St Simon's Parish Blog

Welcome to the Blog of St Simon Stock Catholic Church, South Ashford, Kent, UK. Our address is: Brookfield Road Ashford Kent TN23 4EU

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For nine years up till July 2010, I was parish priest at St Simon Stock Catholic Church, South Ashford, Kent, England. From July 2010 until June 2011 I was Associate Pastor at St Peter's Cathedral, Marquette, Michigan USA and then Pastor at St Anthony Parish, Gwinn, MI until October 2013. I then transferred to the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon to serve as Director of the Tribunal. And that's what I am currently doing. Since February 2015 I have also been serving as Pastor at St Stephen Parish, South East Portland. I miss "da UP" (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) but love being here in the Pacific North West.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Britain's Dark Night of the Soul

We had an unusually high attendance last Sunday. Other priests I have spoken to have said they had the same experience. Why was this? Parishioners might be interested to read an article from Zenit which shows that Church attendance amongst Catholics has declined significantly, with plummeting numbers of marriages and confirmations.

For the period 1998-2005, 1/2 million people stopped going to Church in England. Numbers of Catholics attending Church declined by one third.

Over a three decade period, numbers at Mass dropped by 40%, baptisms halved, and marriages and confirmations fell by 60%. First communions declined by 40%, adult converts fell by 55%.

Comments - and possible solutions - would be welcome and interesting. Read it here.


Blogger Diane said...

I was born in 1962 and had become a "lapsed Catholic in the pew". In other words, I was coming to Mass, but wasn't really there. This was happening over a 20 year period and over time it was getting to the point that I nearly completely lost my faith, and belief in God.

Then, Pope John Paul II was dying and he got my attention. Cardinal Ratzinger got my attention more as I opened up the paper, turned on the TV and the radio and could not escape the words, "Dictatorship of Relativism". I didn't even know what it meant. I began to study it and as I did, my gut started to turn when I realized I was participating in it.

After Benedict was elected Pope, I began to reflect and realized that my current lifetime parish just was not challenging me. Several things led me to Assumption Grotto parish in Detroit, which is highly orthodox and traditional - in its Latin Novus Ordo, and in the culture. At first I wanted to run the other way, but something nagged at me to stay and explore. It seemed too old fashioned. As I suspended judgment and prayed, good things happened.

The culture values confession and many people go weekly. As I came to the 9:30 Latin Novus Ordo, I saw three confessionals running with long lines of people. It was inviting. I found solid Catholic counsel, not wishy-washy, worry-about-my-self-esteem advice.

As I kept going back, the homilies were riveting. I never heard sermons like that. They talked about things I never heard a priest talk about it, and it only brought me back for more. Their words were making me dig deep - something God was asking of me.

I've been there since Pentecost of 2005 and am very active there now. I run a blog about the place. It helped even more when I attended the pastor's catechism class last year for adults. He taught it personally and it was no fluff, but the real deal. He answered many tough questions without hesitation. 25 people attended - mostly parishioners like me wanting to get catechized after "my butterfly and me" catechesis failed.

In this witness I write here, are the secrets which unlock the mystery. Preach the full faith. Teach the full faith. The bishops must do this in the media. Some will blow it off, but others just waiting for guidance will respond.

12:06 pm  
Blogger Fr John Boyle said...

Gosh, Diane, thanks for your powerful witness - the first comment on this new blog. Please pray for us here - long lines for confession are something I can only dream about and pray earnestly for. I think we have a long way to go in this country. On the few occasions I have visited the US I have seen great signs of revival amongst Catholics along the lines you have written about. I shall add your blog to my recommendeds on my other blog - South Ashford Priest. I was in Michigan in January for the episcopal ordination of Bishop Alexander Sample - with whom I studied Canon Law. A Detroit priest - Fr Ron Browne - was also in my class and at the ordination.

12:30 pm  
Blogger 1dayin7 said...

I wonder if she copies and pastes the whole essay onto every Catholic blog she visits?

I will at least try to mention what you posted: what problem? Since when has there been a commandment to have good statistics?

2:33 pm  
Blogger Fr John Boyle said...

Well, I wouldn't like to comment on your first paragraph.

As regards stats, I think falling numbers in a country that once was Christian is a sign of many things: secularisation, failure to give coherent witness, lack of rational explanation of the truths of the Catholic faith that convince, silence on the part of confirmed Catholics... I don't think we can confidently say it's generally a case of Jn 6:66, people finding the Gospel too hard to accept, although this is certainly true. But so many parishes/movements report that when there's a convincing and confident presentation of the faith, people are moved, challenged, and converted. Pope Benedict is building on the great foundations of Pope John Paul and addressing reason. Can we simply say that decline is part of the Holy Spirit's plan for the current moment of history? Or should we examine the causes and see if something needs to be done?

2:43 pm  
Blogger Diane said...

I wonder if she copies and pastes the whole essay onto every Catholic blog she visits?

Nah, I just repeat the story whenever someone wants to know why the pews are empty. When you can see it within yourself, and how close you came, then examine deeply the many things you could different, and what could have helped at the pastoral level - you share it often. But....never copied and pasted. I've had that happen in my own blog and I don't care for cookie cutter responses.

Thanks for the kind words Fr. Boyle. I see many signs for hope. I am in a very traditional/orthodox Catholic parish - in full communion with Rome. Some ask, especially when they see the Novus Ordo is celebrated Ad Orientem. I didn't know the difference between the old and new Mass when I got there, but soon learned. Father took his time and catechized the parish regarding the changes and then told them one day they would see him facing the high wall altar. That was some 5 years ago from what I recall.

But, it is the more orthodox parishes that I notice how stimulating and blunt the homilies are. I almost fell out of the pew the second or third Sunday I visited because the priest actually mentioned abortion, pre-marital sex and a few other things I've not heard spoken from the pulpit. In fact, my jaw must have been to the floor the next few months as I heard things like sin, justice, mortification or training of the will/dying to self - all balanced with a good dose of love, joy, peace, and the things I had heard almost exclusively all of my life. I began to understand that the banality of sermons - the lack of challenge - in part, contributed to my getting bored with it all. The cure was just teaching us the fullness of the faith - all of the parts - the easy and comforting parts, along with the hard and discomforting parts.

My belief, after spending time in reflection, is that confession is the time where a priest can harvest the fruits of his labor - his sermon. He can see how the people are applying what he is teaching. When priests don't talk about sin - I mean mortal and venial, and imperfections - and learning to tame the will - then there is simply nothing to work on. But, when they do speak about these things, and then avail themselves for confession prior to each Mass, where possible - some will slowly respond. From there, it begins to catch on.

The only other time I've seen this kind of thing happen is when a really good retreat master gets people to dig deep down and then the flood gates open and people see a need for confession. I wondered why a parish mission or retreat was the only time such things were heard. It should be that way each Sunday. This is why I go - to be challenged.

But, my catechesis was all messed up too. Lucky for me that the priests at my parish often cite the Catechism and compendium, as well as the Church Fathers, encyclicals and more.

As I told Fr. Perrone when I first met him in his office for a real confession: "Please don't tell me that Jesus loves me - I already know that - I've been told that for 40 years. I need you teach me how to love Him back - challenge me to sanctity!"

It was his bulletin column on the Fallacy of the Middle Ground which prompted me to seek him out for confession before I even knew him. He cast a net of admonition - and caught me right on the internet where I had stumbled on his website. What a grace that his parish was only 12 minutes away!

1:08 am  

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