Things fall apart, but...

Sotto Voce over at Clerical Whispers posted a piece on Joseph Kurtz, the new archbishop of Louisville. The story of the statistics cited for this Kentucky archdiocese is disheartening:
When Joseph E. Kurtz takes over as archbishop of Louisville on Wednesday, he'll face the challenge of finding more people wanting to take up the priesthood.

Kurtz is stepping into an archdiocese that, for the second time in two years, has ordained no priests.

For the last 10 years, the archdiocese has ordained an average of less than two priests per year, even though the Catholic population has grown 7%.

The archdiocese has 88 active (full-time) priests, roughly one-third the number in 1970. And the average age of all priests -- including retirees, some of whom continue to work part-time -- is 63.

The archdiocese has merged 17 parishes and told dozens of others to share priests because of those numbers and population shifts.

As bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville since 1999, Kurtz has garnered a reputation for recruiting a relatively high percentage of priests for that diocese's Catholic population.

The diocese, one-quarter the size of Louisville's, has ordained about 10 priests in the last four years.
While the numbers here are probably reflective of the relative Catholic population in the area, the situation repeats itself all over the US and in other parts of the world as well.

Catholic parish life as we knew it earlier in our own lifetime will likely never be the same again - and much of that reality is not necessarily bad. Still, if Sunday Eucharist is to remain the heart church life for us then some very important questions must be opened for discussion: mandatory celibacy; the ordination of women; and the return of priests who have left, married and still believe themselves called to active ministry. (
A poll to accompany this post can be found on the sidebar.)

In article in the August 12 New York Times, Things Fall Apart, but Some Big Old Things Don't, Matthew L. Wald compares the collapse of the 40 year old I-35W bridge in Minnesota with the Brooklyn Bridge which has been in service since 1883. Some big old things were more solidly built and last longer. I couldn't read this article without thinking about the big old thing we love and call the Church. Like all analogies this one limps but it's not without its interesting points of reference:

A 40-year-old bridge in Minnesota collapses... Makes one wonder: Is the country relying too much on decaying infrastructure, the capital investments of generations long gone? Maybe, but there is a good reason why big old things — pipes and bridges, nuclear reactors and even spaceships — stick around. In many ways, they are like your grandmother’s dining room set: big, bulky and hard to remove. And in a lot of ways, it makes more sense to keep the old stuff than replace it with something from Ikea... Generally, the bigger an object, the longer it survives, because it has economic value, and has usually become intricately connected to things around it. Replacing the Brooklyn Bridge, in service since 1883, would mean years of disruption, and the possible replacement of all roads that lead to it... In many ways, big old things are also more dependable... models that have already had the bugs worked out of them. Of course, there are several prerequisites for big old things to attain eternal life. One is knowing what you’ve got... Eternal life also requires that big old things survive changes in the surrounding environment. Anything that sits around long enough will experience earthquakes, which weaken foundations... Of course, not all big old things will survive...
As I said, all analogies limp - and I'm not suggesting that the big old thing we call the Church may not survive. I believe it will and I trust that with the help of God's Spirit we will weather whatever comes our way. Still it makes one wonder: do we sometimes depend on a decaying infrastructure no longer capable of supporting the weight of today's traffic? how do we decide what we need to keep from grandma's dining room set and what we need to build anew? what things are intricately connected to the big old thing deserving of preservation? what things can be let go of? what roads leading to and from the Church must be kept open? what new roads need to be built? what bugs have 2,000 years of experience worked out? what bugs still remain? do we really understand "what we've got" or are we fascinated by an image, a memory what what we wish we had? what must we do, with the Spirit's help, to survive what has weakened us and build on what strengthens us?

Big questions - deserving of our open minds and hearts.

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