Monday, 25 March 2019

Synod 2020. Number 11. Priestly concerns



Some thoughts that focus on what priests fear in the Synod process and in it's implementation afterwards.

I hear  from some sources that there is a concern expressed by a few lay members of the Synod that it will all be decided by the "men in black", ie by the clergy, without taking real notice of the lay input - or at least the some of the lay input. They feel the clergy will have all the power. 

For most of us ordinary clergy in parishes, this will come as something of a surprise because most of us often feel powerless:

the bishop might move us; 
the bishop might not move us; 
the diocesan structures control how we run our parishes; 
the laity won't assist in running the parish;
the laity are too bossy trying to run the parish;
there are ever increasing technical demands on our time - school inspections, building, electrical, asbestos, fire regulation inspections;
the bank account has 19 other signatories at the curial offices on it;
running more than one parish is exhausting;
doing funerals every week for mostly lapsed Catholics is taking up all my time;
depressed at the numbers attending;
what will happen in the future?

You get the idea. Most clergy in ordinary parishes do not, I think, feel terribly powerful.

Quite the reverse.

Questions I've heard being asked are:

What if I don't like the outcomes of the Synod and yet am asked to carry them out in structural or pastoral reorganisations in the diocese?

Will I end up looking after five parishes and be asked to stay on after the retirement age of 75?

If I really don't like the outcome, can I take some sort of early retirement? Would the diocese support me in that?

If the laity are to take over many of my roles, what am I for?

Will I end up at endless committee meetings?

Previously tried models such as "clustering" parishes, the other models, for example in Widnes, seem to instil an almost universal horror at the thought that these would be held up as out future.

A concern that the Church of England is being held up as some sort of model. After all it has lots of synods - for laity, clergy and bishops - all with voting interests. This would be disastrous - after all, if my Anglican friends will forgive me, the C of E is not exactly in the best of health.

There are also concerns expressed about how the data will be organised. No system of analysing this sort of information is completely without a bias. Some would like more information on this.

Recent Synods in Rome also seem to have gained a reputation for publishing conclusions other than what the delegates thought were the outcomes of their discussions.


For anyone who thinks the priests have all the power, here's what it sometimes feels like to us.







Sunday, 24 March 2019

Synod 2020. Number 10. Increasing Vocations isn't rocket science


To follow up on my post about good practice and places where some of the modern western Church's problems are actually in abeyance... here is an article from "Catholic World Report" on diocese in the USA where vocations to the Priesthood are on the increase, entitled, "Increasing Vocations isn't rocket science."

One of the  things I have not yet heard much of in our Synod is how to increase priestly vocations. Have we given up on this idea? Is it not important? Perhaps the examples of where Vocations are on the rise frightens some people off? We may not be rocket scientists but if our Faith is to take us to the Heavens we certainly need the Sacraments - and priests to minister them.


Thursday, 21 March 2019

Synod 2020. Number 9. The Politicians Syllogism



I came across this article below from 2012 in the "Catholic World Report". I thought it had a direct bearing on some of the responses we hear in the Archdiocese as to how to move forward with fewer priests' Fewer priests at present. I believe with all my heart that one of the aims of the Synod should be to find ways to attract more men to ordination, or rather, to allow those God is surely calling to hear that call. All the thousands of nominal Catholics in our schools have little chance of responding to a vocation to the priesthood that they might well have in God's Providence, if they never attend Mass. There are dioceses who are managing to buck the downward trend. 

Pope St John Paul made it crystal clear that he did not believe God was giving us a shortage of priests to force us into some sort of "modernity" where the laity took over the priestly roles. The great lack in the Church at this present time is precisely Catholic Action out in the world. Where Catholic social workers will run adoption agencies; Catholic teachers will teach (even in Catholic schools, there has long been a shortage of suitable headteachers); Catholic bankers will invest wisely; Catholic politicians will influence parliament; Catholic doctors will bring their faith to the health service; Catholic brick-layers will be noted for not swearing among their mates, etc etc... Catholics acting in the world in witness to Our Lord.

We are in danger of falling into the Politicians Syllogism when it comes to the modern answer to all our ills in the Church:

  1. We must do something
  2. This is something
  3. Therefore, we must do this.

Getting the laity to do it (or making all the laity, women included, clerics). This may be something but is it the right something.


