The historic major changes that have taken place in our diocese and been officially announced recently have made me once more reflect on the meaning of “church.”
Due to times of economic difficulty, a shrinking diocesan population, and fewer clergy, down-sizing on a large scale has come to our diocese. It has manifested itself in the closing and/or merging of about 50 parishes. There is, of course, emotional backlash from long-standing parishioners who’ve seen a particular church that has served their family for generations suddenly closed for good and probably later demolished. I can’t say I’m totally immune from those feelings. The parish our family has belonged to for 40 years was not that old when we joined it. So, we have no previous history with it.Even now, we spread our attendance around so much that only occasionally are we at our own parish. Thus the attachment there is one of proximity and convenience more than anything else. It will be merging with two other parishes to form one new one.
But the parish I grew up in, now almost 100 years old, to which I have not been actively connected for 40 years, has been closed. This tugs at my heartstrings. This is the parish in which my mom and dad were married, where my brother and I were raised and went to school; where we were baptized and received our first communion and confirmation. It was the church we attended every Sunday and the church from which our mom and dad were buried. It was the church where I served Mass and where my aunt took instructions and was baptized. It’s a huge, beautiful basilica-type edifice full of marble and stained-glass. It was modeled after a famous cathedral in Palermo, Sicily; and now it will be gone – just like that!
Somehow I can’t see You being as sentimental about it as I am. And that’s the point. Church most certainly is people, not a building. When or wherever we gather together in Your name is church. So the moaning and crying over the closings is really an outcry against habit, comfort, and history that has been “violated.”
Our lives, most basically, are about our relationship with God, and, while it helps, we don’t even need a church for that. If anything it offers us a chance to exert more effort in pursuing our relationship with You. One other major concern is that the programs of good works established by specific ministries in certain parishes will be lost in the shuffle. I don’t think this will happen despite the loss of certain familiar location.All of this best serves to remind us that WE are church!