Thursday, March 30, 2017

Is Rural Catholic Life Possible?

There's a lot of talk surrounding the Benedict Option these days. At its most general, the idea of the Benedict Option promotes a concerted effort on the part of Catholics and Christians to form like-minded communities to support each other and keep the faith alive. As the idea of forming intentional and authentic Catholic communities that strive for orthodoxy gains a foothold in Catholic parlance, I've been thinking about how I feel that this has already happened to some degree organically when it comes to where Catholics live.

As someone who has lived the majority of her life in rural areas I want to sometimes shout from the rooftops that the Benedict Option of sorts has already happened; because most of Catholic community is found in enclaves of urban cities.  

We all know the reasons why; the increasing urbanization of our populations in general, the lack of priests to serve rural communities and small towns, the shrinking of cultural Catholicism, the complete absence of Generation X and younger at Mass.

If you think you feel the reverberations of these problems in the Church in your city that has a population of more than 10,000 people, imagine how keenly felt this must be in small communities?

Let me give you a peek at what Catholic life in a small town looks like. It looks like sharing one priest with 3 other parishes spread over 100 miles. It looks like no daily Mass or standing confession times. There is ONE option for Mass each weekend. There are no ministries. There is no religious education for children or adults alike. There is no other family with young children who attend weekly at our parish. There is a Catholic school the next town over.

There are no plethoras of religious orders of which to affiliate. There are no small groups for men or women. There are no ministries to moms, divorced people, those struggling with addiction or same sex attraction, or grief. There are no dinners or fundraisers. There are no options when it comes to finding a liturgy you prefer. There are no other Catholics your age in which to build local community.

In other words, I want you to imagine a Catholic life where there is only the Sacraments, a parish that is barely scraping by, and the constant threat that your parish may be shut down by the diocese due to lack of attendance, financial support, or both.

I think most of us believe that in order to live a fully Catholic life we've got to have some form of Catholic community. We all are striving for authentic local connections. We know how difficult it is to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church in our culture when we are without any support from real people in our lives. We've seen on a parish level how hard it is to evangelize and bring people in when there are hardly any faithful in the pews to begin with. All these difficulties come to a head in a small community where there are hardly any Catholics to begin with, with even fewer attending weekly Mass, and where there are in turn little to no outreach and ministries to the community.

Vibrant, vital, and orthodox parishes are out there but finding them in a small town is the exception to the rule, and doesn’t even approach a fraction of the parishes that serve rural areas. Parishes with resources, both in parishioners and cold hard cash, are found in cities. If you're looking for good, life-giving ministries you may have to search your city to find one, you may have to drive across town, but they will exist. There are no ministry options in small towns. As we see orthodox parishes with a focus on beautiful liturgy grow, it is within a city that offers options when it comes to liturgy and the few who know it's value to support it.

We know our families are the domestic church, and that the beauty of family life is a great gift as we lead and guide our children in faith. But it is increasingly difficult in today's world to bring up children in a religious vacuum so to speak, where there is so little evidence of faith in their hometown and home parish. Small towns are not just drained of Catholics, they’re drained of believers of all denominations as increasingly our society of “nones” erodes cultural faith. As it seems to be increasingly difficult to even become friends with our neighbours, it's even more challenging to find friends who share the faith at a local level.

I don't think there are easy answers to the problem of rural Catholic life just as the Benedict Option isn't an easy answer to our troubled Church as a whole. As Catholics we value the land, the connection with the land that we live on, the ability to provide for ourselves, to nurture that connection with creation, but as more and more people move to cities, rural towns are emptied of faith. How can we preserve a connection to the land, agriculture, self-sufficiency, and still be part of authentic Catholic community? Is the answer that the Ben-opters start communes in small rural towns? Are there economic opportunities enough for them? Does everyone become farmers?

I can't help but feel that many rural Catholics are faced with the difficult call to live an almost heroic level of faith based on their isolation from vital Catholic community. Unfortunately in many cases people are in the position between choosing the land and lifestyle they know and love or moving to a more urban environment that provides even a slightly better opportunity for Catholic community.

Whether the Benedict Option takes off or not, there’s no denying that the light of orthodoxy in the North American Church shines from urban enclaves and that rural Catholics are going it alone.

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  1. This is true! I live in a small town a scant 40 minutes from the capital of BC and even here we share a priest with a far-off parish. We are lucky to have enough kids to run a catechism class, and we are really very happy with the priest we have, but we could never have daily Mass or weekly Adoration or anything like it. A good many people in our area drive the hour to St Andrew's Cathedral in Victoria (it's a privilege to have one so close), but I really want to grow the community in our own town, and so we stubbornly rooted ourselves here. :-) If I lived in a really rural area I think I would try to build something and see if it drew more people or more services. Like a paustina that is blessed by the priest, or a Madonna House, or a Catholic Workers Co-op, or getting a Eucharistic Minister to be allowed to set up a once-monthly 24 hour Adoration, or anything to mark the place as "The Place to Be". Then again, I am homeschooling four kids and haven't managed to even paint our playroom, so I might not actually get any of that done. :-)

  2. I grew up in a very rural, depressed area in a struggling diocese, and that's one of the reasons why I prefer living where I do now. There's aspects of rural living that I miss and am nostalgic about, but personally, the benefits outweight the cons of suburban living. It's tough living that isolated life and I admire you and others who pull it off so well!