A revolution in the Church’s thinking and practice regarding the Catholic laity has been underway for the past century or more. This striking development in theology and pastoral policy received by far its biggest boost up to now from the Second Vatican Council, although the development itself actually began well before Vatican II, and its full scope and significance have yet to appear.
An incident from the early 1950s helps set the Council’s contribution in historical context. At the time, I was attending a Catholic high school for boys run by a religious order whose members worked hard to attract promising students to the priesthood, especially as priests of that particular order.
In those halcyon days of plentiful clerical vocations, these efforts often met with success. I wasn’t attracted myself, but a number of my friends and classmates went from high school straight into the seminary. Some became priests and have persevered, and some did not.
I take it for granted that similar efforts to recruit for the priesthood and religious life also were going on back then at other Catholic schools. Why not? I hope it’s still like that. But at my school and, I suspect, many others, another form of recruitment—for the lay apostolate—was also underway.
In those years we students were strongly encouraged to attend a week-long program called the Summer School of Catholic Action run by the Jesuits at Fordham University in New York and other Catholic college campuses around the country. In the summer between my junior and senior years, I talked my parents into letting me go. I wasn’t as keen on Catholic Action as on seeing New York, but together with several hundred other boys and girls from Catholic high schools up and down the East Coast, I took in enough of the program that week to get the message.
As best I recall it now, the message was something like this:
“Apostolic lay people are needed to help the priests and religious save the world. Catholic teenagers should study hard, attend Catholic colleges, maybe even graduate school or law school or medical school, get excellent educations, become professional people good at their jobs, and then put it all to work—education, job, all the rest—in the service of Christ the King for the conversion of the heathens who surround us and the Christianizing of secular culture. That’s Catholic Action.”
Despite the allure of the Empire State Building and Broadway, more of that message may have sunk in than I realized at the time.
By then, of course, Catholic Action had been around for at least half a century. It took off in the 1920s and 1930s, apparently as a Church-supported response to fascism, Nazism, and communism. Pope Pius XI, its most notable champion, earned the name “Pope of Catholic Action” for his efforts on its behalf.
The movement made an impact some places in Europe and Latin America. Although it wasn’t so well known in the United States, in the 1930s and 1940s a number of groups and programs sprang up inspired by Catholic Action thinking. The “summer school” at Fordham was one of these.
Catholic Action in its day marked a giant step forward in the Church’s thinking about the laity. Giving lay men and women meaningful roles in the mission of the Church was something new back then. But Catholic Action also had a serious built-in limitation—its own official definition of lay apostolate.
Time again, you found something like this in the literature of Catholic Action: “The apostolate of the laity is a participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy.” Which is to say that the right and duty to share in the mission of the Church is a concession to the laity on the hierarchy’s part—something that comes to them on loan, so to speak—and in the end what lay people do by way of apostolate naturally is decided by the clergy.
Sixty years ago, I suppose, people were prepared to take all that for granted.
Then came the Second Vatican Council and its paradigm shift in the official vision of lay people. This is found especially in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, and it has two central points: first, lay people are called to be saints; second, lay people are called directly by Christ to take part in the apostolate, in the mission of the Church.
Chapter V of the Constitution on the Church, “The Call to Holiness,” says this:
It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society….The forms and tasks of life are many but holiness is one….Therefore all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life. (Lumen Gentium, 40,41)
It wasn’t that the Church hadn’t previously urged lay people to lead holy lives and offered them the means—indeed, that was done from the start. For too long, though, the emphasis was on minimal, legalistic goals for the laity—make your Easter duty, try to avoid mortal sin, get to Mass on Sundays and holy days. But now: “the fullness of Christian life and…the perfection of love.” That would have blown the mind of the British monsignor who a century earlier remarked that the “province of the laity” was “to hunt, to shoot, to entertain.”
The Constitution on the Church discusses lay apostolate in Chapter IV, “The Laity.” The crucial statement is this:
The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by the Lord himself. (Lumen Gentium, 33)
The laity’s participation in the mission of the Church is by no means necessarily a sharing in the apostolate of the clerical hierarchy. The Catholic Action model still had its place (lay people “can be called…to more immediate participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy,” the constitution says). But the laity have an apostolate that is properly their own—an apostolate to which they’re called directly by Christ in baptism and confirmation and which, as the constitution says, is “communicated and nourished” by the Eucharist and the other sacraments.
Lumen Gentium makes another point about lay apostolate that’s turned out to be of exceptional importance in light of postconcilar developments concerning lay ministry. The  apostolate proper to Catholic lay people, it says, doesn’t take place within the structures and institutions of the Church, but out there—out in the secular world. The laity have “this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth” (ibid.).
