Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Fatherhood shortage (Sunday homily)

 Even though next week is Father’s Day, 

I think fatherhood is the idea I want to focus on this week.

I’m going to talk about a couple of different things 

that aren’t obviously linked, but the connection really is “fatherhood.”

Let me start with the “Beacons of Light” planning process 

which the Archbishop is leading, regarding how best to provide 

for the 200-plus parishes of the Archdiocese.

First: what’s going on? The answer is that many of our parishes, 

as currently configured, are not healthy. 

If you measure things by our local situation, that may surprise you.

But we’re part of an Archdiocese that covers 19 counties,

and many places are facing a very different situation.

We talk about a shortage of priests, and that’s a real problem; 

but in many places, the bigger shortage is of people; 

and that means a shortage of volunteers and material resources.

This “Beacons of Light” project is about taking a big-picture approach

rather than dealing with it piece-meal.

As I said, this isn’t ONLY about not enough priests, 

but that is part of it; specifically, about having enough PASTORS – 

that is, priests who are in charge of parishes. 

So here’s something you may not have thought about:

Not all priests are cut out to be PASTORS. 

We have good, holy priests who are either too new, 

or else they just don’t have the skills to run a parish. 

We have 110 priests serving as pastors right now. 

But 58 of them are over 60 – that more than half!

And that means they will all be eligible to retire in the next ten years.

Of those pastors over 60, 20 of them are, in fact, over 70 – 

that means they are at or past retirement age;

even if they don’t want to retire, they may have to, at any time.

Meanwhile, we’re ordaining an average of four priests a year; 

But those new priests are not going to become pastors immediately 

and they shouldn’t! 

New pastors can do damage if they lack seasoning. 

I first became a pastor when I had been ordained only two years.  

I made some serious mistakes; it wasn’t intentional, 

and I not blaming anyone but myself, but experience matters.

Right now, today, the Archbishop has no “bench,” no back-up.

He’s brought in priests from Africa and India, 

some of whom will be returning to their native countries.

We can’t kick the can down the road any longer.

So what’s all this mean for Saint Remy?

Let’s start with the bad news.

It seems almost certain that at some point in the next ten years, 

the Archbishop will group our parish with one or two other parishes, 

and we will share two priests, but only one will be pastor. 

And if you wonder why, if there are going to be two priests, 

why not have both be pastors? 

Because that second priest will be someone fresh from the seminary,

or even an older priest, who isn’t otherwise suited to be pastor.

This has long been a possibility; I think it will finally happen.

The rest of your questions I can’t answer.

I can’t say which other parishes we will be grouped with.

The Archbishop is sorting through the situation in all 19 counties, 

and he will propose some groupings this September,

at which point we’ll all see them and be able to give input.

If you ask we’ll be “clustered,” that depends on things no can predict.

My health is good, but I can get sick and so can other priests.

Here’s what I think is good news and should reassure you.

I mentioned how in many places, parishes are emptied out.

They don’t have much happening; they lack volunteers and money;

and they are situated within miles of other parishes in the same boat.

None of that describes us.

So the kind of re-organizing that is likely to happen elsewhere 

is not reasonable to expect or fear here. 

For example, when I was in Piqua, 

we did combine two religious education programs into one, 

and combine offices. But those parishes are ½ mile apart; 

and there was a critical shortage of willing volunteers to teach CCD.

None of that applies to Russia.

I started by talking about fatherhood.

When we talk about our larger society, 

we’re facing a critical shortage of true fatherhood.

One of the things that makes our local community healthy 

is that we don’t face a plague of absent fathers.

That is directly tied to the health of this parish 

and of this northern part of our Archdiocese.

This helps explain why our area generates more vocations,

as the example of genuine fatherhood inspires more spiritual fathers.  

The readings highlight how great things 

can come from small, even discouraging, beginnings. 

The devil wants to discourage us and panic us;

Not just about changes in our parishes, but in our society as a whole.

Jesus calls us to keep calm and keep confident in his leadership,

no matter what else is happening.

This Friday, I invite all men of all ages, from 1 day old to 100 years old, 

to participate in our annual prayer walk. 

We’ll meet between 5-5:30 pm in the main parking lot.

This year we’ll car-pool out to Loramie-Washington Road,

So we’ll be glad for as many vans and big cars as possible.

As before, our walk will be all about praying for our community.

Our task as men is to guard and guide, including spiritually.

Over time, we will complete a circuit all around the parish.

We’ll have rides for those who can’t walk the route.

Then we’ll share fellowship afterward.

It’ll be hot; it’ll be tiring, and you may be tempted to think, 

what good does this do? 

All I can say is that we will be faithful and trust Jesus 

to make the seeds of faith grow in this community.

That is what you and I are called to do.


rcg said...

Good luck on the prayer walk. That is a great tradition. The obvious conclusion to your story is that Priestly fathers come from regular fathers who love their sons. The shortage is so critical, so serious. God help us help ourselves.

Doug said...

This is very troubling. In the business world, we see it all the time – businesses cut their hours, limit their offerings, close locations, and generally cut back in the interest of “tightening our belts”. Ultimately, it leads to more closings, less hours, and eventually the closing of the business altogether. Is this where we’re heading with the Church?

We hear about the shortage of Priests all the time. But, we also see holy priests being chastised by their bishops. Church Militant reports that there may be hundreds of sidelined or cancelled priests. When good and holy men see this happening in the Church, why would they be rushing to put themselves in this situation? And if this is prevalent, how many other priests are watering down their message in fear of similar action?

Instead of placing retired priests in a retirement home somewhere, it seems that placing the older members of the priesthood into parishes where they may not be able to be pastors, but can certainly be helpers, makes a lot of sense. Especially to the younger “newer” priests who may need a wise sage for advice and guidance.

