Cloyne Priests Assembly
November 12th – 13th 2019
Homily notes of Bishop Wm. Crean
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Just about every public entity is trying to figure out what is going on / happening in society – be it business, sport, charity or Church. Reading the charts of societal tides is essential to all by way of planning for future trends and developments.
With Trócaire, I was party recently to the fruits of such an exercise undertaken by a company that specialise in the creative presentation of ideas, by way of advertising. The basic question is the same – what is happening in society? what is evolving? what is generating the waves of change? How do people experience / identify the issues that are important to them? by what methods do you make connection with them? For so many people this experience is lived fully before it’s reflected upon. The main issues surfaced readily;
· Increasing diversity of Irish society
In a class of 30 children – 6 have been born outside of Ireland and 1 child is non-white
· Growth in populism – Them versus Us.
· Declining influence of the Church
· The numbers identifying as Catholic are falling.
I do not need to spell out the details of this new reality. We know because we are experiencing it. For us, Climate Change has already taken place and it is overwhelming in its impact. We have witnessed so much, ripped apart by anger, resentment, disappointment and rejection / abandonment. In the midst of these forces countless men and women of faith have remained steadfast. All of us in our various roles have ‘hung in there’ in the best sense of the term. We have placed our trust in the Lord’s promise of fortitude and perseverance. We have sought to our credit despite the “slings and arrows” to be open, positive and welcoming. This is truly heroic humanly speaking, spiritually speaking it has brought us to our knees in our dependence on God and to the core of our vocation to ministry. So much that is akin to Peter’s experience of the Lord’s repeated query “Do you love me”? we too sometimes were prone to annoyance as we answer “Lord you know I love you”. The Lord’s command is unchanging.
“Then Feed my sheep”
The change of climate has disoriented us. We are less sure where the sheep are and of the fodder they need. It is that uncertainty that leaves us unclear as to where / how we should give of ourselves, how and where we should invest our energy.
Our sacramental ministry is central to our understanding of Priesthood – ALTER CHRISTUS. Yet we know that for many people the sacramental life of the Church is no longer understood as the spiritual well from which they desire to quench their thirst. This of itself is not a new phenomenon – it has happened many times through the Churches history where changing cultural forces led to great decline. But its history has also many powerful examples of renewal in the life of the Church through religious orders and lay organisations who responded with the guidance of the charism of a founder or foundress to the need for renewal.
And so, it is in our time in Ireland. The fire seems to have gone out, but it has not. The embers remain and our call at this time is to “fan the flame” of the Spirit given us.
One particular pastoral strategy that is proposed is that of the concept of Synodality. It is an old reality in a new configuration that the Church, especially Pope Francis, is proposing as the essential path to renewal especially because it engages the lay faithful in the process of discernment in the life of the Church both globally and locally.
We tend to associate Synodaltiy with its recent format as evolved by Pope Francis. In reality, wherever and in whatever structure lay and religious gather to reflect on and discern together on issues in the parish community, Synodality is at work. A Parish Pastoral Council properly constituted is the local Church is Synod. So also are the various other groups committed to building up the parish community.
How we gather and for what purpose is not pre-determined or prescribed – rather what is required is a genuine desire for shared discernment. Discernment like Synodality is and has been an essential feature of the spiritual life. However, it has found a new lease of life through the Ignatian formation of Pope Francis. But it is not confined to Ignatian spirituality or the Jesuits. In fact, there is an interesting quotation in Familiaris Consortio from Pope John Paul II on discernment.
“Discernment is accomplished through the sense of faith, which is the gift that the Spirit gives to all the faithful. And therefore, is the work of the whole Church according to the diversity of the gifts and charisms” …
The Church, therefore, does not accomplish this discernment through the Pastors… But also, through the laity:
Christ made them His witnesses and gave them understanding of the faith and the grace of speech” (Acts 2:17-18).
Synodality and discernment are instruments given the Church at this time to find the path into the future.
It is not an easy path – it will call for great patience, careful listening, understanding and formation.
Synodality is no “run of the mill” meeting framed by a predetermined agenda. The nature and character of the gathering is the agenda – how our faith in the Lord Jesus inspires and guides our journey together.
To that end, together we are taking tentative steps to converse with one another within parishes and between them.
As priests your role is critical by way of facilitating these conversations, these efforts to bring to the surface the reality of living the Christian life to-day.
This is meant to be “a ground-up” exercise to guarantee its rootedness. It will be a slow process the fruit of which many of us will not live to see realised. But then like the sower who went out to sow we know that proper growth requires good seed, favourable climate and careful cultivation.
May the Lord of the harvest bless us with the humility, courage and generosity to be guardians and shepherds of this work of gathering.