Here and there, of course, some people had said that for years, but up to this time the response had been underwhelming. “You’ve come a century too soon,” a curial official told Father Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, when he attempted to explain the new group a few years earlier. Now visionaries like Escriva were vindicated—by an ecumenical council, no less. “Epoch making,” exclaimed a lay auditor at Vatican II.
The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity develops and expands a number of these points. Of particular importance is what it says about individual apostolate, which it calls “the starting point and condition of all types of lay apostolate” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 16), and about “group apostolate.”
Speaking of the latter, it declares that lay people, “while preserving the necessary link” with ecclesiastical authority, possess “the right to establish and direct associations, and to join existing ones” (ibid., 19). The Church, it notes approvingly, has “very many apostolic enterprises owing their origin to the free choice of the laity and run at their own discretion” (ibid., 24). It might have been difficult to say what many of these were, but the approbation was welcome just the same.
The sixth chapter of the decree, “Training for the Apostolate,” supplies an overview of its subject arguably more noteworthy today than it was then, considering the currently prevailing neglect of apostolic formation of the laity. It comes down to this:
Training for the apostolate should begin from the very start of a child’s education. But it is more particularly adolescents and youth who should be initiated into the apostolate and imbued with its spirit. This training should be continued all through life. (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 30)
A noble ideal, which is now sadly ignored.
Major developments since the Council include the publication in 1983 of the new Code of Canon Law for the Western Church, with its fairly extensive treatment of lay people’s rights and duties; the 1987 general assembly of the world Synod of Bishops, which focused on the laity, and the subsequent publication of Blessed John Paul II’s post-synod document  Christifideles Laici (“The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People,” dated December 30, 1988 and released January 30, 1989); and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Pope John Paul promulgated in 1992.
All these documents assume and build on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, while Christifideles Laici also adds important insights about personal vocation and about the pros and cons of lay ministry.
John Paul II was hardly the first person to speak of personal vocation and apply the idea to the laity—among others, St. Francis de Sales and Cardinal Newman had done the same. But John Paul was the first pope to make personal vocation a central theme of his teaching and work out the idea at length, as he does in Christifideles Laici.
In fact, from eternity God has thought of us and has loved us as unique individuals. Every one of us he called by name…. However, only in the unfolding of the history of our lives and its events is the eternal plan of God revealed to each of us. Therefore, it is a gradual process; in a certain sense, one that happens day by day. (Christifideles Laici, 58)
This has important practical consequences—for example, with regard to formation.
The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live so as to fulfill one’s mission. (ibid.)
The central elements of this formation process John Paul lists as “receptive listening” to God’s word and to the Church, fervent and constant prayer, the help of a wise spiritual director, and discernment that involves applying one’s God-given talents to the circumstances of the world around one.
On lay ministry, Christifideles Laici combines approval with a cautionary note.
Vatican II had pointed the way to lay ministries, and Pope Paul VI in a 1972 document greatly expanded the possibilities for lay people to perform these roles of properly ecclesial service. By the time John Paul II wrote, however, problems had begun to emerge. These he listed as:
A too-indiscriminate use of the word “ministry,” the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood [i.e., the priesthood of the faithful or baptismal priesthood] and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of “supply” [i.e., the circumstances in which a shortage of priests requires that lay people to take on some ministerial functions], the tendency toward a  “clericalization” of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders. (ibid., 23)
John Paul adds that ministries and other roles performed in the Church by lay people “ought to be exercised in conformity with their specific lay vocation,” which is precisely the evangelization of the secular order (ibid.). As the popularity of lay ministries has grown in American parishes in recent decades, it’s fair to ask whether this point has been heeded or—as seems likely—pretty often ignored.
The teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning the laity was an enormous and lasting achievement, particularly when seen in conjunction with Blessed John Paul II’s contributions in Christifideles Laici. The doctrine is clear. But there is much work to do when it comes to forming Catholic lay people for the great task assigned to them by Vatican II in the name of Christ and his Church—the work of proclaiming the gospel to an indifferent and often hostile secular world.
Speaking of the laity’s role, Pope Benedict says lay women and men “should not be regarded as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy, but, rather, as people who are genuinely ‘co-responsible’ for the Church” (Message to the International Forum of Catholic Action, August 10, 2012). Here is an understanding of the laity’s role from which both they and the clergy stand to benefit greatly. It deserves close study and development. Thanks in large part to the Second Vatican Council, the revolution in thinking and practice concerning the laity clearly has come a long way. It still has a long way to go.
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About Russell Shaw
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide and the highly acclaimed American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Synod 2020. Less professional talkers and more active doers



