How hungry are the Sheep?

I don’t know when the Catholic priesthood will include married mem. I don’t know when women deacons will be a normal presence in the Church. It is surely a consummation devoutly to be wished. May it come sooner rather than later.
My question is how hungry are the people for Eucharist at this time? How avid are they to hear the gospel and to participate in the breaking of the bread? In this Dublin parish, the Eucharist is provided once daily and three times at the weekend. Those who avail of this ministry do so with faith and devotion. But they are a small minority. The vast majority of the baptised faithful just don’t bother and don’t seem to care. Sacramental practice is not a priority for them and they don’t seem to be hungry to be fed with Eucharist.
The usual energy and effort, especially by teachers, is expended to celebrate First Penance and First Communion. The day is colourful and joyous in its way for family and children. Visit that same class a year later to discover it was the first and last penance and communion for all except for one to two. More priests and deacons to break the word and confect the Eucharist is simply not an urgent need in these circumstances. The late Alex Reid used to say that we hide behind the liturgy. Dirtying our hands at the coal face was not our normal experience as we agitated about new translations and lack of consultation in appointments etc.
So what should our focus be? Surely it’s the Kingdom of God as lived and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth. The liturgy of the Temple does not seem to have been a preoccupation for him. In fact his mission of compassion and truth was exercised outside civil and religious structures. No chain of office! No clerical stole! Armed with obedience to the Father’s Will and the weapons of truth and love, his focus was the least and last of society. All were brothers and sisters with sun shining and rain falling on good and bad alike.
How to respond to the call ‘come follow Me’ today? When a committed Catholic, non cleric man or woman, speak or write with a confident faith I take note. In fact I read with avidity what they write and feel energised by their enthusiasm and struggle. Why? I sense they are rooted in their world of family, mortgages, school, work and play. The ring of truth they sound contrasts with the language of catechism or exhortation.
I don’t know what to do. What we are doing with so much time and effort is not casting fire upon the earth. I dream of a future where believers, including the ordained, in the midst of life’s hurly burly, will unobtrusively but effectively make a difference. Where the blind see and the deaf hear. Where the poor begin to experience the good news of adequate food and drink, shelter and basic medical care. Where ordained and non-ordained in their respective roles smell the sheep. Where the followers of Christ will be seen as natural allies with all those seeking justice and compassion for all.
Then the gathering will truly be the ‘people of God’ celebrating the gift of God in Jesus at the Eucharistic table where for the presider neither gender nor marital status will be an issue.

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  1. An honest observation Stan. While many live life on the surface without hope, wonder or joy, others are finding ways to celebrate life and to respond to God’s love outside our gates. They are tired of the narrow exclusive guest list to our party and of their need to persuade the bouncers to let them in. I think we (Catholics, Christians, the baptised, believers) need to stop understanding and speaking of ourselves as the family of God to the exclusion of others. In other words, we need to rediscover the true meaning of the ‘body of Christ’.

  2. Seamus Ahearne osa says:

    Stan, your ‘profile’ of parish life is very familiar. Sometimes it does seem as if the ‘chattering classes’ are soaked in issues that are not longer of real interest to us in such parishes. Is it fanciful to ‘wonder’ if any of your observations surfaced at the Synod? How do we even begin to stimulate such a discussion among ourselves?
    Seamus Ahearne osa

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