For many years people flooded into California but the now the population is receding. My doctor, a most Catholic physician that brings his family every Sunday to an eastern-Catholic parish, told me last week that about half the people in his small church have left California. Two years ago my parish had an active Mother’s Group, but since then every one of those good women have left with their husbands and children. The wealthy in San Francisco continue to grow exponentially wealthier, the poor have become vastly more dependent on the government, and the middle class is disappearing. Small stores and Mom-and-Pop restaurants have been shut down by Amazon Prime and Uber Eats, and every third storefront in my neighborhood is boarded up.
That’s the bad news, but the good news is that some folks are committed to staying here. Two from our Young Adults Group married each other last year and moved into an apartment a block from the parish (their first baby is due in May). They love San Francisco, for all its current dysfunction, and have started a marriage and family apostolate. Another couple who also work in the software industry sold their suburban home, bought a large house a few blocks from the parish, and are raising their growing family here, in the heart of the city. My very Catholic doctor friend regularly argues with members of his own parish to stay here. He is committed to keeping his small offices (a “boutique doctor,” he limits his practice to about 400 patients) open to those who seek not just an online drug prescription but a physician who takes the time to understand and treat the whole person. (It’s wonderful: we have his cell number and can make an appointment within 24 hours. We talk as much about philosophy and theology as about cholesterol and back problems during appointments!)
My doctor argues for a “theology of place:” stability in a local community is a good and holy thing, worth certain sacrifices. Stay with me the Lord Jesus told his disciples. “Come and see where I live,” he invited Peter and Andrew, and they stayed with him the whole day. “Remain here,” he told Peter, James, and John, “while I go over yonder and pray.” Christianity is a religion of Presence, of staying with God in silence and staying with the community in fellowship. As many seek to escape California’s excessive taxes, its bloated administrative state, and the consequent social disintegration, my doctor argues for staying put. God Almighty came to one place on earth, and He stayed there for 33 years.
Last month my Archbishop asked me to stay in my parish for another 6-year term, until 2030. I felt affirmed but, at the same time, tempted to feel confined. Despite my stated preference to stay for another term, I was secretly hoping for an escape hatch after ten years in one place. As a rule, however, I think we diocesan priests should stay with our parishes for longer than the usual 3-6 years. It takes a pastor at least five years to gain a deep knowledge of his flock and to win the people’s trust. It takes many years beyond that to build up a stable and supportive community. People call priests “father,” and rightly so, but a father needs to spend many years with his children to understand them.
People frequently tell me that Star of the Sea has that “family feel,” which is what attracts many to our parish. We are only one of two parishes in San Francisco that have grown during the pandemic, but building this community has taken many years of living and worshipping and struggling together. The many priests who are frequently moved between parishes could say, with Bilbo Baggins, “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” The patron saint and model for parish priests, St. John Vianney, stayed with his parish of St. John the Baptist in Ars, France, until he died at age 73. He was an associate pastor for two years, and then spent the rest of his life in one parish. Personnel Boards move most priests every three or four years, and I think this is very bad for the Church.
Bilbo Baggins (with whom I have renewed a friendship over the last few weeks) spent most of his life in The Shire, at Bag End. He went on one Adventure, and after 111 years, he went on a final journey that would take him to the Grey Havens. I think it’s best not to panic when cultures decline, but to stay in one place as much as one can. Like a seasoned marriage that has known wealth and poverty, health and sickness, good times and bad times, we gain a deep peace and joy by staying put, getting to know and love both the people and the very rocks and trees of the place in which God has placed us.
The above comes from a Feb. 21 posting on Father Joseph Illo’s Blog.
God commanded Lot to leave Sodom.
If you stay, you take your chances. Know what you’re doing. Don’t make a false virtue out of unnecessary self-sacrifice and suffering in a hopeless situation. Especially if you want to raise a family or have a family, there are far, far better places to do so than the San Francisco Bay Area.
You gotta pray to know God’s Will.
There are a lot of examples of God telling people to move in the Bible.
Jesus himself moved from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Galilee.
Abraham, Jacob, the Israelites, Elijah, Jonah, Cain.
The tower of Babel.
The Benedictines, Cistercians (Trappist) and Carthusians take vows of stability.
We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behavior, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving.
Many years ago I heard a young woman talk about her faith at UC Berkeley. Someone asked her why she went there. She said we can’t all go to where it is easy. We need to be an example where it is most needed.
That’s easy if you’re a doctor making big bucks like the doctor in the article. If you’re a regular joe you need to go where you can provide for your family and where it’s safe. People with martyr complexes or messiah complexes are often the most messed up people.
