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.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake