The third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete Sunday, exhorting Christians to be joyful. Priests in rose colored vestments celebrated the Mass in churches throughout the world yesterday. The scriptures and prayers of the day are all about rejoicing - Christmas is less than two weeks away.
But there is a dark side, too, a foreshadowing of things to come in the Gospel according to John. In his Reflections on the Readings, published in the bulletin at Our Lady of Peace in Manhattan, Father Bartholomew Daly wrote:
"The mood is different there. Though it is John that is challenged by the authorities, we start to sense that the threat that will follow Jesus to the Cross begins to shadow him even before he’s known. On this joyous day, it’s possible to look out and see the shadow of the Cross stretching all the way back to Bethlehem. Why consider that today? "
There is pessimism throughout the Archdiocese of New York as the Reid Group, consultants to Cardinal Dolan, begins the implementation of their merger/acquisitions: 110 parishes into 55 new parishes, with some churches chosen to be closed by August. Those churches were notified by a letter dated November 2 from Timothy Cardinal Dolan. But others received notice weeks after that date, including St. Thomas More in Manhattan. According to an article published yesterday in the New York Times, it appears that there are 31 new parishes that will be merged, and half of those will be closed by the target date of August 2015, bringing the number closer to one-third the total parishes in the archdiocese.
This weekend emails were sent to all affected parishes and a memo dated December 11 from the Archdiocese Office of Strategic planning was posted on their website under the section, Making All Things New, Implementation.
Item number 7 in the memo states:
For parishes that will be merging next August, this will be your last Advent and Christmas season in your current parish community.
The Reid Group plans to reconvene the parish core and cluster groups to play a role in the implementation process: They will be counseled and trained on how to deal with change, particularly resistance to change. These are the same 4 individuals who met in clusters of 4 to 6 parishes for several months to discuss ways that they could improve their parishes and work together to form more "vibrant" parishes. In many cases the clusters voted to collaborate on such things as worship schedules, priests, and other programs.
Many who trusted in the process were disillusioned when they found that their "best thinking" didn't get them the result the Reid Group wanted - consolidation. Out of every cluster, the goal was always to merge and close at least one parish in each cluster, yielding a reduction of 25 to 30 percent of the parishes in the archdiocese. [For more in-depth analysis about this process, read the series of blog posts Revelation 21 in the category Making All Things New.]
The Archdiocesan Advisory Group, those 40 religious and lay persons who came up with preliminary recommendations for the Cardinal in the Making All Things New process, will be back as the Implementation Advisory Group, offering what the Reid Group calls their "best thinking" in the next phase of the process.
There is however, an inconvenient truth that the Reid Group ignores: There are many parishes that appealed to Cardinal Dolan for reconsideration and never received an answer.
Many of these are ethnic parishes with administrators, many are financially solvent and fiscally responsible communities being merged with debt ridden parishes, and many of these churches sit on valuable or prime real estate. One, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, is a parish with masses hand-signed for the deaf; many have elderly parishioners who cannot walk another half mile to another church.
There are former Making All Things New core members who now have a conflict of interest as they strategize with their Save Our Church committee. There are canon lawyers standing ready to file appeals to the Congregation for the Clergy. It is inevitable that many will strive to keep their parishes and churches independent, despite the Reid Group's "best thinking" and implementation plans. They will not go gentle into that good night.