Fr Paddy ByrneSeven years after my ordination I am still the youngest priest in our Diocese…

Yes these are challenging times for our Church, but there is an enormous hunger and great need for the role of priest in every parish in this country. Yes, thankfully the Church realizes how necessary it is to embrace the gifts and talents of all its members, ministry and service is not just the task of the ordained or religious.

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Carlow Nationalist
This column appeared on 13th February 2008

Most of us expect certain norms in terms of our employment conditions these include, fulfillment, healthy working environment, co-operation and continuity in terms of many sharing the given task.

After seven years working as a priest in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, I have found ministry to be both deeply fulfilling and very rewarding. Yes these are challenging times for our Church, but there is an enormous hunger and great need for the role of priest in every parish in this country. Yes, thankfully the Church realizes how necessary it is to embrace the gifts and talents of all its members, ministry and service is not just the task of the ordained or religious. In all our parish communities there are wonderful opportunities to engage in the life and mission that we are all called to share and celebrate.

Specific to the ordained ministry as a priest, I often have a sense of fear and of being overwhelmed when I look forward to the years ahead. Seven years after my ordination I am still the youngest priest in our Diocese, in my local Deanery that is a collection of seven local parishes in south Carlow, I am the youngest priest by twenty years!  Most priests generously engage in full time ministry years after other professions have the opportunity to retire, relax and take time for rest. God willing with good health, I have at least another forty two years service in this Diocese.

I was most amused to read a recent letter on this paper, to the editor (Carlow Nationalist), by an individual, complaining that mass times in a named parish were changed, just for the week after Christmas. When most had an opportunity to enjoy time off and avail of some rest, the vast majority of clergy continued on call to their community, celebrating daily mass, funerals and weddings, visiting the sick, just some of the routine services that are part of the ministry.

There is a very dramatic decline in the numbers of active clergy in our Diocese a reality that will escalate in the coming years in terms of the age profile and so few if any ordinations happening. I sometime wonder do I belong to a profession that is dying on its legs, attracting no new members. One can imagine the outcry if this was the case with other necessary professions in our communities, gardai, teachers, doctors, nurses to name but a few.

There are many reasons why the number of priests are reducing in our diocese. Our secular culture has brought with it a massive exodus away from faith practice how many people in our Sunday gatherings are in their twenties and thirties?. Many members of our communities offer services that were once mainly offered by religious and clergy in terms of education, heath care and community work. Life long commitment is something that is a big challenge in the culture we find ourselves where change of careers often takes place in the average lifetime. Celibacy and a perceived lonely life may well add to the reality that in my life time there may well be less than twenty priests in our Diocese.

Yet the beginnings of our Christian faith began with small numbers. I believe that Gods spirit allows us as church and community to look forward with hope in our hearts. Yes the future of our parish lives is going to be very different, but I believe that leaders from the many communities we belong too are already in our midst. Men and Women, married and single who live with integrity and commitment to the Gospels, may well be the presiders of our Rituals in the not to distant future. May God bless us with vision and hope as we look forward in this Lenten springtime.