While Russia may be an exception in attendance and reverence, it seems that the Archbishop should be camping out here to learn what is being done that can be expanded and encouraged throughout the archdiocese. Perhaps that is happening, but it isn’t visible or apparent. Just maybe the weekly traditional Latin Mass, Ad Orientum liturgies, Eucharistic Adoration, the Catholic Kid’s clubs, the family atmosphere, the participation, etc., etc. are actually making a difference?!
And while we’re at it, maybe the parishes should be offering MORE instead of less. What Catholics are looking for is to have their spiritual needs met. Maybe the schedule isn’t meeting the needs of the congregations. I think back to the Covid situation, and we actually had the Archbishop and Priests closing churches and prohibiting sacraments from their people. In fact, they actually told their congregations to STAY HOME for Christmas Masses!!! Now, they are lamenting the fact that attendance is down and the folks aren’t coming back.

What exactly did they think was going to happen?

We are encouraged to pray for this situation, and that will help. But as they say, “Don’t lean on a shovel and pray for a hole.” What we need is action. Is the Archbishop interested in our point of view?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I appreciate your comments, let me offer the following:

- Exactly *no one* is "placing retired priests in a retirement home somewhere" instead of letting them help in parishes. Our retired priests are being very generous in helping and they are certainly welcome and encouraged to do so. I can't imagine what you suppose is being left undone in that regard. Retired priests often live in parishes if they wish; however, a lot of rectories are not well suited for retired priests. This is true at St. Remy: the bedrooms are on the second floor, requiring a retired priest to climb stairs every day. In any case, if we spent many thousands of dollars to remodel our rectory to solve this problem, it's hard to see how much more a retired priest could be doing for us than they are not doing. So I'm not really seeing your point here.

- I can't really say much about the stories of priests in conflict with their bishops, because I don't know the facts in these cases. I do know from human experience that there are two sides to every story; and I know priests have been in conflict with bishops from the first century. If men who are thinking about priests expect not to have bad or weak bishops, they are being unreasonable and shouldn't enter the priesthood.

- It is factually not true in this Archdiocese that the archbishop was "prohibiting sacraments." The only thing the Archbishop did was cooperate with the governor's request that Masses not involve large numbers in attendence. Masses continued to be offered every single day; confessions continued to be available, as were baptisms and anointings. You can fault the Archbishop for that, however, I would point out Saint Charles Borromeo did the exact same thing in his time when plague struck.

- The problems of Mass attendance in the Archdiocese and the country long predate Covid. Several years ago -- pre-Covid -- I raised this very point in a homily, pointing out that Sunday Mass attendance represented approximately half the total Catholics in this parish.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Oh, one more thing: I can't speak for Archbishop Schnurr, but I encourage you to share your point of view with him.

Doug said...

Fr. I think we are remembering things differently. It's important to be truthful. In mid-late March 2020, public Masses certainly did stop at St Remy (and pretty much every where else) and the faithful were prohibited from attending in person. You held daily Mass in your house without anyone permitted to attend. This continued through the end of May 2020. Yes, the Archbishop bowed to the government and put the souls of his flock in jeopardy. Arguments could be made about their physical jeopardy, but their souls were definitely at risk during this time.

I know that St Remy continued to offer confessions, baptisms, and annoitings and the church was open for prayer. I appreciate this very much! However, this was not the case in every parish and every diocese.

But getting back to the original post - I can't think of a faster way to discourage attendance and participation and vocations than messing with the offerings of the parishes that do contribute vocations, have a healthy congregation, and holy priests.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I think you and I are using terms differently. Not being able to attend Mass does not mean "prohibiting" sacraments to me. I'm not saying it was a good thing to be unable to attend Mass; and everyone is welcome to think as he likes about whether the decision was the right one.

Remember, quite apart from Covid and the 2020 lockdown, there were and are and always will be members of the faithful who cannot physically attend Mass. Again, I"m not saying attendance isn't important -- obviously it is! -- but at the same time, let's not overstate things and suggest that unless you are physically present, the power of the Mass isn't still substantial and important for all, whether they are present or not.

Also, as important and powerful as it is to receive the Holy Eucharist, the power and grace of the Mass is not limited to the reception of Holy Communion. The Mass is of infinite power, and this power is at work for the whole world, apart from whether anyone other than the priest who offers the sacrifice receives the Body and Blood.

This is an important point on which to be clear for four reasons: first, because otherwise, people who aren't properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, are encouraged to receive anyway, because they think, oh the Mass doesn't mean anything to me otherwise; second, because it unintentionally distorts and thereby diminishes the sacrificial reality of the Mass; and third, because it discourages people who cannot receive the Eucharist from even coming to Mass -- they say, "what's the point if I can't take Holy Communion?"

And, finally, it leads people to think that unless they are physically present at Mass, the Mass isn't meaningful, which has bad implications quite apart from the 2020 shutdown.

I'm not saying you are advocating these positions; I'm saying, these are reasons to be precise, and that's why I don't consider not allowing public attendance at Mass to be "prohibiting sacraments."

No doubt you are right that in many places, priests didn't do enough to offer confessions, baptisms, anointings and bringing Holy Communion to people. To be fair, at least in this diocese, the Archbishop absolutely did not tell his priests to refuse to do these things. He did not tell us to prevent the faithful from entering churches for prayer. All his efforts -- right or wrong -- were aimed at preventing crowds.

I cannot read any priest's soul. Some priests, I suspect, were reluctant to expose themselves to Covid and for that reason were more remote; and many certainly have underlying health issues that changed their personal calculation. For my part, I took quite a lot of precautions, but I also made the calculation (perhaps erroneous, I may never know) that if I got Covid, I would survive. And if I died while bringing the sacraments to people, that's the best way to go!