Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Canary in the Mine
Gaudium et Spes suggests that diocese should share or pool priests, it also encourages priests to work abroad, especially to help dioceses that through the newness of the Christian faith or because of persecution do not have enough priests. In some diocese in Ireland, as I reported here are substituting lay led services for Mass, and bringing about a great deal of confusion, others are importing priests from those places which are rich in vocations. There is a story about the diocese of Cork and Ross doing exactly that in the Irish Examiner. It certainly solves a problem of ensuring Mass is available but I must say I am uneasy about it.
There was a bit of a scandal a few years ago about the NHS recruiting midwives from Africa, the scandal was in some parts of Africa babies died because the midwives who had received their education and training in their homeland and should have been attending their births were working in Britain. For me that was an important "Life" issue. Higher salaries in Britain robbed African children of life!
It is slightly different, perhaps, with priests but perhaps simply bringing in priests from abroad is just patching a problem rather solving it. If a local Church isn't producing enough priests for its needs, there would appear to be a root and branch problem that touches the very heart of a Church's health. If a local Church isn't producing enough priests for its needs doesn't it indicate that it simply has lost the vision of the Catholic faith that sees the priesthood and the sacraments as life-giving?
I would suggest that an absence of vocations indicates a very serious problem with the sacraments, with the celebration of the liturgy, with the preaching of the Gospel itself, in a parish or most especially in a diocese. If there are no young men offering themselves for the priesthood, it is more than likely that there likely to be an absence of those wanting to embrace marriage -as the Church understands it- and to live a Christian family life, there is also likely to be a serious problem with every other area of Christian discipleship, including catechists and catholic teachers.
Vocations to the priesthood are like the canary in the mine, they are the first thing to die in an unhealthy environment. If in a few years a diocese will have only a handful of priests then within a generation the number of committed Catholics is going to match more or less the number of those priests. A shortage of priests should indicate the importance not of a clever management plan to manage decline but a radical audit as to whether and how the Catholic faith is being passed on. If it is being preached but not accepted then the Gospels give us a simple answer, "Shake the dust from your" and go elsewhere. We don't take that bit of the Gospel very seriously, today. Priest should not be museum keepers, preserving buildings and structures that no longer give life.
Maybe, simply acknowledging that the food that has been given in the recent past has not nourished or that the vine is too sick to produce fruit or that the workmen are simply not up to the task is something we as a Church are not good at but making such judgements seems to be part of the process of Evangelisation, as does shaking dust from feet.
My modest alternative proposal to lay-led services or importing priests is simple, import foreign bishops! If a diocese doesn't have enough priests or faces a steep decline, the problem must be with the "High Priest","the Chief Catechist", the Bishop. It seems pretty pointless to bring in Polish, Filipino or African priests only to have them drawn into a clerical culture that does not produce fruit, what is needed is a change of that culture, which only a bishop from outside can bring about.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake