I am looking around at parish life in the big city these days, and all I see in the bulletin are listings for new programs. There is one thing that can renew a parish immediately. It doesn’t cost money. It doesn’t require volunteers. And it is a sure fire way to bring miraculous turnarounds and results. The problem is that I can hardly find this one thing in my bulletin, but I can find a ton of programs. We even have a new one coming in. It’s really an old one, but they make it look a new one. As far as I can tell, this new program isn’t that one thing that can actually work.
Off the Shelf Activities Keep Everyone Busy and Broke
It seems that one of the realities characterizing the post-Vatican II period is parish programs. Everyone has to have programs. Your parish must have programs that reach out to married couples. Young adults need programs if they are to mature into well adjusted Catholics. Is your parish ailing? Bring in a new program. It seems like there must be a checklist from the bishop that requires the pastor to check enough boxes. It’s almost as if they judge the health of the parish by the sheer number and overflow of programs it offers! The best parishes have more programs than families!
Similarly, it seems that to the people running the programs, any parishioner’s spiritual health is directly related to the number of programs they attend.
Getting programs running in a parish is so important to the diocese that the diocese offers programs to help parishes implement programs. It’s like prescriptions to the medical industry. There are even the prescription drug giants in the Catholic world: Catholic publishing companies that exist solely to create, sell, distribute, and repackage programs.
It is so bad that one would think Vatican II mandated programs! It’s not anywhere in the Vatican II documents, though, I just checked. Maybe the need for programs came as a directive from the Popes. I can’t find it if it did. Here we are faced with a strange reality. While the Church is silent on the need for programs, their implementation, or their value, it is taken as a foregone conclusion that programming equals a healthy parish.
But none of this activity seems to be focused at that one thing that can work miraculously. And one of these programs just gets under my skin.
Renew Seems To Mean “Become Pagan Again”
Renew is an organization that has been around since the 1980’s in the vast majority of dioceses in the United States. In spite of its widespread adoption, the Renew program has not only failed to produce healthy Catholics in vigorous parishes, it has traded Catholicism for banal new age spiritualism that borders on the occult.
The “Restructurist” reports from Frank Morriss make it seem like its purpose is to make little marxist cells right in the parish. So, it is there to create a parallel church within the church parish. I have it on reliable reports that Renew is mentioned by name in the deliverance prayers of the exorcist manual of one American diocese. If I understand that correctly, being in a deliverance prayer means that it’s so bad that the exorcist prays to deliver people from it — by name!
Apart from the spiritual and organizational subterfuge alleged, it’s not cheap. So you seem to be paying your money to subvert yourself. In spite of the lack of value, Renew continues to repackage its same ineffective, dubious programs, and American dioceses continue to purchase it.
It’s worse: Renew isn’t the only program like this. There is a seemingly endless [rebuilt parish] list [cursillo] of programs [alpha] constantly being pushed on parishes as the solution to all their problems. Just have the parish council approve the expense, and Father can send the money.
They promise to increase Mass attendance, get parishioners more involved, bring back fallen away Catholics, and help save the pastor time. Behind all this, of course, is the tacit promise that bringing in the program will solve the parish’s financial issues. Though the programs are as diverse as the American parish landscape, there is one thing they all have in common.
In my opinion, they don’t work. I think they are making it worse and may well be sending people out the door.
Let that sink in for a moment. For the past fifty years, the Church in America has focused on bringing in programs that don’t work, in spite of the fact that neither the Second Vatican Council nor the Popes have asked for it. As each program fails, a new one pops up to take its place, continuing to promise the same ends, while continuing to charge the parish for promises that they never appear to deliver. Parishes have dwindled while continuing to buy programs that are incapable of solving the underlying problems.
More bandaids. More prescriptions. I’ve heard it said, after taking account for the failure of an expensive program, “If we could just buy a bigger program next time, people will like it, and the pews will be full again.” Your parish dollars may be being spent the same way. To me, and from my opinion, we are paying for our own destroyer.
The Free, Easy To Use, Savior Program For Any Parish (Endorsed By Jesus and His Mother)
These programs don’t work because they all focus on the wrong things. Their means are diverse: small groups, lectionary based catechesis, social media leveraged online learning, pop concerts, big name speakers, self help. [This last link is a very strange “Catch Fire Becoming Flame” program] faith sharing, and new aged paganism, but their ends are always the same. All these things are just an activity, that is to say, an entertainment. Download the app, look at it once or twice, and ask the pastor to go buy the next app because that one was boring. Some people strongly allege that a number of those programs are actual cult programming. Not everything in these lists of programs are objectively bad or unhelpful but they miss the mark. So what is the winner?
There is only one thing that will revitalize a parish: the Sacraments. Any program that claims to fix a parish, no matter how good the suggestions sound, will fail unless it is grounded in the Sacraments. Offering frequent confession (St. John Vianney) is infinitely more valuable than offering faith sharing. A beautiful Mass, in continuity with the Tradition of the Church, will do more than all of the small groups in the world. Providing traditional devotions to bolster the sacramental life of the Church will truly transform a parish in a way that a social media presence will not. No program (Even if you can download the app in the app store) can do what the Sacraments can, because no program can communicate the very life of the Blessed Trinity to us.
How do we stop this crazy train, save our money, and get real parish life back?
This article, Is your parish dollar buying the subversion of Parish Life? is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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