The poet W.H. Auden observed in 1940 that some people long for the “good old days” of the past or a perfect future just around the corner. But if change would be required of them, they would rather be ruined, and would rather die “than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”

What is the cross of this moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the Philadelphia area? Two among many are burdens of affirming life and family in a culture that often attacks both and sharing the good news of life in Jesus Christ through His Church among many who have ceased to listen.

One heavy cross to bear is the sagging number of people coming to worship God in the sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday. According to archdiocesan statistics, 107,255 fewer people attended Sunday Mass on typical weekends in October from 1995 to 2009. That represents a decline of 37 percent in 15 years. In that span the registered population in Catholic parishes has dropped too, while the overall population of the region has risen. {{more}}

That is a cross that Catholics must not only consider, but as the poet advises, we must climb. And what illusions will die if we do so? The illusion that parish life will ever be as it was in the days that were not always golden, at least not for everyone.

As CS&T contributor Lou Baldwin’s article this week and in the previous edition analyze, the Archdiocese is changing. It is always changing.

The movement of the American people from one community to another has been a constant since the beginning of our nation. It is a constant that induces change for every generation. The Church experiences this change because it is the body of Christ in the world, within and among God’s people. Where the faithful are, there is the Church at prayer and in service of every kind in every age.

Parishes are founded to meet various pastoral needs. And sometimes they close when those needs change. The same applies to schools or hospitals or other types of services offered by the Church. Change is a constant not to be avoided but faced with renewed vigor supplied by the Holy Spirit.

Catholics must not be under the illusion of quick and easy relief. Crosses do not work that way. Today’s burden can be transformed, changed, by spanine grace into a Church community more responsive to present realities and shifting demographics. She always adapts and is renewed. The Body of Christ remains united with the Father, and the faithful united with each other.