Russell Shorto's New York Times Magazine cover story, "Keeping the Faith" explores Pope Benedict XVI's belief that that "the Catholic Church in Europe faces a dire threat in secularism and that re-Christianizing the Continent [Europe] is critical not only to the fate of the church but to the fate of Europe itself."
The article is long, informative and addresses complex issues, but the following paragraph leapt out at me because it described experiences that I've had close to home. The article contrasts a poorly attended Mass at with a well- attended lay service, both in Rome. The author shares the following analysis:
"The secret of the lay movements, Pecklers, the liturgical history professor, says, is that “they have a language that reaches people. Look at the average European parish, where there aren’t many people in church for Mass. They don’t know one another, the priest comes out of the sacristy and begins Mass. There’s no contact between the priest and the people. The homily may be quite abstract. What would attract a young Italian or Spaniard to go to church, except obligation? The individual is not being nourished. That’s why you find people shopping around.”
The "average European parish" described above is very similar to parishes that I have visited in the U.S, some in the Archdiocese of New York. My experience of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Our Lady of Vilnius was the exact opposite. The churches are small and the congregations small enough to encourage community and discipleship among parishioners. When I sang Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" and looked down from the loft of St. Stanislaus Kostka at the parishioners, all personally known to me, I felt a sense of participating with them in the Mystical Body of Christ. When I went down the steps to the basement dancehall of Our Lady of Vilnius for Mass I enjoyed the feeling of belonging to a community of believers much like the early Christians. Father Eugene's homilies reminded us of the mysterious presence of God in our daily lives and underscored our basic value as God's creations. He reminded us to take care of ourselves and each other in a world too often focused on externals.
The Archdiocese of New York has closed parishes that provide the very nourishment that is key to maintaining the vitality of the Church. Who is going to protect the archdiocese from the threat of secularism?