St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Priest as Cultural Shock Absorber”
It is much longer than I care to remember since I heard Fr. David Power, O.M.I. use the
image of the shock absorber to help understand the role of the priests in modern society. At
the time we thought it funny because the Italian for shock absorber is “ammortizzatore” we
could almost feel the shock in the word itself!
Times passing has revealed how appropriate a description of the experience of priests over
the recent decade and decades that has been. We need not dwell on describing the details
because have felt and experienced the shocks and indeed continue to do so. When we heard
the invitation of the Lord “to come and see” we responded over time with a sure yes while
knowing it would not be all sweet and light and so it has proved. And we know that without
the shadows we would know no light or hope.
Gathering in the Spring of 2022 history will record that the world is learning to live with
Covid 19 having experienced the death of millions and the sickness of an innumerable more.
It has had an impact on so many levels and will continue to do so. It pales before the
outbreak of war in the Ukraine which rages as we speak inflicting death and destruction on a
truly shocking scale. We, at this point cannot envisage its consequences for the world. It is
simply too soon.
It has placed Climate Change on a back burner, so to speak, and pardon the pun.
Taken together an air of anxiety prevails due to new uncertainties.
With these levels of shock there is a lot of absorbing to be done at a human and spiritual level
because all national and international upheavals touch the lives of the ordinary citizen.
That is not to speak yet of the issues being processed within the life of the Church and how
the Church as believers in Christ interact with and contribute to meeting these global
challenges. For all of us people, religious and priests, these circumstances are the “refiners
fire” through which we are purified in intention, purpose and living.
I have a great sense of gratitude to God for all who are serving people through these turbulent
times. Priests and people have worked tirelessly to enable people to gather in faith and
prayer through Covid 19. Teachers, parents and pupils ensured schools could carry on.
Frontline women and men in health and public services have left us in awe at their resilience
and generosity. People who say religion and faith is dead are mistaken, this is and has been
faith in action.
Since we last met, Pope Francis, has set the Church worldwide on a Synodal Pathway. It is
an invitation to communities to gather in a more collegial and conversational way with view
leadership in dioceses, parishes and religious communities. After a long period of anything a
natural fatigue sets in. So, this call to a Synodal Pathway can easily feel like Peter and his
fishermen companions being asked to cast out the net again having fished all night and
caught nothing. They did so because Jesus asked them. Those entrusted with the work of the
Synodal Pathway are deeply conscious of this “ask” of priests with lots of pastoral
responsibility. Cardinal Mario Grech – Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and
Archbishop Lazzaro You Heung sik – Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy have written a
special letter to priests about the Synodal Pathway and their role in it. Might I quote, their
quote from the Preparatory Document.
“We recall that the purpose of the Synod, is not to produce documents, but to plant dreams,
draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds,
weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a
bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands”.
It is indeed a call to cast out the net again despite the fact that much of our fishing seems a
Priests alone cannot do it, but with our people, together we can be midwives for the birth of
new life in the Church in your place.
For all of us it will be a challenge. Our bearlike embrace of serving only our own need can
so easily rob us of the abundance of life that comes from sharing each other’s burdens.