Two years ago I took AMTRAK back to Tampa from the Fall General Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and during that trip I wrote my first entry on my new blog site. You know the rest of the story. Well, this evening I am on the “SILVER METEOR” which is neither silver nor meteoric in its speed. As a matter of fact, we are this moment stopped at the station serving Richmond, Virginia. But it is a very restful way to ease back into diocesan life and gives me ample opportunity to reflect on the week that was.
Our agenda this week was light and there were no good arguments which serve to liven up the long sessions of presentations and listening. My vote for the new President of the Conference was in vain as my Vice-Presidential preference leap-frogged my Presidential preference.
Tonight, however, my mind seems intent on focusing on whether or not we did anything helpful for the priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the St. Petersburg diocese and my instinct says not really. We seem, to my mind, these days to spend a lot of time “navel-gazing” – talking about budgets and assessments, etc., at least in the public sessions. The Executive Sessions did address issues of greater concern to pastoral ministry but I respect the confidential nature of those discussions.
I have been thinking a lot about the number of people who are leaving the Church and the possible reasons for this. I am thinking about the sacrament of marriage which is under challenge from several directions such as its very definition which we do talk about but today there were results announced of a recent Pew Research Study which found that 39% of adults surveyed said that “marriage is becoming obsolete,” that couples that do get married do so later in life (28.6 for men and 26.1 for women) and therefore, no surprise 44% of adults lived together before marriage among whom 64% said they considered it a step towards marriage. While we have expressed strong support for the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, I don’t think we have ever pastorally addressed what every priest in my diocese knows, couples are not coming to the Church to get married in significant numbers or at least the same numbers.
Then I think about my task of being a leader to my priests. There is theologically one priesthood in the Diocese of St. Petersburg but there are at least three different categories of priests: those sixty and above who see the end in sight, those forty-five through sixty who sometimes dread the way in which they see the priesthood and Church in the U.S. going, and the younger priests filled with enthusiasm who seem to say that we are not adapting quickly enough to what is needed, sometimes what was a part and parcel of the past but which fell into some disuse following the Second Vatican Council which for them is largely a historical moment as Trent is for me.
Then there are the youth. I had lunch with two young students of Loyola Baltimore during my stay this week and their love for their faith and the amount of time they give to sharing it with their peers is just this side of incredible – a sign of hope in an ocean of disconnect for many their age.
These are some of the pastoral challenges which it would help for me to spend time on and perhaps at some moment they will be resolved. Until then I can only listen and lead. Arriving in Petersburg, Virginia, the porter wants to put my bed down for me (so he can go to bed himself I suspect for a precious few hours). It’s a cold night in southern Virginia but tomorrow morning I will wake up in Florida warmth and so will my hope and love for the Church.