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Posted June 19, 2009

Taken from The CARA Report [Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057-1203, CARA@georgetown.edu

Parish Renewal Key to Catholic Future

Fr. John Piderit and Dr. Melanie Morey’ latest book, Renewing Parish Culture: Building for a Catholic Future, provides suggestions for strengthening Catholic culture through parish renewal.

. . . .The authors explain that “Parishes are the primary places where American Catholic life is cultivated and sustained, and the vitality of American Catholicism depends to a great extent on the vitality of parish life.” They are concerned that regular participation by Catholics in parish life is on the wane and assert that “This worrisome trend, if left unchecked, poses a real threat to Catholic cultural life.” Thus, their purpose is to address this perceived “crisis of the faith.”

Throughout the book, the authors emphasize the three-part role of the parish — liturgy, evangelization, and loving service — each of which is of fundamental importance to the parish community and to the individual Catholic. They suggest that the solution to a weakening Catholic culture lies in encouraging parishes to return to the principles followed by the sisters during the heyday of Catholic schools and Catholic religious education. They explain that “Catholic sisters (1) used consistent narratives to help institutional participants make sense of Catholic culture. They also (2) established and enforced clear norms or standards of behavior for all involved. The sisters (3) provided real-world benefits to those they served and (4) employed countless small practices or rituals that reinforced Catholic cultural beliefs, values and norms.” The present-day challenge is for parishes to understand the sisters’ principles and techniques and adapt them to the very different pastoral situation of the 21st century. Piderit and Morey make many suggestions for practical ways that parishes can implement these principles.

These efforts are particularly important today because, according to the authors, “there are a few areas in which it appears secular culture is making significant advances and displacing traditional strongholds of Catholic culture.” They suggest that “In order for any culture in society — especially Catholic culture — to function, the young must be taught what is right and what is wrong. The ethical ‘dos’ and ‘do nots’ have to be reinforced by regularly pointing out to children and adults what behavior is beyond the pale and why that is so. Strong cultures clearly transmit cultural norms. Unfortunately, by that definition, the prevailing Catholic culture appears not to be sufficiently strong.”