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A Pastor’s Letter for Our Times

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Cathedral Family and friends,

[O]ur Holy Father’s teaching during his visit to Germany…. [concerned] the weakening of the Faith there and the fact that only 31% of his own country considered themselves Catholic. His words tell the reason why. “God is increasingly being driven out of our society… Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith?”

As a senior priest and pastor I share his concern that we are losing our sense of identity as Catholics. For many, being Catholic means “Catholic lite”, just another adjective we use about ourselves like our political party or nationality, that surfaces now and then when needed or convenient, but hardly the core of our daily life and personality.

Allow me to mention a few examples. Then let me offer some suggestions that both you and I can follow to light the fire anew if it is flickering.

Just recently we had our annual Eucharistic Sunday. Even though we had information in the bulletin, on our website, a school broadcast to the homes of all our students, a homily or two mentioning it, response was not significant: some loyal members of the Cathedral Women’s Council were here, a few school families with their children, in all, hardly more than ten or fifteen worshippers at any one of the five hours the Blessed Sacrament was honored.

In years past, we had three whole days of Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament! When I was young, FORTY HOURS was a highpoint in our year in the parish. Four altar servers were assigned to every half hour in church. Moms and Dads would send the children to church right after supper to save seats for them so they could attend the evening devotions. I can’t imagine that today. As a seminarian at Gannon, we often attended the novena devotions at St. Patrick’s that were so crowded, that services were repeated twice each Monday evening. That was then, but would Catholics attend in those numbers now? And at night??

There was a time when a Catholic person would never pass a church without going in to make a “visit”. Everyone had a medal or scapular on. Men always had a Rosary in their pocket, every Catholic woman had one in her purse. And they were used for prayer, not around our necks for good luck. Week nights we gathered around the radio to pray the Family Rosary broadcast from St. Mark’s Seminary. (Little did I realize that I would be staffing that same program as a seminarian there a few years later.) Meatless Fridays distinguished us from others.

After decades of religious bigotry, we lived our Catholic lives proudly and openly. People knew who the Catholics were. And WE knew who and what we were! Proudly, too.

Today, Sunday is fast becoming just another day. Family worship at Mass, the family Sunday dinner and all the special touches that made the Lord’s Day holy are almost foreign to us. We find Catholics slipping in to the shortest Saturday evening Mass, so they can have Sunday for themselves. Or even more frequently, families lose their parish identity by going anywhere Mass is convenient and over in the shortest time. Just to get it in!

Every Sunday, as I read the paper, I find it discouraging as a pastor to read the wedding page and see young men and women from traditional Catholic families being married at the beach, or at a hotel or resort, in non-Catholic church. I read obituaries of Catholics burying their departed without a prayer or without a Mass of Christian Burial. What is happening? Have we become THAT secularized that our most significant moments in life do not need the Lord?

Are we forfeiting our sense of being truly Catholic by shopping at the malls or stores on Sunday? Do sports dominate our weekends? Do we lose ourselves among the several million others, watching what was once a game for high school kids that has become desperately important, and those who play it skillfully get paid forty more times than the President of the United States? We protect ourselves with busy-ness, grooming and security- blanket electronics. The media have made the trivial important, and the important things of life, trivial. But, are we more at peace with ourselves, secure in our relationships, content with those we love, at home in the world? Are we numb from entertaining ourselves?

So what can we do? Well, think deeply and pray deeply to truly BE WHO WE ARE! Recently the bishops of England and Wales have reintroduced obligatory meatless Fridays. Do we need such external reminders to shape us up again? Perhaps. But, if we really trace our worldliness and restlessness, our fascination with things of sense, down to their roots, maybe we will rightly conclude that only GOD can satisfy us. The revisions in our worship at Mass can call us to think and pray more deeply in our worship. We could be on the edge of new discovery of our life with God IF we get beyond the words, to the MYSTERY OF FAITH.

God is calling us, now, and every day of our lives, to conclude that Jesus was right when he said: “Without me, you can do nothing.” Everything YOU and I can do to lead others to prayer and worship, whether toddlers or senior citizens, is strengthening us all as the Church. So, don’t be too busy to seek out the sacred, to talk about it and use the printed word, the Internet and all the means we have today to discover and share God’s life and love.

With Him, all things are possible. The truth of Christ is ours to embrace and live. We need to invite others to “Come Home” to the Church, but we have to know our way around our Home as well! We are Catholic: convicted, dedicated and alive with the Spirit. It is our LIFE! Let’s not give our life and treasure away to dedicate our energy and time to what is not eternal!

Peace to you, and blessings,
Msgr. William E. Biebel, Rector, St. Peter Cathedral, Erie

[Catholic Lane would like to thank Greg Schlueter for bringing this article to our attention and arranging for us to reprint it. Monsignor Biebel is a pastoral adviser to Greg's family apostolate Image Trinity. Please visit the Image Trinity website for more information.]


Msgr. William Biebel is the rector of St. Peter Cathedral in Erie, Pennsylvania.
  • prayingforthechurch

    Great to read your insights. Many polls of Catholics have indicated that majorities of Catholics conduct their lives disregarding or defying (or not learning)the teachings of their Catholic faith on serious matters related to respecting life, marriage, reception of the Sacraments, and other moral and ethical areas. Please pray a Prayer for Catholics in Need of Greater Conversion – Bless, O Lord, all Catholics who attend Mass (and those who do not) especially on weekends and are in a state of mortal sin. You know and love them. Please be gentle in convicting them of their sins and convert their hearts before it is too late. Give them the courage to confess their sins and receive absolution before it is too late. Help them to enter a confessional and say: BLESS ME FATHER FOR I HAVE SINNED, I really need your help to make a good confession because it has been ___ years since my last confession. (LIFE IS SHORT; ETERNITY IS FOREVER. NONE OF US KNOWS WHEN OUR TIME HERE IS ABOUT TO END. BE NOT AFRAID. ASK FOR THE HELP OF JESUS AND MARY.)