We had a wonderful Renew My Church parish town hall last Sunday in which we discussed the challenges that the Catholic Church faces in the United States, Chicago, and here in Bucktown. We presented the particular strengths and challenges of our parish, and of the parishes in our grouping. You will note how St. Mary of the Angels has been proactive in trying to address these challenges (you can see the recording of this town hall on our St. Mary of the Angels church YouTube channel or use the direct link: https://youtu.be/JuSMCfIpAZ8).
One concern that arose and that we must face is the lack of trust: a lack of trust in God, in Christ’s vicars on earth—the Pope and bishops—the lack of trust in the Archdiocese, or in our parish leadership… Some fear that the outcome is already pre-determined and that it will only make our faith life worse off and cause much anger among the faithful. Let’s acknowledge our fears and the difficulty we have in trusting. But we can only have hope in the Resurrection if we have supernatural faith and trust.
Let’s admit it: any potential change makes us uneasy. We want to control our fate and we fear the suffering that goes along with change. Let’s not be surprised at this, as the same was true for the People of Israel when Moses was sent to free them from their abusive slavery in Egypt. To leave Egypt and enter the freedom of the Promised Land, the people had to change.
After Moses had worked many miraculous signs, instead of letting the people go, Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters to increase the people’s workload. The people complained: “you have made us offensive in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:1-21)… It was as if they were saying: “Moses, can’t you just leave things alone, you are only making things worse.” The people mistrusted Moses and God.
This lack of trust continued after Pharaoh did let them go, but he then pursued them to the edge of the Red Sea. The people fear being slain by Pharaoh’s army until God finally parted the seas and the people crossed over on dry ground (cf. Exodus 14:10-13). In the desert they complained against Moses for not enough water, then for lack of food, and lack of meat… (cf. Exodus 15; 16; 17). The people even rebelled against Moses and made a molten calf to worship in the place of God (cf. Exodus 32). Finally, as they approached the Promised Land, the people feared that the people living in the “land of milk and honey” were stronger people—“giants”—who would devour them if they tried to enter that land (cf. Numbers 13).
God kept faithful to his promises, forgiving the people each time they rebelled due to their lack of trust. But God let them wander in the desert for forty years to die before their children could enter the Promised Land. St. Paul used this to remind Jewish Christians not to turn back:
[God said:] “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God… For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” … Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? (Hebrews 3:11-17).
We too can fear the future for our parish, our community, our country, etc.; we too can refuse to put our trust in God and his vicars over us (Moses); or we can trust that God will bring us into a better place where we will flourish and multiply. But if we don’t trust God and his vicars, then we will end up trusting only in ourselves, which is much scarier.
Here at St. Mary of the Angels we have been praying for this process for over five years, and more intensely over the last two. We have nothing to fear. This is Our Lady’s parish—church and school—and she will make sure it goes down the right path.
Yours In Christ,
Fr. John R. Waiss