Over the coming days, like many priests in our diocese, I will prepare for beginning to minister in a new parish.
Being fulfilled, content and happy is a wonderful gift – a gift that in my ministry in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, I was most grateful and appreciative for the past six years.
This is a time when the institutional Church has been greatly bruised by its dreadful handling of abuse and cover-ups – symptomatic of a Church that is in fundamental need of radical renewal.
I often sense and experience two Churches here in Ireland: a vibrant, healthy and deeply relevant local one, and a distant, out of touch, cold and deeply conservative establishment, governed in a faraway ‘ivory tower’, yet maintaining power and authority.
It is an institution struggling to listen and embrace the spirits’ invitation to ‘begin again’.
It is the local Christian community – in its strengths and weaknesses, its hopes and despair, its joys and sorrows – where I continue to recognise and hear the presence of Jesus of Nazareth.
A radical and fearless God, who empowers, includes, befriends and constantly brings us ‘out of darkness and into his wonderful light’.
On a personal level, as a Catholic priest, this tension between two models of Church continues to be felt by many others who are ordained, as indeed by the entire people of God.
“The people of God” was the very model of the Second Vatican Council.
A model inspired by our rich Christian heritage, especially from the early, vibrant inclusive Christian communities.
It is appalling that people so committed to faith and practice are still not part of any real leadership within the Church.
Yes, there are many pastoral councils and ministry groups, but without a more serious role, the richness and great benefit of the laity is not being utilised.
Where tension exists, so too does a creative spirit. In his wonderful and inspirational book Underground Cathedrals, Mark Patrick Hedeman, abbot of Glenstal, points us in the direction of creativity, imagination, poetry, art and music as key senses to experiencing the energy and hope that is contained within each one of God’s children. I suggest the annual dawn Mass on Mount Leinster is such an example.
This year, more than 5,000 people experienced the creativity, openness and inclusivity that connects and attracts so many to the love of God, especially in the Eucharist.
I am so grateful to the people of Bagenalstown Parish, inspired by their integrity, faith and tremendous friendship.
As I begin again in Portlaoise, I am reminded that God’s invitation to service and to share his good news is a deeply humbling one.
I am happy to continue the weekly articles with The Nationalist.
It is an important ministry to at least offer some thoughts and reflections that seem so silent to the internal conversation within the mainstream establishment.
I am very grateful for the many letters and encouraging words of support from so many readers of my weekly article.
I will enthusiastically continue to write, and to serve Jesus of Nazareth, who is such a wonderful and loving God.
“In him we live and move and have our being”.
It has been a most inspirational and fantastic experience to live life with the good people of Bagenalstown. I warmly invite you to join me in St Andrew’s Parish Church, Bagenalstown at 6pm on Saturday 4 August in prayer and thanksgiving for a life-giving experience of ministry.