When we look at the Church in the present world, there is little to suggest the coming storm. Things are still moving the way they have been in living memory. While certain aspects of the Church have been diminished, what we see today is still recognizable.
But I think that when our new Bishop comes, he will be faced with a need to make major changes in the Church of our Diocese. Here is why:
Parishes can no longer afford the high price of utilities, insurance, salaries, etc. We have smaller congregations and bigger bills. All parishioners are strained to the maximum degree. Things that could be done fairly easily in the past are getting too expensive. The only saving grace might be leasing buildings. But even that may be a temporary solution.
All of this has been exacerbated by the Pandemic. We are facing the greatest health crisis in recent memory, which has economic, cultural and psychological repercussions. We are all in a low-grade depression that effects the Churches in a special way (e.g. not being able to visit sick parishioners!).
Then the Church has a lot of lawsuits coming our way due to the relaxing of the statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse by priests and other Church workers. The Diocese of Rockville Centre has already declared bankruptcy.
If that was not enough, we have been suffering a long-standing vocation crisis, severely limiting the number of new priests and religious to help carry the load.
Seems bleak, right?
Yet, I have a lot of hope for the future. You might think me mad! But the Church has been through worse times and we have it from the Lord that the gates of hell will not prevail against us (Matt. 16:18).
Things may radically change, but maybe they should. Of course, how things will change is not revealed to us at this time. But often hardship shakes things up and people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, see it possible to do what in calmer times seemed impossible. Someone once said: Never waste a crisis!
We are a big Church (1½ Billion People). There are many different developing scenarios. The Church in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. The largest seminaries in the world are in Africa. The Church in Asia and Latin America is also growing fast. So, what is occurring here in the United States is only part of the story. We would be very (if you excuse the pun) parochial if we thought that our experience was the world’s experience.
What is happening here and in Western Europe is very alarming. But the roots of our Faith run deep. Western Culture is a Christian Culture even if it is going atheistic. So, look for a radical turn around here in this very Christian (though Protestant by majority) country.
Maybe not in my lifetime, but I would predict that the future Church will be stronger, purer, and more influential than it has ever been provided we learn from the mistakes of the past, which we must do in all candor and frankness.
The catch is that it might be a smaller Church, certainly more fervent and hopefully more prophetic in the wider culture. This means probably that it will be a persecuted Church. And so we return to our origins as when we were a beleaguered Church of Martyrs in the Roman Empire. Except it might be in the Chinese Empire or the Russian Empire or the Muslim Empire or even the American Empire.
The truth is that we do not know what the future holds, but we can trace the basic principles of the rise of Faith and devotion and its corruption. It happens in all our cycles of growth and diminishment.
Doubtless it will be a time of bravery when every Christian must stand on their own two feet and witness to Christ or go the way of betrayal.
Constantine, the Roman Emperor who legalized Christianity and made it acceptable to the wider state, may see the end of his Constantinian Church. Once again, our role will be as a prophet to the culture and not as its defender.
So, put on your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!