To the editor:
Demolition of the former St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salem is now — finally — complete, and it is hoped that this action will end the drama attending this prominent building’s demise. I also hope that the heartbroken former parishioners will find their hurt and feelings of betrayal diminish over time. I understand their sadness at seeing the church of their youth, perhaps the scene of many family sacramental occasions, being torn down like some sort of ruined tenement building. I can sadly recall the demolition of my childhood parish convent a decade ago — a stunningly beautiful slate-roofed stone structure with attached chapel, leaded glass and stained-glass windows throughout, a holy place once filled with joyful sisters that I entered reverently as a child for piano lessons. Its disappearance to me, even after I had contributed to a fund for its possible renovation and reuse, was crushing. It was as if that whole part of my childhood — my education and grounding in a local faith community — were but a dream. Another memory I hold from the 1960s and 1970s were the impressive annual Holy Name Society men’s convocations; the scene of columns of local policemen and firemen, tradesmen and professional men, bedecked in their Sunday best and parading through the streets to a culminating Mass, made me, a simple young girl from the working class, feel safe and secure, that the world was, at least for that sacrosanct Sabbath Sunday, an ordered and blessed place. I will always treasure that wonderful feeling, to see strong but human father figures, humbly and obediently witnessing to their faith in such a public way.
The loss of a church building is a sad occasion for the faithful, but worse is the recognition that the strong, abiding faith we learned and lived has dimmed, or never been ignited, in some hearts, replaced for many by a cold nihilism that holds that each individual person has no moral limits to constrain any worldly whim or want. For them, there is no recognition that a supreme sacrifice by an itinerant man-God, Jesus, changed the relationship between God and man forever. For them, sin is nonexistent, and then there is bewilderment about how it is that human evil can prosper. For many of these sad postmodern creatures, extreme individualism is sacrosanct, and there is no concept of personal immorality or judgment to trouble their unfettered desires. I also see in many of these adrift individuals a profound isolation and disconnectedness, misery and desolation amidst affluence and unfettered personal freedom. Joseph Ratzinger, known now as Pope Benedict XVI, called this cultural impulse the “dictatorship of relativism,” and it has a hold on much of Western society. Among other evils and disorders, moral relativism purports to justify such abominations as “legal” abortion. When I see the black hole that was once St. Joseph’s, I wonder at all the destroyed human lives that might have populated that community over the last 40 years since abortion was privileged and protected by the flawed Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973.
Despite these sad recollections, we Catholics remain a people of hope. I read recently that actor Martin Sheen, a Catholic revert, said that he once left a Church of fear, but has returned to a Church of love. I am also a faithful revert to the faith, and see the wisdom of the Church’s actions in consolidating parishes. There are still so many vibrant Catholic churches out there. I see renewed, if smaller, parishes locally, even amidst the incredibly vulgar, cruel and ultraviolent “culture of death” that we inhabit in the year 2013. We are a light in the darkness of mainstream media-promoted degeneracy and soul-crushing sensory filth on the airwaves, billboards and in print. I see Bible studies, youth groups, and other service and devotional activities returning, and thriving, in a larger society that mocks faith, virtue or obedience of any sort. Remember that the church is just a building, but the “Church” is a loving community of persons, flawed and imperfect, but loved and wanted and valued. We are called to live lives of holiness and service to the culture of life, and no wrecking ball can stop this wonderful body, the Church.