Sorry, Lisa. Monks may take a vow of stability, but lay people do not. Recall that one of Our Lord’s rebukes to the Pharisees was adding “commandments” that were not in the Law.
Thanks Lisa. Opus Dei has a strong presence around Berkeley.
I have often wanted to flee this state and this country where I was born, but I once had a tee shirt that said, “Bloom where you are planted”, so I stuck it out. Until God takes me by the hand and leads me somewhere else, here I stay. I certainly understand how Fr. Illo feels.
He has a point. But there are also valid points for moving priests around. I’ve seen very vibrant parishes gutted by priests who come in, make many changes early on and alienate a parish that is stuck in its ways, even though the changes might be good if implemented with a more collaborative spirit. So maybe if initial terms were 7 or 8 years, pastors would feel less inclined to make sudden changes. Renewals could then be done at 3 year intervals. I also think the Bishops in general would do well to implement vigorous and generous sabbatical programs, maybe a year before a change is contemplated. It could help priests revitalize their own spirituality, strengthen areas of governance they may need (finances comes to mind) and avoid burnout.
As others have noted, if God tells you to move, move. If He tells you to stay, stay. Every individual or family needs to discern God’s will for themselves. The best place to be is in His will. We’re still here (for the time being, at least). Yet, many family and friends have moved away, in part at least, some due to the cultural climate and others due to the economic climate and some due to both. From an appropriately named book of the Bible: “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. … In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.” (from Exodus 13 & 40)
I recall when American car manufacturers, building very inefficient (in terms of mileage) cars compared to Japanese and Korean cars, made commercials about “Buy American” in hopes that a patriotic incentive would induce citizens to buy their cars. Despite this, their car sales fell, and it wasn’t until the American cars started to improve mileage, etc., their sales lagged behind their hoped-for norms. The author uses a specific verb – “Fleeing”, evoking an image of Californians running away from a frightful monster in droves. Yet, he does not give any references to check his allegation. In Sarah Parvini’s tome, “California population in decline’ (https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-18/california-population-loss#:~:text=California%20population%20continues%20decline%2C%20driven%20by%20lower%20immigration%2C,Los%20Angeles%20Times%29%20By%20Sarah%20Parvini%20Staff%20Writer), she quips that the three main reasons for the zero or negative growth pattern is not so much centered on salaries, cost of living, etc., but on these three: lower immigration (due to the last decade’s immigration policies), fewer births, and COVID deaths. The later article comes from https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-15/california-exodus-pandemic. The author for the above article has a doctor friend who has a concierge patterned practice, which indicates his clientele are rich enough to stay and pay for such a policy. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that, unless he’s doing some of his work pro bono, you would not find any lower income patients in his records. Jolly good for him!
The concept of staying put for the sake of a community interest is very fine, applaudable even, and many my age (60’s) recall being begged by our parents to move back to our hometown, find a hometown girl, raise our families near our parents. Economics has changed that, requiring many to move to more affordable areas, depending on their income status. I’m not saying they leave the state, just that there is a vast difference between living in San Francisco than Fresno. Smaller towns feel the pinch when the state makes some improvement (ex: move I-5 away from Weed, CA, so that fewer people go through the town, possibly to stop, shop, grab a bite, and the city of Weed begins to decline, with fewer family-aged people staying unless they already have a job there.). Holy Family Church, a bastion of a Catholic home, still maintains a viable population, but as their congregation grows grey, the concern about their adult children living further away becomes a signal that the population will decline. I personally live in Monterey, about two hours south of San Francisco, and my military/disability pay plus my teacher pension, plus my wife’s retirement from teaching, make it possible for us to remain. Our children live a healthy four hours away, near Sacramento, close enough to make a good day’s visit (and longer) but not so close that we become a grandparents-who-spoil-their-grandkids-too-much nuisance.
On the point of moving priests around, I too feel that this paradigm of revolving priests every 3-5 years is more of a side effect of the pedophile scandal, the idea being that no priest stays long enough to become a problem, but I’ve no evidence per se. Perhaps it’s in the mirror mode of the military, where every 3-5 years a military member was ordered to move to gain new skills, etc. I liked it when one got to know one’s priest well, could share confidences (and yes, make the good confession), but there are various factors that go into moving priests about. Final thought: I don’t think folks are leaving in droves, but rather the death rate going up (mainly to COVID), immigration going down, and an economic situation that portends fewer job opportunities are truly the reasons.
I think it’s reasonable that there
will be different strokes for different folks.
But, of course, the course of actions I
shall take will be the most reasonable of ALL.