  3. Yes! We just moved for an area of about 160,000 where we'd cultivated a wonderful circle of Catholic friends and where there are lots of wonderful Christian things going on to a town of 14,000. There are a ton of Christian churches here and a really large Catholic parish with 3 priests (who also serve 3 other small town parishes nearby). I know there are faithful Catholics here with whom we can eventually find community but it is not easy to find them! And when I think of my childhood parish on a town of 1200, I can see it being SO hard there for a young family who wants to center their lives around Christ and his church. In towns like that the sad fact is that when the parish closes many of those people just defer to another church rather than seek out anihet parish an hour away. I do know of one wonderful young pastor in a small town in Minnesota who is building community so well and is calling Catholics and other Christians out of the woodwork. He is really inspiring and I do pray for him and for more young priests who can help us do the same throughout North America!

  4. Thanks for writing this Christy. It's very true. I think though that as with anything, city Catholic communities have their own drawbacks. Being part of a huge number of Catholics in my city has been both a blessing and a curse. Because there are SO MANY great people, and parishes, we find ourselves forming only surface friendships. I've been here 10 years and I'm STILL better friends with my small town Catholic best friends than I am with my Catholic community here. Dinners and potlucks and events go by and it has been a real struggle to find not just people, but "our people" among the plethora of amazing choices. You invite a family over, and think they're your people, but then they never invite you back and it turns out they haven't chosen you as "their people."
    I feel like (this might sound sad) but because there's a small number of Catholics to share the faith with in small towns, and you don't feel like you have a lot of options, you just band together with whoever is THERE, but there's a beauty in that. My parents did that, and I kind of long for less choice and more authenticity like they found in the 4 families we grew up living Catholic life with.
    So I feel what you're saying, but I feel lonely in a sea of Catholics here in the city.

    1. I could not agree with you more. This is so very well said.

  5. Read the Benedict option recently and I remember one thing that confused me… He mentioned that Catholics need to be prepared not to go into certain professions… But then I thought, if you want to have these rural (or even urban) Christian communities of believers… You need some people to go into certain professions, The community is going to need doctors and lawyers. Not to mention politicians who will help support them in pursuing this life if the government tries to interject.. your insight into being truly a missionary in the wilderness of Canada is eye opening!!

  6. I hear ya! I live across the street from FOUR churches in my little town, one of those places that really hustling and bustling about 80 years ago, but now we have to do most of our working and living with a 20/30 minute drive into the city. I have to drive to the city to attend at my parish. Its just another one of the many facets of the urban/rural divide. We are lucky though, I think, that we can atleast use the internet see that we are not alone in what we find important and meaningful when it comes to faith.

  7. We live in a town of less than 6,000 but our parish has a full time priest, daily Mass, ministries, etc. The difficulty for my family is that most of the parishioners are retirees so ministries are aimed at seniors. We have enough kids for Faith Formation and sacramental classes, mostly because of Hispanic immigrants. But I would love to have some fellow Catholic moms to raise kids with and honestly, I worry about my kids marrying local people and leaving the Faith.

    I don't understand the Benedict Option....from what I understand, the author isn't even Catholic?

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Christy. Even in our pretty highly Catholic state (Nebraska), there are still parishes across the rural communities that share priests and share sacrament times, and have no younger families to build their parishes up and support one another. And we have a very high percentage of Catholics in comparison to a lot of states in the US! So I can only imagine it in areas with even fewer Catholics.

  9. Great post, Christy. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I make a habit of romanticizing rural life, probably because my home area has rapidly suburbanized. I'm always wishing myself back to the time when my family's farms were still farms, when we had more space and freedom. But it's easy to forget that my Grandmom's parish only had a priest once or twice a month, and that as a kid, she was humiliated by a teacher for being Catholic. No place, no lifestyle should be romanticized too much.

    Best to you and your family as you work to hold fast to your faith in sometimes difficult circumstances.

  10. I live in a small community. We have a resident priest who serves another parish 25 miles away. Our parish really has dwindled from when I was a teenager and now a grandmother. I struggle to keep my 3 grown up kids in the faith. They pick and choose what they want to believe. I feel it's a result of being left out on the plains barely seen by the diocese. We had a liberal priest for 8 years of my children's religious Ed. Although he was visible really didn't guide us and try to enrich our community. Then we had several after, none ever staying but a year or 2. Our priest now is great and is trying to get or attendance up and having the church building open more. But in a years time weekly adoration still remains 2-4 people. This is predominantly Catholic community that went to being Church jumpers. And now have started yet another church. God bless our Father he is one that won't give up or doesn't judge. So maybe in God's time our Church will have new light!

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  13. Try an area of 750 people the parish a few acres away no priest they shut the church down I am in West Virginia by the way

  14. Try an area of 700 people a Catholic church within walking distance of me and no priest! They shut the church down I am in West Virginia

  15. Try an area of 700 people a Catholic church within walking distance of me and no priest! They shut the church down I am in West Virginia


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