August 5, 2019 (Edward J. Barr – Contributor) – Like many Americans the summer is time for vacations. For my wife and I, the annual trip to New England in the summer time is always a highlight. Growing up in Rhode Island, it was always a matter of pride to live in the “most Catholic” state. It was a time when the church was the center of your life, from the parish school, CYO, and the many bazaars and liturgical events held in the church or cafeteria. Yet each year those memories fade as a new dark reality spreads throughout the Ocean State, a reality we view each year when we attend Mass at the parish where I received most of my sacraments.
The once burgeoning parish used to offer 4 Masses Sunday morning, each bursting at the seams, be it during the heat of summer or the cold of winter. As teenager boys we would stand in the back of the church during Mass so we could talk and check out the girls. We weren’t fully aware of the graces offered at the Mass, but we were aware it was the right thing to do. That Sunday we could only pick from two Masses, 8 AM and 10:30 AM. In the hope that I would see more childhood friends we decided to go to the 10:30, believing it would be the more heavily attended. When we entered, we quickly saw we were mistaken; there were no teenager boys in the back of the church, scarcely any youth in the entire congregation! Empty pews were the norm, and the three families with children stood out as aberrations from my childhood days. When we queried why there was such low attendance, much lower than last year, one response was that it was very hot for Rhode Island and the pastor was on vacation. Of course, he was the only priest assigned to the parish, the days of three or four priests had long passed. A visiting priest would preside. Ironically, the guest homilist was from a religious order that supported the mission church in Kentucky. As the speaker described the challenges that Catholics face in that state, it seemed to me that they were not the truly poor ones. What they lacked in material goods they made up in spiritual gifts. I yearned for a mission to my childhood parish!
When the French, Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants arrived in Rhode Island they were generally welcomed by the Democratic Party. It provided an entry into American life and subsequently became the dominant party in the Northeast, based in large part due to its Catholic members. Voting Democrat was simply the normal response for Rhode Island Catholics during election day. In general, both political parties were adherents to the Judeo-Christian heritage on which the country was founded, and their platforms were not inimical to Catholic teaching. Then came the turbulent 1960s and the hijacking of Vatican II by progressive elements. Catholics in the Northeast were at a crossroads; maintain loyalty to their church or to their party. As elements of the church attempted to ”Americanize” Catholicism the uniqueness of the church began to wane. At the same time Catholics became the powerbrokers in the Democratic Party in Rhode Island. Since Roe versus Wade in 1973, the Democratic Party has embraced policies antithetical to Catholic doctrine. Yet they maintain their hold in most Catholic areas of the country. Of the five non-negotiable issues listed by the USCCB, the Democratic Party are rabid promoters of abortion and homosexual marriage, and generally support euthanasia, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research. Yet while the churches remain empty in Rhode Island, the Democratic Party in the state overflows with self-proclaimed Catholics. Yearly surveys always place Providence at or near the bottom of cities that read the bible. This is understandable given the empty pews; if you don’t know the Word of God you won’t participate in His and the Church’s mission to bring all people to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yet all was not gloomy during our visit. The Bishop of Providence has remained orthodox and courageous in the face of horrific attacks on the church and its teachings. Individual pastors, including the one at the church where I was raised, make public admonitions to self-identified Catholics who promote inherent evils in the state legislature. Devout priests carry-on the day-to-day challenging work of saving souls in the inner city of Providence. Their witness led to a reevaluation of that Sunday Mass. Instead of seeing the empty pews, we saw bright lights in the darkness. Faithful servants of a holy church that is ever in need of renewal. Let us pray that through Divine Providence the graces merited by the faithful remnant will spoil the Party in the Ocean state.
Edward J Barr is a Catechist, an attorney, an intelligence officer, a Marine, and a university faculty member. He has a graduate certificate in theology from the Augustine Institute, where he continues to study. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for the Roma Locuta Est blog (www.RomaLocutaEst.com)