| By Father Joe Krupp

Dear Father Joe: Our diocese is changing a lot and I feel so lost.

It is joining parishes together in clusters and it's hard to deal with all of this. My sister sent me an article that said this is all about the bishop trying to get more money and that only makes it harder for me to deal with.

I feel your heartbreak, and as a priest, I know it well. I have walked with six distinct congregations as they have dealt with this pain; each time, I was the first priest those parishes had to share, and it was tough on everyone. We got through it together and each time, within a year, we found our stride, praise God. Maybe that is the first thing I want to share with you: It’ll be okay. I know that sounds trite, but I type this with great faith and plenty of experience. If nothing else, I hope you find what I type helpful.

Before I get into what I learned in those situations, I invite you to disregard these folks who tell you this is about the bishop “trying to get more money.” As a general rule, these moves don’t help the bishops at all, it hurts them. The moves bishops are making are necessary because there are fewer priests serving the same set of expectations as people developed when there were lots of priests. 

Times change, cultures change, reality changes a lot. Part of the beauty of the Church is that she is tied to Truth, and Truth does not change. As Catholics, we get used to and even at times rejoice in that unchanging nature – what a refuge in the storm of a society that changes the rules every 10 minutes! Truth is a rock.

However, we Catholics are not used to change when it does need to happen. For lack of a better phrase, we then find ourselves a part of an organization that does not do change well, thank God.  

So, if we don't’ “do change” well, why are we changing things? In general, because priests/dioceses/bishops have to deal with two newer realities.

First, there are fewer priests than 50 years ago, but more Catholics and more needs. 

Second, while there are more Catholics than ever, there are fewer givers. This is because a majority of Catholics do not worship or give regularly. They still come to church when they need baptisms, weddings, funerals or any other kind of help, but they do not tend to be a part of things when they do not feel need. To be clear, I am not condemning this reality: I pray that people always know they can come to us whether they have been a part of things or not. I rejoice that we are able to love people as God loves us: “I will never reject you, I will never forsake you.” (Dt 31: 6) My point is that it means less are giving and more are taking. Those types of situations always create crisis.

These two realities have us in a spot where each individual church is required to do more ministry, more work and meet more needs with fewer priests and less money than ever before.

The hope and prayer is that by grouping resources together, parishes can find ways to function that do not end up with the priest burning out. It’s a sad reality, but we as a Church have dealt with much, much worse.

So, how do we do it, then? How do we press forward with this reality?

Obviously, we should pray. Pray that God heal your broken heart. Pray that God guide our Church leaders into deeper wisdom and holiness. Pray that more people encounter Jesus and respond by being a part of a parish community in every way they can. Pray that we priests serving will find strength and the ability to figure out what God is calling us to do and what we have to put aside. Pray, pray, pray!

Remember that your broken heart is a good sign … you are connected. That which is happening to your parish is not separate from you – it is a part of you. That means you love, and love is of God. Sometimes we suffer because of our sin, sometimes because of virtue: You are suffering because of virtue.

The second thing is to be flexible and patient. These times are exceptionally hard on priests, and it will take a bit for things to shake out. There are things the priest simply won’t be able to do anymore and if he is like me, he feels terrible about it.  

The third thing is to see if there is some way you can help. There are times in our lives where we can give our time, and there are times where we can’t. If you are in a stage where you can give your time, don’t hesitate to ask how you can help.  The best way to do this is to stop into the parish office during the week and talk to someone there.

Finally, remember that Jesus is our home. Our parish is a sacred building and a big part of our lives, but the bigger reality is the person of Jesus. He is why we are; he is what we are.  No building, no plan – none of that can be taken from us.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!

Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest. @Joeinblack

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