Seven more of our priests are retiring. We pray for them to enjoy the quiet final years of their lives and to have happy memories of serving God’s people. Our organisation in parishes will come to depend on the people whose skills and experience will become ever more recognised and valued. Good people offer initiatives and leadership, there will be welcome developments.
The fewer priests who remain, and we know that number will reduce each year, would be overburdened by those who want nothing to change. We have to accept change. In a few years there will be one priest for Our Lady’s, Sacred Heart and St Joseph’s. That is the new plan. How would you help one priest to cope – and the same question is being asked in all parishes of the diocese.
To suggest married and women priests is not the answer now, though may be in the future; the experience of the other Christian Churches is not encouraging: they are worse off for vocations than the Catholic Church is, even though they have married and women priests and ministers.
The deeper realities are that few people want to be priests, and few priests are able to stay beyond retirement age. Some find the burden of expectations too much as they become older and some find it difficult to relate to our fast-changing world. Younger people see nothing to inspire them in worn-out priests and dissatisfied parishioners. There was a priest suicide last week.
During my years I have been with priests who were desperate, whose friends had taken their own lives, who feared they could become as desperate. I have written in the Catholic press, but under other names so that no one would guess who were involved. We all know that suicide in families is devastating; we priests are a family and we share that sense of loss.
Please pray for the latest priest to take his life and for his family, for the many families who have suffered attempted and actual suicides, and then ask yourself honestly “Why should anyone want to become a priest for people who grumble and criticise?” With advancement in world communication our Catholic Church is now transparent. Ask your children and grandchildren what they think of the terrible public scandals in the Church, especially the abuse of children and women and the cover-ups, financial corruption, and you will know why they don’t want to come to church.
There is little to inspire them, and they do not accept a duty to come. People need to be inspired if they are to be involved. The authoritarian Church has failed to inspire – but a Spirit-filled Church might? Spirituality is the vocation, not the fear of missing mass which helped fill our churches in the past. That orchestrated fear has gone. Church attendance is fading to nothing. Being Church is developing – in the hearts of those who see religion as love, the highest call that humanity shares and to which God calls everyone.
Everyone is spiritual – that’s how God has made us – but not everyone wants to be religious. We must be aware of those who use religion to divide, attack, exclude, enslave, even kill. All religions have done it and justify what they do as God’s will, our Church even frightening 7-year-olds with mortal sin and hell for missing mass! Those 7-year-olds are now 67, 77, 87 – and that fear has been with them all through their timid lives. Blasphemy it was and is – to frighten people into religious observance.
God is love. We share that divine love in loving one another. That is the message, and it is universal, written into our very nature to love one another, and reflect our God who is love. People do not need to know about God to know that love is the supreme gift in humanity and we share that gift, believers and non-believers alike! Love unites the whole human race. It is God’s call that everyone hears and some are blessed to know who is calling.
God bless us to bless one another,
(24th July 2022)