Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gain and Loss

I was supposed to go to Rome last year for the diaconate ordination of Matthew O'Gorman at the English College Villa, I couldn't make it but I was absolutely delighted to be able to be at Southwark Cathedral for his ordination to the priesthood, he was ordained together with Mark Higgins, who I don't know but I think I would like to get to know. Fr Matthew I have known ever since he was studying in Brighton, and with heroic valour set up a 'Life Group'  in the University here.

Both seem to be excellent young priests, both were educated at the famous John Fisher School and were influenced by the 'Faith Movement' and the very good priest involved with it, both a rich source of vocations. Whilst Matthew and Mark were giving first blessings I enjoyed meeting the young clergy who are always present at an ordination, they always renew my youth. At this ordination there was a good number of them.

What I find impressive about our young priests is the confidence they have. The publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to have marked the most significant change. Before it any old arcane nonsense could be passed off as the Catholic faith in seminaries, after it any seminarian could simply refer to the Catechism and say, 'But Father article ### of the CCC says quite clearly ####, so how do justify saying ...'. It is interesting that several seminary Rectors were the most vociferous opposers of the Catechism. The other important cause of change was the very priestly pontificate of Benedict XVI, with its renewal of the liturgy, the liberation of the Old Rite and continuous affirmation of the priesthood and its celebration of that most priestly of saints the Cure d'Ars during the Year for Priests.

The sad note was that in the week when Southwark Archdiocese ordained two priests, it also lost two priests. One who has given up the priesthood to teach maths and another who apostatised to become an Anglican clergyman. There was a time when it was not unusual for young priests who were ordained just a little later than me to decide within the first few years of ordination that the priesthood was not for them. The situation is certainly better now, simply because, for the most part, seminaries are much better nowadays, and younger priests seem to be formed to be disciples rather than mere functionaries, and I think the support network younger priests form is stronger.

The Australian Fr Paul McGavin gives an interesting list of some requirements for future Bishops, what he doesn't list is the need for a bishop to care for his priest. The Gospel of course would require him not merely to care but to exhibit Christ-like love for his priests, especially for the weak and frail. Peter is given the task of strengthening the brethren, this is the role of a bishop with his presbyters. Invariably priests are treated not as brothers or as the Rite of Ordination says 'co-workers' and 'collaborators' with the order of bishops.

Cardinal Burke used to visit his seminary weekly and made time to build a relationship with his seminarians and continued that relationship after ordination but he seems to be an exception. Many bishops seem to treat their clergy as a possible source of problems, who are best avoided. Considering the enormous expense to train a priest and their rarity nowadays, one would expect a bishop to spend most of their time 'strengthening' their priests. In some dioceses the opposite can happen, bishops undermine their clergy.

We clergy too, are often very poor at supporting one another. Clergy can be sick, depressed or even dying and be ignored by their brethren, they can lose their faith or begin preaching heresy or fall into serious sin or addiction and be left to themselves. It is certainly one of my faults, we tend to imagine greater resilience in our brothers than there actually is or simply not want to bothered by their problems. It is the Dives and Lazarus syndrome, it probably reflects our care for our parishioners as well. The problem if a priest feels uncared for by his father and brothers he is likely to treat the faithful in  a similar way.

As for younger clergy, it seems rare nowadays for them to sent to bullying curate-breakers but there is often a deep sense of frustration for them, little seems to be done, still, to develop their talents and skills, it seems not much attention is given to career development, and often their talents, skills and enthusiasm is left to stagnate or wither. In the old days it was often once this had happened would the be appointed as Parish Priest somewhere. The Church should not be a less caring employer than business or industry.

For the two priests who have left I hope that their bishops and their brother clergy, (and even their former parishioners) do not simply wash their hands of them but continue their pastoral support. The model is the good shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep on the hillside to go in search of the one which was lost.


On the side of the angels said...

Excellent post: Thank you

Zephyrinus said...

I also say "Excellent Post", Fr. Thank you.

So many truths and observations. An excellent read.

And, it is important to say: "Thank You, Fr, for your magnificent Priesthood and devotion to your Parish, Parishioners and Readers of your Blog".

in Domino

JARay said...

I echo the thoughts of those two who have already posted. Thank you Fr. for this blog. I welcome the reading of it and the chance to make a posting myself.

Valentin Jan said...

Somebody spare a thought for the laity affected by all this, including the many children whose pastoral needs appear to be at the bottom of the pile here.

"Qui autem scandalizaverit unum de pusillis istis qui in me credunt expedit ei ut suspendatur mola asinaria in collo eius et demergatur in profundum maris."

