...Several years ago I was invited by Bishop Morlino to lead a retreat for the priests of his diocese. I was honored to receive the introduction and excited at the prospect of meeting the bishop himself in person. He asked if I might speak on the evangelizing power of beauty and what might be called cultural apologetics. He was keen that the priests of his diocese should understand the importance of beauty in the struggle to win souls for Christ in an age of ugliness and relativism.
At his behest, I spoke of the good, the true and the beautiful as being a reflection of the Trinity, inseparable, coequal and yet mystically distinct. The good was the way of virtue or love; the true was the way of reason; the beautiful was the way of creation. In an age which had corrupted the meaning of love, removing its rational and self-sacrificial heart and replacing it with narcissistic feeling, and in an age which had corrupted reason to something merely relative and devoid of objectivity, the power of beauty to evangelize was more important than ever. I spoke of the power of a sunrise to raise the heart and the mind to God, echoing the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. I spoke also of the power of human creativity to partake of the creative power of God in the making of great works of art, such as St. Peter’s Basilica or Michelangelo’s pieta, which also raised the heart and mind to God. Such beauty could reach the most hardened of hearts.
Bishop Morlino was delighted with my presentation but I was a little disturbed by the reaction of some of his priests. Although all the priests of the diocese were expected to attend, about half of them failed to show. Some of these absentees might have had very good reasons for their non-attendance; others, however, had simply treated the bishop’s invitation and his expectation with indifference or resistance. Equally disturbing was the relative indifference or even sullen resistance of half of those in attendance.
If you know anything about the Madison Diocese, you're nodding your head as you read Pearce's story. Just stop in to almost any parish south of Madison within that Diocese and try to endure a Sunday Mass' music selections without projectile vomiting.In all my years of giving talks to Catholic audiences, at parishes, conferences, colleges, high schools and other venues, I had never met with such negativity. I was not heckled, of course, but the lack of enthusiasm was palpable. About half of those in attendance were clearly there against their will, dragging their cognitive heels, and waiting for the ordeal to be over. These beat a hasty retreat as soon as the formal part of the proceedings were over, failing to attend the reception and convivium that followed. It was only then that I had the great pleasure of speaking with the happy remnant who were on fire with the faith and shared their bishop’s fervor....
Or go a bit north and west of Madison and check out a nearly-new church that not only does not have a pipe organ, but has no viable space in which to PUT one. (It's the church at which the pastor cannot explain the "Rho" in the "Chi-Roh" symbol.) Or you can go east, almost to the border with the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and find a VERY impressive hilltop church which featured Mass-prelude and -interlude piano music straight from the Pfister Hotel lobby. Yes, seminary formation before Morlino was abysmal.
The "happy remnant" Pearce writes about are by and large the imports Morlino brought in to serve the Faithful and--of course--the men Morlino had sent to seminary.
What you see in Pearce's story is not the very forgivable problem of sheer ignorance. What you see instead is the un-forgivable: resistance to learning about Beauty with a capital "B". Maybe those priests don't understand why there IS a capital "B" there--or maybe they are resisting Him, eh?
Just running some rough numbers in my mind,104 parishes in the Diocese... Morlino ordained about 40 men (around 30 currently in the seminary), also a handful of parishes run by priests brought in from outside the diocese including from some rather traditional groups. Add to that the conservative minority of priests that was already there when Morlino arrived, and those priests that were moved by his message and mission, would it be correct to say that stepping into the average parish in the diocese of Madison it's basically a coin-toss that you'll get a "Morlino parish" (reverent Mass, organ music, sound and faithful moral teachings) or are the odds lower than that?
50-50 is about right.
Bishop Morlino also ordained a good many priests for the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, based in Spain. He ordained about 2-3 of them every year for the past 10 years or so. I'm thinking these men are probably included in that 40-priest count.
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