In a recent Synod discussion, I got round to thinking about the input into the Synod. 

Instead of professional talkers - I'm afraid we have had some of them - we could do with people who have actually managed to create a thriving parish or diocese. Where would we find such outlandish characters? I hear you ask. Where are these outré creatures?

I have some that come immediately to mind. Let's ask them to come an speak to the Synod - practical experience of breathing life back into are often failing western churches. For the diocese in particular, it shows that we don't have to presume that we can't increase Vocations to the Priesthood.

PLEASE, IF THE SYNOD IS ABOUT LISTENING, 
LET'S LISTEN TO SOME PEOPLE LIKE THESE WITH A PROVEN TRACK RECORD.



Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Frejus-Toulon in the South of France.

I've met Bishop Rey a number of times on the Adoratio Liturgy Conferences he now organises each year and in his diocese on visits there. He wants to put a priest back in every church in his diocese - no small feat for France, where every tiny village has a church. Some years he has so many ordinations, they have to be held outside, as there are too many ordinands to fit in the cathedral (he holds to the tradition of ordaining priests together). He has one Religious group whose ministry is to convert Muslims to the Faith! He's the sort of man who you feel might be CEO of some international company, if he hadn't become a priest. He is addressing the Conference of Catholic Clergy in London soon. His own background has some formation in the charismatic movement but he opens his diocese to many new - and old - groups who want to work for the Faith. They represent various modes of expression but they are all orthodox. Commitment, zeal, orthodoxy - you're welcome!

You can read about his seminarians here.


And another interview from the Guardian newspaper here.


The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Under the care of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz until 2012 and now under the care of Bishop James Conley. The diocese has a consistent pattern of having the highest ratio of seminarians and ordinands to compared to its catholic population in the whole of the USA.


And an interview with Bishop James here.


Fr Dwight Longenecker's brand new church.

Fr Dwight took over a parish in a not-so-good neighbourhood in Greenville, South Carolina (Bible belt territory). He raised the funds to build a splendid new church in the Romanesque style to accommodate his thriving parish. I had the pleasure of visiting him exploring the new church, along with sub-chapel (for continuous Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament) school and parish offices.

You can read an article about him here.




Fr Donald Libby - 
- this is how many altar servers you are supposed to have in a small rural parish

Fr Libby was sent to a the Church of the Holy Rosary basically in the middle of nowhere (apologies to the folk of Cedar, Michigan) with a tiny congregation. He runs an unashamedly traditional parish (both forms of the Roman Rite) The photo above shows his altar servers (all boys). 
Need I say any more?


Fr Alexander Sherbrooke

Parish priest at St Patrick's, Soho Square in London. He has transformed the church and the parish in the heart of one of London's most infamous districts. The parish celebrates in a beautiful church as the source of its outreach to so many different groups, its hard to list them all.








Medai bias

Jolo Cathedral in the Philippines.

This Sunday, no doubt like many others I felt I had to speak about the massacre in New Zealand. An appalling event.

However,tragically not unique. It is strange though, what the western media chooses to focus on. 

Also, recently in Nigeria 120 Christians were slaughtered by Fulani Muslim militants in the Kaduna state of Nigeria. Not much mention of this in the British press.

Also, 20 dead and 111 hurt in the bombing of a Cathedral in the Philippines during Sunday Mass. Not much mention of this in the British press.

Could it possibly be that our western liberal media, so politically correct, thinks that non-western lives don't matter as much as western ones? Surely not, with all its support of nondiscriminatory reporting and liberal values.

And yet...

The liberal media have covered with ongoing detail the alleged outrage of "white saviour syndrome" when presenter Stacey Dooley was pictured holding an African baby for a Comic Relief effort. This is surely a minor issue compared with the massacres mentioned above, so why so little mention of them. Where is the outrage? The media holds itself up as a paragon of evenhanded virtue but this is far from the truth.

Seems to me respect for non-western peoples and countries is all talk. The coverage speaks for itself. There is a terrible bias in the media. It doesn't have to resort to fake news, it can just ignore the bits that don't fit it's agenda.