Holy Thursday, 2 April 2015
My dear priests and people of the diocese of Clogher, welcome to your Cathedral, dedicated to our Patron, St. Macartan. You have travelled this morning from parishes laced by breaking Atlantic waves. You have come from parishes that keep watch across a less energetic sea, wondering if its diminished energy has anything to do with Sellafield and its companions. You have come here from North and South identified by a range of letters and numbers.
Some of you will be confirmed this year. Many of you come to support your priest as he renews his commitment to serving the people of God. Others of those present give their lives to the teaching and healing professions bringing the word of God and the bread of life to those who need it for the nourishment of their spirit. Tá fáilte romhaith, gach éinne dhíbh.
Those of you who were present here on the corresponding day last year may remember that I reflected with those present on the changed circumstances in which we live as the people of God and the implications of this for us all. Afterwards I invited lay people who were present to join others in examining and mulling over the suggestions I made and perhaps share their thought at a future date.
I am delighted that this invitation has been taken up and that two representatives will this morning respond to my proposals on behalf of a wider group of active diocesan helpers. It makes this morning’s Eucharist a rather special occasion when Baptismal oil will mingle with the oil of Holy Orders, in a dialogue inspired by the humble and generous action of the Lord himself on this day many years ago when he washed the feet of the apostles, a gesture we were asked to imitate.
To prepare ourselves to celebrate this Mass more worthily, let us ask pardon for our sins.
Good morning, all
My name is Linda and I come from Monaghan
My name is Seamus and I come from Enniskillen
Last year at this Mass, Bishop Liam spoke about how things had changed for us all.
It has not been easy for our present generation of priests.
Morale has been sapped and our culture has changed.
Bishop Liam reminded us that priests are still called to be ministers of God and of eternity.
Our people are also called to be a people of God and of eternity.
Last year at this Mass, Bishop Liam said that wherever our future lies,
it will have to involve working together, priests and people.
Leadership will have to be different and shared.
Some years down the road, the question will no longer be whether we have a local priest
but whether we have active Christian communities witnessing to and passing on the message of Jesus.
At Bishop Liam’s request, we met as a group to give some thought to what he said and now, my dear Bishops, priests, and brothers and sisters in Christ, we come here this morning to give a response.
We don’t have all the answers. We don’t claim to speak for everyone.
We have not come to preach to you.
We have come to share our reflection on what was said.
The first thing we would like to say to you, our priests, is that you are important to us, your people.
You are loved and respected.
Many of you are working harder than ever, in spite of hip replacements, lower numbers, and changing times.
There is a lot of brokenness among us and it is to you we turn for much-appreciated support in our time of need.
We know of people who have come back to church for an important occasion, having been away for a while.
They came with low expectations to a funeral, or to a First Communion,
and found themselves positively surprised by their experience.
The spark of connection with our faith community began to glow again.
God’s grace is at work through you.
Like us all, you have faults and failings.
Yet, you have generously committed your lives to God and God’s people.
We respect your commitment and we very much need it.
We need your service of God, and we need your service of the people of God.
And that’s the first thing we wanted to say; our priests matter to us, and we are grateful to you.
The second thought that we wanted to share is this:
we accept – as you, Bishop Liam said – that the future of the church will be tied in with collaborative ministry.
We are in it together, facing the future as one church -priest and people, people and priest.
We have a mission given to us by Jesus and it is together that we are called to fulfil it.
We know that this will mean moving to a new mindset.
For many years we have slipped into thinking of our parish as a place where the priest does everything.
But ours is a church where everyone has a part to play, where everyone has to take responsibility.
Bringing good news to the poor, binding up hearts that are broken,
proclaiming liberty to captives, comforting all who mourn, when we do these things together,
we are more easily seen as a people called and blessed by God.
Last year, Bishop Liam said that formation would be a most important factor.
We will certainly need help to get through the discomfort of change.
It is easier to criticise than to change.
Letting go of the ‘status quo’ is difficult.
One the one hand, parishes need to become places where lay parishioners step up and take on their role.
On the other hand, parishes need to become places where priests foster the role of the laity
not only for particular short-term projects.
We also need to have the conversations and meetings that lead to
the long-term sharing of talents and ideas for the betterment of the whole parish.
Our parishes need to be places where ministries complement and support each other:
the priest carrying out his priestly ministry; and the laity carrying out their parish ministry in such a way
that the priest is free to be the priest.
God’s spirit is already leading the way.
We need to listen, pray and work together with mutual respect.
We have to take small steps.
Through the small steps, we will see our way to the bigger steps.
Through the small actions, we will see our way to the new thinking.
The smaller steps have been happening already.
Many parishes are already on the way.
Priest and people work together:
in preparation for sacraments, hospital chaplaincy, parish baptism teams,
in marriage preparation through Accord, the John Paul II Awards,
the management of primary and second-level schools,
and in Parish Safeguarding Committees.
The list goes on. This isn’t the place to list them all.
The point is that collaboration is already happening.
In many ways, we still have a distance to travel,
particularly in the matter of decision-making in our parishes.
Our respective roles must evolve and change further,
because the way of being church has to evolve and change
if we are to be a Church in the modern world.
We owe it to the future to work together to hand on the Good News.
Anything less will leave our culture to slide further away from Christ.
We want to finish by stating our response to our Bishop’s vision like this:
we are ready and willing to play our part; we know that we need to take an active part in the mission of the Church.
It is when we all work together, in our different roles, that we are the Church at its best.
The future is unknown to us. Yet it is in God’s hands – God’s safe hands.
Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, the Spirit of the Lord has been given to us.
Guided by God’s Spirit, and prompted by God’s Spirit,
we can work together in deeper ways – God’s ways.
May the Holy Spirit guide us. May the love of God nourish us.
May we achieve the unity among ourselves which the Lord prayed for his disciples. Amen.
Before we ask for God’s blessing I wish to thank you all for your presence here this morning. For the priests their presence was a support to one another as well as a reassurance to you the faithful that they are at your service. It was both touching and uplifting for our priests to hear how much you cared for and respected them. It was most encouraging for the priests to hear that lay people were both anxious and willing to continue and to expand their tradition of involvement in the service of the community of believers.
It was obvious from the response that much thought had already been given to the implications of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves and how important both formation and structure will be as we move to a new level of collaboration in decision making and action. It was evident that we have all learned a great deal from the experience of working together in response to Pope Francis’ invitation to us to assist in preparing for the closing Synod on marriage and the family later this year. These findings have already been given to the priests of the diocese at their pre-Easter Deanery Conferences and have been delivered to Maynooth for forwarding to Rome.
Now we must begin the task of sifting and taking into account for our future work all the comments and recommendations that apply to us. We look forward to doing that in collaboration with you and glad that you are so willing to work with us together – “Clogher walks with Francis”.
At one of the recent Synod consultation gatherings, an older parishioner commented that the invitation to contribute to the local Church’s response to the Pope was so new, so different from the kind of Church people had grown up in. The comment was made that: ‘the Church used to tell us what to do. Now they are asking us to help them’. That may be correct in some respects. But today’s contribution from Linda and Seamus and the experiences of the recent Synod consultations point us to a new place, where parishes can be places where ministries complement and support each other: the priest carrying out his priestly ministry; and laity carrying out their parish ministry in such a way that the priest is free to be the priest.
To that end, I invite the fourteen Pastoral Areas to actively engage together in this process of discernment; to consider the best ways to support the life and structure of the local Church in moving forward in our mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all. May the Holy Spirit guide us, the love of God nourish us, and may we achieve the unity among ourselves which the Lord prayed for his disciples.
+Liam S. MacDaid
2 April 2015