Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Death Knell

Saying goodbye can be so very hard. The beautiful convent at Saint Ursula Church in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania is soon to be demolished.

People will say, “What a shame.”

The convent's death sentence is a result of pessimism and lack of hope – the very things our faith should be curing, instead of fostering. It is an example of the staggering lack of vision that pervades our church in certain dioceses. This has been one of those dioceses.

We have a new bishop, a reportedly truly holy man. He has not yet had a chance to make his mark. My fear is that the bureaucracy of the job will rob him of his holiness.

Jesus abhorred that bureaucracy that pervades our American churches. He preached constantly against the practices of the scribes and pharisees. 
Jesus, in picking St. Peter as his first bishop, thumbed his nose at the idea that a bishop should be awash in balance sheets and scandal control. St. Peter was full of hope, optimism and love of our Lord. So human, he didn't let his pessimism get in the way. When he walked on the water to Jesus he started to falter but where did he look – to Jesus. When he was on the mountain during the transfiguration, he wanted to do something, anything, even build a tent! 
When he denied the man he loved the most out of a pitiful need for self-preservation, he humbly begged his Jesus to forgive him, knowing before the words were out of his mouth his request would be granted.
Jesus picked a very human pontiff, one full of faults but full of hope.

The projected demise of the convent is a very big deal to me. I admittedly take it personally. The empty space will be a monument to my lack of follow-through and a testament to my present frailties.
I had a vision. I am not a particularly holy person, but I saw that empty convent as a tool for God's love, a place for mentally ill women to come and live, to be safe and secure but most of all loved.

The convent, through a lack of care, deteriorated to the point that serious amounts of money would be needed to salvage it and turn it into a place where God's love would flourish.

I spent over a year of my life getting estimates coming up with a practical way of addressing the enormous cost of renovation. It was a journey that included many people helping me. In the end the local Catholic hospital that was going to collaborate in the venture was forced to withdraw because of their precarious financial position.

This is not an attempt to withhold blame from myself. Personal crises reared their ugly heads. I did not have the strength to keep pushing through them to find other ways to save the convent for the women who truly needed it. That was my selfish act of self-preservation. Staying sane was hard work. Through much love from my friends and family, I did. God's love made manifest through beautiful people who cared enough to keep me going.

When the convent was actually put up for sale at a very low price it was like a shove from above. I proposed that the diocese hand it over for me to use for the original vision I saw. I would form a lay community dedicated to the Eucharist and the mentally ill. We would make habitable a small portion of the convent very quickly and then move to renovate room by room, project by project. I would have sought support from many of the charitable organizations within our diocese. The diocese appeared amenable to this but said the decision was ultimately the pastor's.

We have a pastor who has many good traits. He is kind to the developmentally delayed. He visits parishioners in the hospital. When I think of him, though, it is his pessimism that comes to the fore. I don't understand it. We are people of faith. We should be people of hope. Jesus is alive! He lives in our tabernacles. Two thousand years have passed and he is with us – for real. How can pessimism survive when that belief exists?

But sadly it does. Almost every single homily delivered is one of pessimism, even on Christmas, even shockingly, on Easter. Where is the hope that gives the faithful cause to celebrate our faith?

I had a conversation with our pastor shortly before Christmas. I wanted to bring one of my dear friends, an incredible fundraiser, to meet with him about the convent. He turned to the Lutheran pastor standing next to him and said, “She just doesn't understand the way these things work. It isn't up to me.”

It was up to him. According to the diocesan hierarchy, it was ultimately the pastor who would decide if my proposal could happen. He wouldn't even listen. 
The destruction of the convent will just be further evidence of a diocese that put its time effort and treasure into tearing down and destroying. The church “consolidations” that have taken place in my diocese are a mark of shame. Shuttered churches are examples of defeatism rather than hope. If all the energy that was placed into closing parishes throughout the five-county diocese was placed into keeping the churches alive we would be facing a very different picture – a portrait of evangelized neighborhoods celebrating the beautiful presence in our tabernacles and spreading God's love where it is desperately needed.

So when I look at the empty space where the beloved convent once stood I will see a palpable example of the sin of despair and hopelessness winning. Shame on us all!