Clogher ACP group discusses Brendan Hoban’s article on Priesthood

A meeting of Clogher Diocese ACP took place in Clones on Wednesday 27th November.
Seven priests attended, including our bishop Liam. Apologies were received by four others.
Our meeting had as its focus Fr. Brendan Hoban’s latest Furrow article: ‘Disenchanted Evenings’ on what disenchants the Irish diocesan clergy’.
It was widely agreed that this document deserved several readings before its real impact could be felt. On its first reading, some felt depressed, angry, they found it difficult reading, negative and imbalanced, and questioned Brendan’s right to speak for all clergy. One asked “What has brought Brendan to this place, why is Brendan so sad?”  There is an absence of appreciation for self-care within the article. A number of traditional supportive and social activities mentioned are dismissed in the article as compulsive. For many, these are not compulsive or empty pursuits; perhaps they are no longer adequate to meet the social and recreational needs of clergy in our modern world, but neither good nor bad in themselves.
However, all agreed that a second reading of the article found a lot of honesty in it, a lot of truthfulness, a lot of head ‘nodding’ in agreement with words being put on some of what we are feeling as clergy right now. Many uncomfortable truths are named, truths that – if we are to be honest – we don’t like hearing; how easy it would be to toss it aside, to go into denial when it’s painful, and criticize the writer, to cop out of what is reality.
Could Brendan be a prophet of today? Is what he says close to the experience of lived priesthood?  Do we not need to hear the more painful stuff of priesthood? We do need to listen to the prophet and no prophet ever died from having his slippers tucked neatly under the bed.
The challenge is to develop a different vision, a different way of being, a ‘Francis’ vision, so that we will strive to live Easter and not Lent, as he puts it.
There is nothing beautiful about aging or ill-heath, and while it is acknowledged that life for clergy in religious communities is not always easy, their practical securities far outweigh ours as diocesan clergy.
There is a generation gap in how we exist as priests, in what gives meaning to our lives. When we are able, when we allow our people to know us, that will always foster care.  This requires an openness that has not always been there, our vulnerable selves is what people respond to best, our honest, open selves. Our sacramental role has sometimes taken over from our humanity, making it difficult for our people to relate to us as credible human beings. When we are able to relate in human terms, we are simply acknowledging one of our greatest human needs: to belong.  Sadly in former times some of us were told that through an ‘ontological change’ we were not of the people; now when we are sick or old, what is our identity and where do we belong?
Even our homes, our presbyteries, our parochial houses can speak volumes about us as persons, about our humanity, and not just our role as priests.  Do our homes reflect what represents us as people, as persons and not just as priests?
With regards our elderly brothers who are still ministering 75+, Brendan suggests that this may be a disservice to the Church, just propping up an old model.  We acknowledged that the freedom to make a choice to retire is very limited, particularly for those priests whose ministry has defined all that they are.
Again it’s a generational thing but the ‘younger generation’ don’t have this, they have a greater sense of ‘self’ outside ministry, and look forward to full days in latter years, for ministry does not totally define them.
We need as clergy more opportunities for open, honest discussion which we are not good at, and to Brendan Hoban we say thanks, for if we don’t take the opportunities for such conversations, we may end up ‘above there in the house, looking out the window, mad at everything’.
With regards the Eucharist, the Parish Eucharist, we found ourselves asking if it is, truly, the center of our communities, is it a lived experience where we all feel that we belong and cared for?
How can we as clergy renew, change, reform our identity, our role?  We need a balance that was not there before, we need to be more of our communities where we serve. We have to acknowledge what is defective in the spirituality that we have may have grown up with, and ask ourselves questions truthfully about what motivates us, what directs us, for all this becomes exposed with the passing of years and with the external hostile environment that we meet from time to time.
These are just a few of our musings on Brendan’s article.
Next meeting of Clogher ACP is on Wednesday 22nd January, usual arrangements.

