St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
Wednesday, 17th April 2019
Bishop William Crean
Over the weekend I was reading a piece by a young woman who was writing “tongue-in-cheek” about why she prefers Easter to Christmas. She went through her experience of both. When speaking of Easter, she mentioned “the Jesus bit” for those so minded and went on to add that she respected the choice of those so inclined. Thanks, I thought to myself so tolerant of you. It seemingly did not occur to her that Easter is what she calls the “Jesus bit”!
It is incumbent on those of us in leadership in the Church to understand and analyse what is going on around us in society and to do so from a Christian perspective. The Second Vatican council described the process as reading the “signs of the times”. The purpose of the exercise is to try to discern how the gospel message can speak in a positive and supportive way to the people of this generation. This is proving to be a much more challenging task than many have thought. This is because many assumed that if you made the Good News of the gospel more accessible people would embrace it with enthusiasm and commit to living by it in a Christian community. This has not happened as envisaged and the realisation of this outcome is very sporadic. Yet the dream and vision is alive and well in the mission and life of the Church.
My friends, we gather as a diocesan community of faith to celebrate the Mass of Chrism, for all of us an annual celebration to put front and centre the celebration of key elements of the sacramental life of the Church.
Firstly, the priesthood through which pastoral care and teaching are realised. This ministry is exercised through the deeply personal sense of vocation. To all of us to whom it is entrusted, through ordination, are invited on this day to renew our priestly promises and commitment. We never do it lightly.
Then the oils of Catechumens, Chrism and the Sick are blessed to serve as symbols of the grace and healing the respective sacraments bring to those who receive them. The sacramental heritage is rich and precious. Sadly, it is not adequately understood and valued. Too often these sacraments are dismissed as pious and empty rituals. They are neither for the person of faith and understanding.
In the midst of great cultural change in family and society many people in parish and school work diligently share faith with a new generation of children but with mixed results. It has become a real challenge for those involved to witness so many indicate their desire for their children to receive the sacraments but fail to honour the commitment to share in the celebration of Sunday Mass, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (L.G.). This is not an exercise in recrimination but a plea for honesty and integrity on the part of parents with regard to the spiritual formation of their children. It matters to all those involved.
You will be aware that my Lenten Reflection “What are you doing on Sunday?” is a longer reflection on this issue. The fundamental question I pose is how can we, as individuals, families, and a society, bring with us our rich spiritual legacy
in a way that enriches, enlightens and inspires our lives? If we fail to conserve a societal climate where Christian spirituality and a sense of the sacred are valued our human ecology will suffer greatly. Hence, the importance of the “Sunday dimension”.
Those of us in the priestly ministry and our co-workers in the “Vineyard” religious and lay women and men are truly tested by the decision or drift of so many who no longer choose to belong. This new reality invites us to think differently about how we work together and try to resist the temptation to turn inward on ourselves. The Lord’s command “Go out to the world and proclaim the Good News” continues to be our mission. How we approach the new nature of that mission is critical for us priests.
The essence of the priesthood does not change. How it is exercised can be reconfigured according to the demands of the mission. Those who have laboured in mission territories always felt more freedom to adjust their approach according to the different circumstances they encountered. Might we in our changed circumstances need to open our imagination to think of more effective ways of ministering to the pastoral needs of people?
One of the great needs of people today is for spiritual guidance / direction and support in sharing and living the Christian life. Our parish structures do not seem to be effective in this regard. So, a new vision is called for. In this context it is worth recalling Peter’s use of the words of the prophet Joel in the Acts of the Apostles account of Pentecost Day. It pertains to all of us in our different roles in the community of faith.
In the days to come – it is the Lord who speaks
“I will pour out my spirit on all mankind.
Their sons and daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
Even on my slaves, men and women,
In those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will display portents in heaven above
and signs on earth below.
The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood
Before the great Day of the Lord dawns.
All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Joel 3: 1-5
I dream of a new era in the life of the Church as it seeks to adapt to a new social climate. As in physical climate change so too in the spiritual sphere adaption and adjustment are required. Failure to do so may lead to extinction.
Our parish structures are very old, a thousand years old, and have served us well as a way of organising our life in the Christian community. But no longer is that the case. As priests and people, we need to think beyond boundaries to make new bonds of connections with fellow believers in Christ.
To do that we need to begin conversations to see why we need to adjust and adapt. Together inspired by the abiding action of the Holy Spirit in and through us we may begin to lay down new foundations for the Church of the future.
Humanly speaking this call for adjustment and reconfiguration is a daunting task but we embrace it with confidence because of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. It was Peter’s inspiration it is ours too.
So, though we have endured much humiliation and disdain we remain resolute in the vision we have been blessed with by the Lord. We are strengthened by the daily bread of the Eucharist. We are greatly blessed in the faith we share, the hope it engenders and the love we bring to living. Our message, the Lord’s message for humanity is that all are precious and no one should be abandoned. We realise and fulfil our hopes and aspiration in, through and with one another.
In the days to come it is the Lord who speaks
“I will pour out my spirit on all mankind
Their sons and daughters shall prophesy
Your young men shall see visions
Your old men shall dream dreams”.
…. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.