CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
I can’t remember exactly when she became a social media trend, but in a much more real sense, she has been a trend in the universal Church for the past several decades. For those of you who don’t know who she is, Susan from the Parish Council is a fictional social media personality that personifies characteristics of a feel-good, unchallenging Catholicism we have seen become prevalent in the Church in the past 60 years.
Susan’s Facebook and Twitter pages, by the same name, are satirical in nature but, as all satire, remain an embellishment of a recognizable truth. Her posts, which cover topics like female ordination, the Sunday “communal meal” and the St. Louis Jesuits, are easy to laugh at but, at the same time, frightening because of the many Catholics one might know who hold similar opinions.
While a fictional character, Susan has grown in popularity largely because her followers have found her thoughts to be strikingly similar to members of their home parishes. Like Susan, their beliefs and actions tend to be politically progressive with overtones of modernist theology. Their interpretation of “full, active and conscious participation” as lay people means exercising their freedoms to run the parish, its liturgy and its various activities according to the new age the Church found itself in during the ’60s and ’70s.
Susan’s assistants include Helen the Parish Events Leader, Father Bob Boomer, Sister Mary Pantsuit, Liz from the Liturgy Office and others who all play their part to modernize the Church and make it “hip for the youth.”
I think we can all agree that we know one, if not more, of these characters in real life at our home parish. They have an ever-strengthening iron grip on the operations of the parish; their efforts, though generally well-intentioned, turn people off from the true faith with their superficiality.
Conversely, Susan’s two nemeses are Father Youngtrad and Chad from the Parish Council, whose return to orthodoxy from Susan’s heterodoxy has resulted in a vibrantly Catholic parish in the vision of the Second Vatican Council. Susan and her cohorts battle Father Youngtrad and Chad to keep their progressive agenda on track, but the priest and Chad have the young people on their side, paving the way for change and renewal in the parish.
So why have I taken the time to illustrate these characters and their roles in their fictional parish community? Well, because I think it’s a call to action for us, but more on that in a bit.
I have seen the works of the Susans and Father Bobs in my parish: folksy music groups that insisted on giving the priest a blessing during the Mass, a proud and documented history of puppet Masses and assorted liturgical abuses, and the Mass becoming a flashy show that no longer resembled its sacrificial nature.
I saw the lifelessness of the parish caused by this. Families were not attracted to the parish and they were leaving for other parishes that truly sought to feed the faithful’s spiritual needs. The youth were turned off from going to Mass and receiving the sacraments because of how the liturgy and parish in general was manipulated to meet the desires of Susan and company.
But just as I have seen the harm caused by them, I have also seen the impact that a Father Youngtrad or Chad can have on a parish. By breathing fresh life into a parish and revitalizing the way it worships and how the faith is lived, they have managed to attract the people they had previously been losing. Their return to liturgical norms and an earnest excitement to teach a faith that is not watered down have revitalized many a parish, including my own.
And this is where the call to action comes in. For too long this generation has been subjected to sub-par parish cultures. These cultures, with their watered-down Catholicism, have proven to be bad for the Church. It is time for us, the young people of the Church, to be the change the Church is aching to have, to support our parish priests as they work to change the culture.
If we don’t speak up, if we do not show our support for the unapologetic truth of the Catholic faith, then our parishes will shrivel up and die because there will be no one in the pews. This is not an issue of being so-called charismatic or traditional, it is about bringing new life into our Church.
The future of our parishes will depend on the Chads standing up to the Susans, bringing a much-needed renewal. Some of my friends are already doing this and the transformations are already evident. I am looking forward to taking my turn, and I hope you will too.