Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Fr Sumich FSSP: on missions here and overseas

Real Clear Religion had these couple of shots of the ordination to the priesthood of Fr Antony Sumich FSSP in Auckland last weekend, sent in from Roger a New Zealand reader of that blog, so I thought I'd put them up here as well for your enjoyment and by way of congratulations to him.

This was actually the second in a series of three big Saturday's for the Fraternity - next weekend is the ordination of Rev. Denis Cuchet (keep him in your prayers), who will be ordained to the priesthood in Brannay, France by His Lordship Paul-Marie Guillaume, Bishop Emeritus of Saint-Dié, on December 6, 2008.

A missionary perspective....

I actually met Fr (then Deacon) Sumich at the Canberra ordinations. A New Zealander of Croatian background, he has actually spent most of his adult life (he is one of the Fraternity's several mature age recruits) in Europe (including, I gather, learning to speak Croatian from scratch!). But since being ordained to the diaconate, he has been working in Nigeria.

Things sound pretty tough out there - but what really impressed me was his strong missionary orientation, and particularly his application of that perspective to the situation in Australia and New Zealand!

The reality is that Australia is mission territory now in all but name. Mass attendance continues to plummet, the only new priests now in many dioceses seem to be imports from Asia (India is the modern Ireland!), and our society is essentially much more secular in orientation than many mission countries.

Spreading tradition

My own view is that the return to tradition is the solution to this situation - but it does require us to be active in evangelizing. The current model of a parish (or quasi-parish) based around the sacraments, catechesis and a few select devotions is a necessary foundation.

But if we actually want to restore Christendom, it is not sufficient.

Tradition is the key to the restoration of orthodoxy in the Church more broadly, as well as the restoration of the priority of Christ in society. It won't happen, though, if our traditional communities don't grow, if we don't work to actively (re-) create a catholic culture, if we don't spread the TLM by fostering bi-ritual communities in other parishes (as a way of building the numbers for a dedicated TLM community if nothing more!). In short, we must work hard to introduce new people to the riches of tradition.

How to...priests

For me some of the most telling stories over the last year have been those of the effect on priests of saying their first traditional mass. Invariably, those who have written on their impressions suggest that it has changed their perspective on the nature of the priesthood; affected the way they say the novus ordo mass; and reinforced to the idea of the mass as sacrifice. Those priests won't necessarily want to only say the Latin Mass (though you'd have to say that the pattern in the past is that once you start, you are hooked), or may not be in a position to even if they did want to (a problem in itself). But introducing them to the TLM will affect their preaching, practice and much more in their own parishes and lay the base for the long-term.

That's why the priest training courses the Fraternity and others have been running in the US, UK and elsewhere, plus resources like the FSSP's DVD, are so important!

How to...laity

In terms of the laity, I think big event kind of masses are a great way of drawing people in - but of course they need to be well advertised. Another approach being used in the US (and recently in NZ) is workshops aimed at introducing lay people to the spirituality of the classical liturgy. I think its worth a try - I know almost everyone I've dragged along to the Latin Mass has struggled to follow what is happening and why things are done the way they are the first few times, and a workshop is a great way of easing the transition.

Things like chant workshops can be helpful too, as Juventutem demonstrated.

I also think traddies could make themselves more visible by undertaking works of charity as a community for example, perhaps by adopting some particular cause as their own to support (and convert).

The internet is important...

And in the area of evangelization, the internet is, in my view, actually rather important.

Once upon a time, the internet was really just entertainment. And there is a bit of a generational thing going, with some people still steadfastly ignoring it!

But for the majority of us, it is how people find information, and are drawn into things. These days relatively few people reach for the (hardcopy) phonebook as their starting point, they head for their computer.

The internet is how many people hear about and test out 'new' ideas like the traditional liturgy, and learn more about it.

It is how many inquirers about catholicism find out more before taking the big step of approaching a priest.

How people from out of town (or in it) find out about mass times or upcoming events.

It can shape first (and second and third) impressions of an organisation or an issue. And it can act as a goad to action on abuses and other problem situations.

And the internet is also important because a lot of people are looking at it - more than are actually darkening the doors of our traditional community churches for example (not least because of lack of availability of the TLM in many regions).

Some of the bigger Catholic blogs have thousands of readers a day. Even very basic, limited target, information websites get a steady stream of hits. And according to my webstats (and my own informal census) more people read even my efforts each day (at least when I'm regularly posting!) than heard the sermon our (traditionalist) priest gave last Sunday for example (though hopefully they took more notice of the sermon and gave it more credence!).

Now that is not to say that the internet should be everyone's prime focus, or we need to be unduly worry about keeping websites up to date right to the minute. But the internet does matter I think.

What else can we do?

If we think of Australia as mission territory, and think through what that really means, I'm sure we'll start seeing other possible approaches. And there are some basic prerequisites for success I think - a contemplative monastery for example, would be a good start.

But above all it needs leadership, so its great to see this group of new priests joining the ranks of the FSSP. Pray for more vocations, and for our traditional priests!

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