Sixupman said...

A First Class Post, Father.

Ma Tucker said...

1 John 2:19
"They went out from us, but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us; but that they may be manifest, that they are not all of us."

They are not children but grown men and are responsible for their heresy and perversion of mind. Charity consists of prayer and fasting for them. God gives us all enough grace. There is no excuse, let's not pretend otherwise.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Charity consists off a whole lot more, to limit Charity is diabolic"

Et Expecto said...

It is good to see two newly ordained priests standing at the front door of the John Fisher School, and even better to know that they ate both old boys of the school. I am delighted to hear that JFS (my old school) is continuing its tradition of producing future priests. I believe there is yet another JFS old boy studying at Wonersh.

I met Fr Mark Higgins (then Deacon Mark Higgins) at the Latin Mass Society's training conference earlier this year, where he learned the older form of the Mass. He impressed me greatly at the time and we can expect him to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Latin Mass.

Fr Matthew O'Gorgan looks like a good chap too. May the John Fisher School keep turning out good priests.

Valentin Jan said...

Dear Fr Blake,

Certainly everyone should be cared for and prayed for when they fall but priests have been known to act in bad faith.

Leaving the priesthood, like deserting your spouse, is a serious matter.

If a priest has a crisis of vocation there (I'm sure you know and appreciate) real consequences both while he is going through that turmoil (for the current congregation(s)) and afterwards (for the whole church).

I do not see much pastoral care for anyone – priest or laity – affected by the situation in my diocese.

Bless you.

Jacobi said...

Father, It is good to see your remarks about these two new priests. As I have said recently, two in my diocese, a young priest and a deacon who should be ordained shortly, are good.

Something has happened in the UK Colleges in Rome!

It's a small point, but your priests in the photo have their hands joined, something we have not seen over the past forty years, except in Traditional Orders. The deacon, visiting from Rome, at our Mass last Sunday read the Gospel with his hands joined!

Priests will be fewer in the future. Bishops must be aware of the strain they will be under. Parishioners will help. But they, the priests, as well as the rest of us, have to face reality.

With all the good will in the world, as work, time, age and inevitable illness progress, we are all on our own. It is Christ, still hanging on the Cross, with Our lady looking up, and with our Guardian Angel and favoured saints who will be with us in the end.

And that must be part, in particular, of the priestly calling.

Aitch said...

I'm looking forward to meeting Fr Matthew when he joins us here in Purley in September.

Pelerin said...

Jacobi has pointed out how the two new Priests have their hands in the 'traditional' position of prayer. So good to see and so dignified. First impressions are so important and my heart sinks if I am at a Mass where the Priest has ambled down the aisle arms swinging by his side as if he is off on a cross country walk.

It only dawned on me that it was possibly a generational thing when my attention wandered whilst I was at a large concelebrated Mass (not in England) a few years back and I noticed the position of the Priests' hands assemble round the altar. A third had their arms down by their sides, a third had their hands clasped and a third had their hands in the position of the two young priests pictured. Intriguingly I then realised that the first group were all elderly possibly even retired, the second middle aged and the third were all young Priests.

gwyn sul said...

I enjoy your blog Father. As an Anglican I think your choice of words:- "apostatised" regarding the Roman Catholic priest who moved to Anglican orders is a little strong. It is not a term often used, certainly not of those who joined the Ordinariate for instance. The priest in question has not renounced his faith.

One of your other points I strongly agree with. That regarding on-going support for clergy. Yes they have to form real Christian relationships to give and receive prayer, support and accountability. The saddest clergy I know are the most isolated, often self inflicted.

Keep up the Good work with the blog, I don't always agree with you but you do have a certain style!


Fr Ray Blake said...

I can't think of another word for someone who repudiates the Church founded by Jesus Christ himself and joins an ecclesial community, with doubtful sacraments and doctrine, which places 'the spirit of the age' above that which was received from Catholic Tradition, or as Catholics would say, from Christ himself.

On the side of the angels said...

Agreed Father but what sort of message are we putting out if others can even contemplate it? Still shocked at the Michael Coren move but given the online treatment he afforded he almost felt vindicated -same with the lynch-mob witch-hunt of Fisher - we'be got to get it into our heads these decisions can be caused by temporary wobbles or crises or fallings away and the door needs only to be left slightly ajar for a potential future return - but vicious spite and retribution leaves them convinced there's no way back

Paul said...

To describe a Catholic who becomes an Anglican as "apostatised" might boost your ego and get something off your chest, but does such language really serve any useful purpose?

Fr Ray Blake said...

It doesn't boost my ego, it is simply accurate