Saturday, 8 October 2011

Sad reflections on the Priesthood as expereinced by many

The decisive moment twenty years ago with
the Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock
in the Church of the English Martyrs,
Litherland, Liverpool.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 12th October) will be the twentieth anniversary of my Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. I will offer Mass at 7.30pm (EF) followed by a glass of something fizzy and canapés. Anyone who can make it is welcome to come along.

At this twentieth anniversary I have found myself in reflective mood.

In those twenty years I have been a curate, returned to study, spent three years as a school chaplain, spent nine years in my first parish as parish priest, and attempted Religious Life - among other things. I can honestly say that I have not experienced it as easy - in my personal struggles and in the context of a Church that is shrinking and seemingly failing in many ways. The members of the Church, including its clergy, are much divided. However, I have also been the privileged conduit of God's grace by bringing the Sacraments into people's lives at both precious and difficult times. If I had not been ordained I would never have experienced the care and friendship of many that I hold dear.

But there is a great sadness that seems to pervade the years. The longer I have been in the Priesthood and the more priests I have encountered, I have come to realise that there is a swathe of priests who have experienced the institutional Church as harsh, uncaring and even hurtful where they looked for a family and where they looked to serve the Lord. Some of these have disappeared, finding the struggle too much. Many others have given up in different ways. Many others struggle on quietly, disengaged from their brother priests, sometimes bullied by those in authority (this usually dressed up as righteousness), disengaged from their diocese but trying to minister in some little corner where they have been left to get on with as best they can.

All these different categories arise from different causes - perhaps they had a fall or a difficulty, a human frailty that let them down. Others just don't fit in with the prevailing regime - too outspoken, too Trad, too sensitive, too idealistic, even too holy. You will see that none of these is wicked or evil and yet those who fall into these categories are much sidelined and often mocked. What shocks me, on reflection, is just how many priests like this I meet.

Of course the Church is a human institution as well as a Divine one and yet somehow I feel that the Divine has been abandoned too readily. In the malaise the Church finds herself in in the recent past, so many seem to be busy not reaching for the divine, the holy, the Other but rather re-making the Church as a human institution - useful and acceptable but not an instrument of redemption, of wonder, or of beauty.

This is not a happy reflection and we shy away from it for it does not speak of success and growth and joy and yet it is the elephant in the room that everyone sees but no-one wants to mention. A shrinking Church and a Church in which so many people only half believe is indeed sad because it means fewer people who are on the way to the all-fulfilling life that is sharing in the redemption the Lord offers us or having so frail a grasp on it that they let it slip away.

We are bidden to pray for our priests and they certainly need it but let us pray for every member of the Church that the whole Church regains the confidence to shout its message from the rooftops.

It may just be that these priests are those who act in persona Christi not just at the altar where they make manifest the Risen Lord but also in their lives where they manifest the crucified Lord. May God bless and sustainus all wherever we may be.

Merear, Domine,

portare manipulum fletus et doloris;

ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.

May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow
in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors.

Vesting prayers: putting on the maniple.


Anonymous said...


Annie Elizabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie Elizabeth said...

Congratulations Father, Ad Multos Annos! Keeping you, and all your brother priests - particularly those struggling for one reason or another, in our family's prayers.

Jacobi said...

Do not be discouraged Fr.

Christ's Mystical Body on Earth has been through a rough time since the end of the Second Vatican Council, but not for the first time in its two thousand years of history.

The Pope has said we might have to accept a smaller Church for some time.

Just think how things must have been in your part of England some 46 years into the Protestant Reformaion


Fr Kenneth Hyde said...

Congratulations Simon on reaching twenty years.I try to pray for all brother priests every day. It is a most wonderful gift that we have received from the Lord, and a joy to serve God's holy people.Social acceptence of the Church is something I dread if it means compromise of our divine mission.

georgem said...

Dear Father, You are in my prayers every day - a decade of the Rosary for the Pope and all priests; sometimes said well, sometimes not so well.
You do not always know what good you have achieved for souls, but you will when the time comes to account.

GOR said...

Yes Father, a sobering reflection and sad to boot, especially when the trials result from institutional sources. If we’re honest we recognize our own failings but in humility hesitate to count the good things we have done. But they exist – and are known to Him. I sometimes wonder how St. John Vianney managed to carry on. He too, suffered much from institutional sources and was frequently frustrated in what he wanted to achieve.

It’s easy to say: “Well, he was a saint!” But he wasn’t born a saint. No doubt what he had to endure helped him on the road to sanctity along with his own dedication to his calling. We sometimes think that sanctity is only achieved by doing extraordinary things, but as he and another French saint – St. Therese – showed, it can be achieved by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.

Congratulations on twenty years of the priesthood. You have achieved what many other priests have not – for one reason or another. No doubt you, like many other priests, have had to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and may yet suffer more of them. But be encouraged that the example of faithfulness is noted - not just here, but hereafter.

Ad multos annos!

Dorothy B said...

God bless you, Father, and congratulations on this anniversary of your priestly ordination.

As Georgem has said, "You do not always know what good you have achieved for souls, but you will when the time comes to account." The good Lord's yoke isn't one of those milkmaid's yokes, just for one solitary person, but for a team of two, patiently ploughing. You cannot yet see what has been achieved. But the Other, stronger One, has guided your steps and secretly borne the greater weight for you, and one day you will see the harvest that came to be because you bound yourself to Him.

Wishing you many happy and fruitful years.


Anonymous said...

Dear Father,

What you have written is nothing new in the Church. From my vast reading of the history of the Church, I have noticed that somehow the Church manages more often than not to let down Her most loyal sons and/or daughters. You are, however, in good company.

Please know that I will be adding you to my list of priests that I daily pray for. You have a supporter in the United States.

Pray to Padre Pio. Ask him to help you when you feel discouraged. The Church wasn't kind to him either. It hasn't been easy for the faithful laity either. We, too, are often alone, even in our parishes. Sometimes, even in our dioceses.

God bless you, may Our Blessed Mother keep you safe within Her Immaculate Heart, and may Our Lord grant you another fruitful twenty years as His faithful priest!