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  1. Teresa Mee says:

    The well reported Clones meeting is hopefully inviting our views on Brendan Hoban’s concerns about three interrelated issues; A.’Shortage of priests’and ‘clustering’ and
    B.’Loneliness and isolation’as fairly common features of the lives of elderly diocesan priests or younger ones for that matter.
    Baptised ‘Lay Christians’be practically prepared through the necessary education and training to administer the sacraments of Baptism, anointing of the sick, Presiding at Church weddings and at funerals.
    Do we have to provide every congregation everywhere with Sunday Mass celebrated by a priest. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them. Before the time of ordained priests, the early Christian communities celebrated the real active presence of Jesus in their midst,sharing a meal, and were moved to go out in the power of His saving presence rejoicing as they sold and shared what they had among themselves and the more needy so that no-one was left in want.
    B. What’s also coming across is the stressful lone carrying of responsibility. I don’t see that recalling married clergy to ministry, or ordaining women is going to provide a complete solution.
    It seems to me that the sacramental role of the priest is what separates him from human companionship. ‘When we are in a position to relate in human terms, we are simply acknowledging one of our greatest human needs: to belong’.
    If we can accept our identity as community of disciples of Jesus,the Risen Christ in our midst, we can celebrate his saving presence among us, nourishing us. Open Community, no isolation.

  2. “There is nothing beautiful about aging …”
    I was struck here by the apparent absence of appreciation of Richard Rohr’s teaching on the ‘second half of life’ – the unexpected rejuvenation that can lie beyond the collapse of first-life dreams.
    Rohr believes that this second life may only be discoverable through some kind of suffering – that is, by deep experiences of loss of control. These come with, for example, serious illness, major surgery, bereavement, redundancy, addiction. Surely that ‘loss of control’ is exactly the suffering our older clergy are going through now, as expressed in Brendan’s article and the Clogher reaction?
    Aged seventy now I couldn’t do without Richard’s daily reflections. They speak to me of what I too have learned from three unexpected and intense life crises that have hit me as a lay man since 1994.
    Richard is sure that ordination did not give him a ‘pass’ to what he calls ‘elder wisdom’ – a discovery of the church’s mystical tradition. He had to learn that his early ambition to be a ‘model priest’ was essentially no different from the first-life journeys of anyone else – as it also had to do with building a public identity. There is a deep mistake behind all of that – the belief that we are only the person others see. Too often that leads to the promotion of a ‘false self’ – the image we WANT others to see. The second half of life begins with the rediscovery of the true self, and the total acceptance and nurturing of that true self.
    “Our vulnerable selves is what people respond to best, our honest, open selves…” There you go, Clogher, validating Richard’s insights. Surely your next step should be to talk about that to lay people of your own age and see what comes back – within a context of prayer.
    I deeply believe it is time for all of us older people to discover ‘elder wisdom’ and the importance of acknowledging our vulnerability. Surely that is what the cross is all about – proof of God’s compassion for our vulnerability?

  3. Mary O Vallely says:

    Thank you to the Clogher ACP group for such a refreshingly honest and wonderfully self-reflective piece. How right you observe that ” our vulnerable selves is what people respond to best, our honest, open selves.” How honest of you to admit that, “Our sacramental role has sometimes taken over from our humanity, making it difficult for our people to relate to us as credible human beings. When we are able to relate in human terms, we are simply acknowledging one of our greatest human needs: to belong.”
    You didn’t dismiss Brendan’s words after a first reading either but gave them a second reading and therefore a chance to sink in before realising that there was indeed truth in what he said and that that truth was an uncomfortable one. Well, I am so amazed at the honesty of this and of your sharing this report with us. There is no point pretending priests do not feel as the rest of us feel and in the sharing of that there is a bonding. Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir agus Dia libh. 🙂

  4. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Would there be any way to open up these meetings to concerned ‘lay people’? I’d love the chance to get a meeting with my bishop and maybe a few other parishioners. We also have our concerns, yet there is zero forum for us. Any ideas?

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