Monday, 13 February 2017
Re-visiting Forward Together in Hope -or into lamentation
I have been looking at the document for moving ‘Forward Together In Hope’, mentioned in a previous blog post. The Diocesan Document is available here. I have chosen to comment upon the following, which are bullet-points taken directly from the document which says:
“Our new partnerships will offer opportunities to ensure that:
· A range of formation programmes can be developed, at a more local level, to help communities provide pastoral care for many groups of people, catechesis, marriage preparation and worship.
This seems admirable. I have always felt that deaneries could have worked more closely; one perhaps one providing Marriage Preparation; another providing First Communion Preparation or Reader/ Extra-ordinary Ministers Formation etc. It has always been problematic when preparation or formation courses are held in a location central to the Diocese as travel for many people made it impossible to attend. We might also have better input at a local level and not be formed like sausages to suit a particular person’s vision.
· Support can be made available for smaller communities.
Yes: more priests taking it in turn to celebrate Mass for them; hear their Confessions, anoint their sick. But having their own named priest remains essential if we are not to fall into having communities which are decapitated Christs (bodies without a head). Each parish should have its own named priest to teach, sanctify and govern; to oversee the parish as its local shepherd.
· The gifts, talents and financial resources in a wider area can be put at the service of more people.
Yes, but care needs to be taken. If this means a central fund for partnership areas, how will parishes like one I served which is very small but very generous (and therefore not short of money) feel about their funds being used to help out a larger parish who has not had land to sell or does not have a good weekly offering? We might like to say charity will overcome but in reality, that is not how people broken by original sin with the wound of concupiscence tend to function. It is naïve to think people are not concerned to spend their own money on their own parish.
· Responsibility for a range of services such as finance, health and safety, administration and communication can be coordinated across a wider area.
I’m not sure how this one will work; it uses high-sounding words but there is no explanation as to how this is expected to work out.
· Priests can be freed to concentrate on their essential calling to preach, call the community to worship and the celebration of the sacraments.
This one is very problematic: it removes from priests their role as shepherds and makes them sacrament machines. It is contrary to scripture in which the Apostles took care to ensure they left a presbyterate and overseer for each area. Such shepherding is not peripheral to the call of the priest but is part of his essential calling: Our Lord lamented communities where there were no shepherds; they are therefore of His Divine Will for each community.
· A thorough and careful review of property and its uses can be carried out throughout the area.
One might hope that this means selling off unused land and closing unused buildings. It will hurt, but did the Bishop not tell us to expect pain as the result of this programme? Why avoid it now? Larger parishes can at least have their own pastor.
· Opportunities can be found for people to come together across the area to celebrate and worship together.
We have been doing this anyway: have we not for years had shared Penitential Services, shared Carol Services, Deanery-wide advertised pilgrimages etc?
· Leadership teams including priests, deacons and people can develop to help everyone deepen their understanding of what it means to be a witness to Jesus in our world today.”
This does not reflect the Tradition of the Church: the leadership role is within the shepherding role; responsibility for certain tasks may be taken on by lay members of the community, but leadership of the flock lies with the shepherds, not the sheep. We have not given the laity their education and formation to be salt of the earth –their authentic vocation is, said Vatican II, “the evangelization and sanctification of men and the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel” Decree on the Apostolate of the laity, #2).
In truth, we seem to have spent three years to no real purpose, other than giving the people the experience of feeling they were being consulted. It was of no real purpose because it brought about nothing new, only the extending of an already-existing model of cross-boundary working: we first went from Deaneries to the ‘twinning of parishes’; then to tripartite parishes as ‘pastoral areas’; we have now spent three years to do no more than extend ‘pastoral areas’ to ‘Partnership’ areas. I doubt three years was needed to merely extend a model that has been going on for some time now.
All of this however, fails to note the elephant in the room; the failure to promote the priesthood as a singular and sacred way of serving God. Let’s be honest: without diminishing marriage which is at the core of the Church and society, marriage is of the natural created order of things; it was “that way from the beginning”. Men are called out of that natural order to serve the community, which is why the word vocation was customarily applied only to priesthood and religious life.
In his Introduction to the Booklet the Bishop says, “I hope that our whole diocesan family will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into the future with confidence, a deep sense of mission and a willingness to witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God.” I too hope the Holy Ghost will inspire and lead the Diocese. I am not sure about the word ‘continue’ as I think by the direction e have been taking in the West for some years now courts the danger of making priests into nothing more that sacrament machines who renege on their calling to ‘teach, sanctify and govern’. If we leave the hsheep to tend the sheep it will no longer be individual sheep that wander off but whole flocks –for want of a shepherd who calls and directs their way.