Well, it feels good to be back! For the past five days I have been away on vacation to my favorite destination - Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which is one of this country's hidden gems. My family and I were staying in a gorgeous little cabin on Lake Huron on one of the Upper Peninsula's many little islands. This place was so far out that standing on the ledge of the island's rocky escarpment on the east side we could see the Canadian mainland directly.
While I was away, I had time to reflect on several things.
1. Michigan's Upper Peninsula is sparsely populated, only 19 persons per square mile. This is even more so if one looks at the various islands in the Great Lakes, such as the one we were staying on. Because of this - and because of its character as a seasonal tourist destination with a migratory population - it seems that the parishes of the Upper Peninsula are not well attended to by the Ordinary. This is reflected in the bizarre priests I have encountered in the Upper Peninsula over the years. You get a lot of retired priests, a fair share of wacko priests, and priests with a lot of weird eccentricities. I guess it has a kind of internal logic. In a tourist town, there is not likely to be a very stable parish congregation. Probably not a lot of baptisms, weddings, or confessions. It makes sense that a bishop would stick these sorts of areas with priests that are - ahem - on the less well rounded side? This has always been my experience in "touristy" areas. I'd be interesting to see if anyone has any insight on this from other touristy areas around the country, especially those more remote places that do not have much of a population other than seasonal waves of tourists. It seems like these "touristy" seasonal areas are the bishops' dumping grounds for odd-ball priests.
This situation is exacerbated, of course, by declining vocations and parish clusters. Going to Mass on Sunday was a huge debacle. We were fortunate in that the island we were on actually had a Catholic mission parish on it. I went by and picked up a bulletin before Sunday so I could check out the Mass times. Masses at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday. Wow! Impressive for an island on the Upper Peninsula.
But alas, I was naive. This parish mission was actually part of a huge cluster of four parishes (er, a "faith community" as they called it) that stretched across almost fifty miles of remote forest and tiny villages and islands. The Mass times on the bulletin were for the cluster collectively; this Mass at one parish, that Mass at another, etc. Because I did not know this and could not decode the little abbreviations ("8:30 AM Mass Sunday OLS", where OLS stands for "Our Lady of the Snows", for example), I misunderstood where and when the Masses were. I showed up at the parish mission at 8:30 AM with my family all spiffed up for Mass to find the Church dark and parking lot empty.
Well, we panic, look over the bulletin again, and after a few minutes figure out the cluster, use the tiny key at the bottom of the page to decode the abbreviations. Not user friendly. Seriously, look at this bulletin. Note the Mass times at the upper right and then the tiny, dinky, insignificant little key at the bottom to help you decode the abbreviations (click on the image to see it bigger):
Well, after decoding the bulletin, we find that the 8:30 Mass was for another parish and the only other Mass in the region is at 11:00 AM over forty miles away. Not a big deal; that's over two hours. But remember, we are on an island! We have to use a ferry to get off. We drive like mad to the ferry, but when we get there, there is an insane line of cars stretching from the ferry down the road then around the bend and a quarter mile down another road! You see, this Sunday was the day after the 4th of July, and all the tourists were flocking to get off the island and get back home.As the ferry leaves only once per hour, failing to get on the first ferry means a delay of an hour at least. And we estimated there were two or three ferry's worth of cars in front of us.
Some quick math and we figured we'd never get on the ferry on time - heck, even after waiting for an hour and a half to two hours to get on the fairy, it still takes the ferry 25 minutes to cross the straits, and then we still needed to drive for 30 miles to reach the parish. Not possible in time.
Well, long and short of it is for the first time in 15 years, I missed Sunday Mass. Dejected, we drove back to the empty parish, which surprisingly was unlocked. We went in and sat before the tabernacle and prayed the Rosary, read the readings, and did a little holy half hour. As I sat there moping and prayerful in the dark, empty church, I thought to myself, "This is what it will be like in many more places in the future; people wanting to get to Mass but unable to, praying alone in empty churches."
3. Later that day, the sun was shining and it was fairly warm, so we packed up and drove down an old two-track road through several miles of woods to reach an isolated cove. It was gorgeous. A rock strewn shore, pines, juniper, and birch crowding up to the shoreline shielding it from view from the land - and the crystal clear water of northern Lake Huron, with visibility of fifteen or twenty feet down. Pristine, fresh, vivifying...soft, sandy bottom perfect for swimming. Ah, so gorgeous. Here is a picture, which still fails to capture the beauty of the spot.
But as we walked up to the cove, I noticed little pieces of shimmering gold scattered across the floor of the lake near the shore. As I moved in closer, I saw they were the foil and rubbish left behind by detonated fireworks. It being the day after the 4th of July, some folks had apparently been out at the cove the night before blasting fireworks and letting the rubbish fall into the lake. I was so disappointed. My daughter was sad and confused; "Why would anyone do this?" she asked. I had no answer except to say that the idiots who did it had a severe case of rectal-cranial inversion. My son and I spent twenty minutes carefully picking them all out of the crystal waters of the lake and properly disposing of them.
You know, I'm not convinced the science behind "climate change" is entirely sound. I am not a climate change alarmist by any stretch. That's not to say I have a difficulty or problem accepting the concept of climate change as a scientific hypothesis; I'm just not sure the science backs up climate change, much less warrants broad government controls on emissions, etc. But that being said, Pope Francis is correct when he says in Laudato Si that a profound change in the way we approach the environment is necessary. I am shocked that in this day, with so much sensitivity to environmental issues, with knowledge that our synthetic plastics can take 10,000 years to break down, with all the knowledge we have about the way what we do can affect our ecosystem - well, I am shocked that there are still people out there who could somehow litter this pristine cove with firework rubbish and apparently think nothing of it.
So, I applaud much (I stress much, as in, not all) of what Francis wrote in Laudato Si. When I see crap like what I saw in that cove, I totally agree there is should be a change the way we think about the environment. But the problem with the approach taken by Laudato Si is that all environmental problems are kind of lumped together indiscriminately. Near where I live, every highway median, every grassy right of way, every roadside is littered with filth. Sometimes when I see it, I can't figure out how so many people can so carelessly toss their rubbish around. It's a real problem.. But that's a different problem than "climate change." Which is in turn a different problem than corrupt Third World tin-pot dictatorships embezzling funds meant for disaster relief, and so on. All of these problems have different causes and require different approaches. But Laudato Si merely lumps them all together and creates a false antithesis between those accept the environmentalist disaster narrative in totu and those who are "deniers."
I love nature. I was raised in the country. My heart broke when I came all the way to this secluded cove and saw so much rubbish in the water. I try to instill in my children a real attitude of stewardship and responsibility for the creation. If I could, the baser part of me would love to flog the people who stupidly (and probably drunkenly) littered this pristine water with their filth. But I wish we could get off the "environmentalist liberal" vs. "denier" paradigm. Like most either-or paradigms, it is not that simple.
Well, that's enough for now I suppose. Speaking of Laudato Si, I am still plodding away. I think I'm at paragraph 189. But I have not forgotten!
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam