07Jun Report from Clogher diocesan ACP

We had a very inspiring and reflective gathering of the ACP in Clogher on Wednesday 25th May in Clones with input and facilitation from Fr. Mike Drennan S.J. Eighteen priests attended, five apologised for not being able to attend. Bishop Liam was also in attendance.

Fr. Mike posed a lot of searching questions for us, as we reflected upon the great changes that are going on in society today. As Clergy we are certainly not immune to any of these; our role as Priest in 2011 is less defined and yet the expectations are still as high. There are great changes taking place in the cultural as well as the faith environments and we rightly now ask, where do we fit into all these? The word crisis is used so often to describe the effect of all these social changes upon the Church, but they also provide us with an opportunity, an opportunity to bring light, hope and direction to our ministry, to the Church and to the world. This can be realised if we reflect prayerfully on what is happening and plan to adapt to what we are experiencing.

Much of what we are doing as Priests needs to be looked at in light of this need to adapt. We need to ask ourselves questions like; ‘where are we, in all that is going on around us?, and, ‘what is now useful in what we do as Priests, and what has now gone past its sell by date?’

It is vital that we plan to adapt and then act, otherwise we will begin to suffer from stress, from isolation and disillusionment. We are adaptable by nature, we do adapt more easily than we realise. As Priests we need contact with our peers and we need some degree of spiritual direction. All these supports give us life, they sustain us in our ministry and in our humanity, and they give a balance in our lives.

Our bishops also need this support. We need to help our bishops to support us, and we have to help them to be Bishops. We must build a future together, otherwise we will remain in isolation and become more vulnerable.

With regards Health Care, we need to ask what system is in place, if any. Is there regular time off pencilled into our diaries? Do we have regular check-ups; what about our eating habits, our drinking habits, our exercise time, our relaxation time?

Is there a plan for retirement within the Diocese, or is all this left to crisis management that does not serve anyone?   

On the emotional level, do we have friends, priest friends, lay friends, people with whom we can be ourselves? What about our spiritual lives, do we have time to pray, to reflect, is there anyone we talk to on a faith level? Are we involved in any fraternity group?

What are our pressure points? Do we know them and how do we deal with them?

With regards to our work-load and what we do, have we considered employing lay workers, or do we resist by saying, we can’t afford it? We have no choice about this anymore. Experience shows that people will financially support whatever they see value in. The reality is that we no longer have plenty of priests, to live in this mind set is only illusionary. Our individual personalities are a factor in all this, but to care for oneself we must begin to bring out the gifts of our people and stop working alone. We must constantly remind ourselves that we don’t always ‘have to be there’. We may feel unable to change, but we must change, we must find new ways, rather that doing the same thing all of the time.

One of our great deficits as ‘Church’ is our poor planning, we tend to react to situations as they arise, but self care demands that we manage change at a personal, human level and not at a system or structure level. No diocese can effectively implement personal care, only we as individuals can do that. But we still need to reflect, personally and at Diocesan level, so that we can begin to think in other ways, offering other possibilities, outside the frame, other horizons, other ways of being ‘Priest’ so that we can improve the quality of the life of our priests.     

We look forward to sharing our ideas with the leadership of the ACP and thank them to date for the encouragement and support that we have received since our formation within the Diocese, we all know our need for a forum where Priest’s issues and concerns can be discussed and respected, no matter how different and opposing these can be, but the ACP is providing that catalyst for change, and the support of all our clergy would greatly enhance that development.