6 Priests attended our recent gathering of Clogher ACP, including Bishop Liam.
Our discussion centred on Bishop Liam’s Chrism Mass Homily. (Text Below)
Chrism Mass Homily Holy Thursday 17 April 2014
Fellow Priests, brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Mass celebrated in the Cathedral Church of each diocese on the morning of Holy Thursday is rather unique. The Bishop of the diocese concelebrates the Mass of Chrism with the priests ministering in the diocese. During the Mass the priests, in a spirit of solidarity and mutual support, renew the commitments which they made at their ordination and the Bishop consecrates and blesses the oils which will be used during the coming year in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Priesthood and Anointing of the Sick. Among those participating in the Mass are people who care for the sick, children who are to be confirmed during the year and their teachers, religious who have dedicated their lives to God and to others and members of the faithful from parishes throughout the diocese. During the renewal of promises, the Bishop asks those present for the support of their prayers for his own ministry and the ministry of the priests.
I hadn’t seen them for a long time, but recently I saw a group of Hare Krishna in their flowing saffron robes, sandaled feet and close-cropped heads skipping down the footpath chanting and clapping cymbals as well as clinking bells. Full of beans they were. But whatever beans were at work they don’t seem to be available to our lot. In fact Pope Francis found in necessary to remind us that we should never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral. The reality is that we are not in any ordinary job. Each of us has responded to God’s call and given ourselves over to a life-long commitment. The challenge for us is to lead lives worthy of our vocation and allow God’s grace to bring a glow to our self-giving.
It has not been easy for the present generation of priests. The shocking child abuse scandals have sapped our morale. We have been threatened and challenged by change at a fairly rapid pace. We have struggled to come to terms with pastoral areas and clustering; with the possible introduction of the permanent diaconate; increased co-responsibility with dedicated lay-people in the running of the parish; wider involvement of parish and diocesan pastoral councils; new rules of governance and accountability associated with charity regulation as well as the digital revolution. All of these initiatives can be seen as either opportunities or threats to our identity as priests and we could be forgiven for feeling disorientated.
Just over a decade ago Paul Zulehner, then Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of Vienna, conducted one of the largest ever research studies on the priesthood. He surveyed bishops, priests and deacons in a number of mainland European countries : Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia and Poland. Over 2,500 clergy responded, a 40% return was achieved and considered good and trustworthy. Two thirds indicated they were generally content in their priesthood; that the rewards outweighed the burdens; that they did not regret their decision to become priests and that if they were beginning their lives again they would make the same decision. The results were surprisingly positive, in the circumstances.
There are lots of indications that those who best survive and even thrive in contemporary culture are those who can live with uncertainty and most easily accept change. The landscape of ministry is changing. The emerging role of the laity, the demands of collaborative ministry, implementing new parish structures, attempting to read contemporary culture and engaging with the new social media – they all take their toll!
When all of this has been acknowledged, a priest cannot be a happy man if he is not a spiritual person. He must be a man of God and a man of eternity. He will inevitably experience disappointment in himself and in those to whom he preaches the word of God. A priest’s religious potential has to depend on his talents and personal history. Every priest should be able to say to himself – within the limits given to me by God, I will endeavour to be truly a prophet and a man of God. I will love God and my fellow brothers and sisters without exception. I will proclaim the message of Jesus Christ be it convenient or inconvenient.
As any of the well-read Church goers in North Monaghan will tell you, there is a strong conviction that the future of the Church will be tied in with collaborative ministry. It seems likely that the present way of being Church based on every parish having its own priest will not continue into the future. Some years down the road the question will no longer be whether we have priests but whether we have active Christian communities witnessing to the message of Jesus. This will only be possible with lay involvement in ministry and leadership, working alongside priests. What form working together will take has still to be decided. The role of the priest in the future is less likely to be the provider of services and more likely to be the co-ordinator of all the other ministries within the Christian community. Most priests were trained for a style of priesthood that expected them to work on their own. Thinking, deciding and planning collectively as priests and with lay people in a pastoral area will be challenging for priests trained to work independently.
Effective parish pastoral councils where partnership is the predominant model, where decisions are taken by priest and people working together, are the expression of a different experience of Church. It means recognising the gifts of people in a parish and calling them forth. Formation of lay people will be a most important factor in helping them let go of their reticence and their lack of confidence in assuming leadership roles. A sustained period of formation is required if it is to be effective, and if it is to result in future participation. The models of authority we have experienced may have been authoritarian. To work in partnership, laypeople may need to invite priests down from the pedestals where they have put them to begin to relate to them in freedom. Priests may need to do the same for their bishop. Deference to authority is not the same as respect. The latter is born out of freedom, the former out of fear.
A capacity to value the contribution that both genders bring to ministry without threatening each other is a sine qua non for working effectively together. A generosity of heart and spirit is needed to overcome conflicts and difficulties and we need to be open to giving and receiving forgiveness and being reconciled. We need to be compassionate with ourselves and less ready to blame others. The blessing of working at this level is that it enlarges our humanity. Where a truly collegial way of working emerges it should be a powerful experience and one that will school us in right relationships.
If this is the context in which we are called to exercise our priestly ministry we must do all that we can humanly to enable us to work together effectively. It is God’s work not ours. Our purpose is to discover what God wants to do through us. To do this we need to listen intently. We need to ground ourselves in prayer, constantly discerning as a group where God’s spirit is leading us. This will challenge us to let go of our own agendas, so that we can come into the mature freedom required to allow God to be our guide. It is an approach to ministry which is very much in harmony with the self-understanding of the Church as the people of God and as a communion of different vocations called to witness together to the presence and action of God among us.”
Bishop Liam S. MacDaid Chrism Mass 17 April 2014
Comments from Priests in attendance: It was felt that Bishop Liam’s homily reflected an accurate observation of life today within the Church and within the Priesthood. Any change that may come about will require a generosity of spirit, for the spirit is the linchpin to any future vision. It is important to evaluate the changes that are now happening within the Church, and to move at least a little as a result, for minds already made up disable any movement.
While the full package may not be there yet, a lot will be expected from us; but the great challenge that remains is for us Priests to get out into the ‘market square’ again, to be where our people are at, acknowledging the reality that the majority of our people are not coming to us on a regular basis.
We are of course not the only institution dealing with uncertainty; uncertainty is not just confined to Priesthood: family life, marriage, society in general is experiencing huge uncertainty. But as Church leaders, we Priests must facilitate and guide, we must move away from a style of leading by authority to that of collaborative ministry. This is the model for now and the future, and it will be a much healthier place for all to be, and for the Priest in the Parish it will become a more supportive place to be. We need to create a mind-set that acknowledges the great sense of what is best amongst our parishioners. All of this requires new structures and fresh training so that our communities become more active and alive, with or without a resident Priest. Our role as Priest is therefore to build a more alive Christian community today. It is also primarily a spiritual role, for what is deepest doesn’t change at any time; we must never lose that role as a ‘man of God’.
On a personal basis, we can no longer be a Priest on our own, we need that deep personal prayer life, we need trusted friends, spiritual direction, we need as a minimum that monthly check-in. We must therefore ask ourselves in all honesty if we are able to work effectively with people, because Priesthood of the future will be relational.
Our next gathering takes place on Wednesday 24th September 2014 in Clones.