Sunday, July 18th
Today we priests were required to read out at Mass a Pastoral Letter from our Bishop about the results of his consultations about the future of our Diocese. After a recent meeting with three hundred lay people, priests and religious, the conclusion they all came to amounted to three priorities: spiritual development, formation for all and new structures.
No-one can object to the first two priorities. Quoting from today's Gospel passage, the Bishop wants us all to be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him and becoming like Him. And if we know more about our Faith, this, he says, "will empower people, clergy and religious together for the work Jesus calls us to do. This will enable us to grow in our knowledge of the Lord and His Church, and to understand how to pass on the Faith to others."
Of course, these are fine sentiments, or at least aspirations, but, as on other occasions when these thoughts have been put forward, there is a lack of practical detail about how these objectives are to be achieved.
The third priority is, I think, the key one - new structures. There was no hint as to what these might be, but in an age when the numbers of practising Catholics is diminishing and the number of priests is doing the same, there will inevitably be a restructuring of the parish system in the Diocese. The Bishop warns us against " looking back with nostalgia to what seemed to be the Church's golden age." He does not explain what he means by "golden age", but I remember the Forties, Fifties and Sixties before the Second Vatican Council - the churches were full each Sunday, there were lots of priests, the diocesan seminary was full to bursting point with students, not all to be ordained to the priesthood but many to become exemplary Catholic laymen - now, fifty years later, this is definitely not the case. I suggest that unless we look back and analyse what we had then and why and how we came to our present state then we will hardly be able to make any progress.
The Bishop stresses that he believes in consultation, and that this process of consultation will continue until we can come to understand the need for change and so to accept it. In the final analysis, of course, any changes are his responsibility; he is the Bishop and the buck stops with him.
It's going to be a tough one, and I for one would not like to have to take the decisions which he will have to make at some stage. The Bishop asks for prayers, and that is what we will have to do. Oremus pro invicem.