Clogher ACP group discusses Brendan Hoban’s article on Priesthood
A meeting of Clogher Diocese ACP took place in Clones on Wednesday 27th November.
Seven priests attended, including our bishop Liam. Apologies were received by four others.
Our meeting had as its focus Fr. Brendan Hoban’s latest Furrow article: ‘Disenchanted Evenings’ on what disenchants the Irish diocesan clergy’.
It was widely agreed that this document deserved several readings before its real impact could be felt. On its first reading, some felt depressed, angry, they found it difficult reading, negative and imbalanced, and questioned Brendan’s right to speak for all clergy. One asked “What has brought Brendan to this place, why is Brendan so sad?” There is an absence of appreciation for self-care within the article. A number of traditional supportive and social activities mentioned are dismissed in the article as compulsive. For many, these are not compulsive or empty pursuits; perhaps they are no longer adequate to meet the social and recreational needs of clergy in our modern world, but neither good nor bad in themselves.
However, all agreed that a second reading of the article found a lot of honesty in it, a lot of truthfulness, a lot of head ‘nodding’ in agreement with words being put on some of what we are feeling as clergy right now. Many uncomfortable truths are named, truths that – if we are to be honest – we don’t like hearing; how easy it would be to toss it aside, to go into denial when it’s painful, and criticize the writer, to cop out of what is reality.
Could Brendan be a prophet of today? Is what he says close to the experience of lived priesthood? Do we not need to hear the more painful stuff of priesthood? We do need to listen to the prophet and no prophet ever died from having his slippers tucked neatly under the bed.
The challenge is to develop a different vision, a different way of being, a ‘Francis’ vision, so that we will strive to live Easter and not Lent, as he puts it.
There is nothing beautiful about aging or ill-heath, and while it is acknowledged that life for clergy in religious communities is not always easy, their practical securities far outweigh ours as diocesan clergy.
There is a generation gap in how we exist as priests, in what gives meaning to our lives. When we are able, when we allow our people to know us, that will always foster care. This requires an openness that has not always been there, our vulnerable selves is what people respond to best, our honest, open selves. Our sacramental role has sometimes taken over from our humanity, making it difficult for our people to relate to us as credible human beings. When we are able to relate in human terms, we are simply acknowledging one of our greatest human needs: to belong. Sadly in former times some of us were told that through an ‘ontological change’ we were not of the people; now when we are sick or old, what is our identity and where do we belong?
Even our homes, our presbyteries, our parochial houses can speak volumes about us as persons, about our humanity, and not just our role as priests. Do our homes reflect what represents us as people, as persons and not just as priests?
With regards our elderly brothers who are still ministering 75+, Brendan suggests that this may be a disservice to the Church, just propping up an old model. We acknowledged that the freedom to make a choice to retire is very limited, particularly for those priests whose ministry has defined all that they are.
Again it’s a generational thing but the ‘younger generation’ don’t have this, they have a greater sense of ‘self’ outside ministry, and look forward to full days in latter years, for ministry does not totally define them.
We need as clergy more opportunities for open, honest discussion which we are not good at, and to Brendan Hoban we say thanks, for if we don’t take the opportunities for such conversations, we may end up ‘above there in the house, looking out the window, mad at everything’.
With regards the Eucharist, the Parish Eucharist, we found ourselves asking if it is, truly, the center of our communities, is it a lived experience where we all feel that we belong and cared for?
How can we as clergy renew, change, reform our identity, our role? We need a balance that was not there before, we need to be more of our communities where we serve. We have to acknowledge what is defective in the spirituality that we have may have grown up with, and ask ourselves questions truthfully about what motivates us, what directs us, for all this becomes exposed with the passing of years and with the external hostile environment that we meet from time to time.
These are just a few of our musings on Brendan’s article.
Next meeting of Clogher ACP is on Wednesday 22nd January, usual arrangements.