal problems of our parish there we can make some changes. Most complaints were: that mass is too long and often starts late. During that part of the discussion many stood up in defense of Fr Tony saying how he helps them to participate in the mass. Again the purpose was not to blame Fr Tony or anybody but to find a problem. In letters, I saw some more problems but since they were not made public in the meeting I will not mention them here but will try to resolve them quietly.
Finally the conclusion, what we are going to do? About the problem of sexual scandals I would say I am ready to meet and answer all the questions to anybody who wants to speak about it in order not to bother the rest of the parish who do not want to listen about it anymore. About late start: if this is because the priest is in confessions, on one side I would not interrupt confession to start mass on the time but on the other side I would try to be mindful and make it as short as possible; also if this repeats on a regular basis I would suggest for those who come for the confession in last moment to schedule some time after the mass when Fr Tony can hear their confession in peace. For the length of mass we have suggested some changes in the way how to prepare the altar, bring gifts and do communion which would take less time. Also we suggested that there is no need to sing entire entrance song but it can be finished after priest arrives to the chair. Hopefully these changes have already been implemented and have had an effect on the length of the mass.
Last and probably most important thing which we decided to do. On July 20th at 10:00 am we will celebrate mass and then go two by two to visit people that have stopped coming to our parish. It is important to go to this mission with proper attitude. We are not going to convince anybody to come back to the parish, or to answer theological questions. We will go out to show the love for brothers and sisters who used to be with us. The purpose for us who go is not to be successful but to be obedient to the mission we have received from Christ. I hope to see you there.