If your opinion of the Catholic Church is based solely on what you read in the news media, or worse, what you see on social media, then who could blame you for being worried?
Like society in general, there is terrible division these days among those of us in the pews, and even among Church leaders. Painful memories of the abuse crisis still linger. Lawsuits related to past abuse still threaten financial stability at some dioceses. There are too few priests and religious men and women. Perhaps most troubling: Most Catholics don’t even believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist.
Yet, there is hope.
I was reminded of that hope on Sunday afternoon as newly ordained priest Father Matthew Kuna celebrated his first Mass at his life-long parish, St. Thomas More in Allentown.
I had never attended a “First Mass” celebration before, so I didn’t know that so many priests of the diocese, after celebrating their own Masses and tending to their own parishes over the weekend, would turn out to embrace their newest brother.
Driving to the Mass, I expected that Father Kuna’s family and friends would attend, but I didn’t expect hundreds of others, from all walks of life, to take time away from the glorious Sunday afternoon weather to come and offer their support and congratulations.
I also wasn’t expecting that priests who had been especially important to Father Kuna during his formation, including some from other dioceses, would join him on the altar to concelebrate the Mass, or that so many of our seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary would offer their faithful support as altar servers.
But there they all were. And we should all take great comfort in that.
Father Don Cieniewicz, who gave the Homily, said it was fitting that Father Kuna’s first Mass happened on Pentecost. It’s a feast considered the “birthday of the Church,” when Mary and the Apostles gathered in the upper room and were filled with the Holy Spirit so they could go forth and preach the Gospels.
So as I see it, each of us has a choice.
On the one hand, we can choose to focus on the concerns, the worries, and the negativity about Catholicism that is easy to find if you look for it.
Or, on the other hand, we can choose to embrace the Church that was on display at St. Thomas More on the afternoon of Pentecost, when people of faith gathered as they have for centuries to celebrate the “birthday” of a new priest, and of the Church, and were filled with awe and great hope.
Because whatever the future holds, and whatever adversity our Church faces, she will always be there to embrace us, to reassure us, and to care for us now and forever.
Paul Wirth is the Communications Director of the Diocese of Allentown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org