In times of crisis be creative

Here in Brazil the authorities have had to introduce water rationing as the dams are at a critically low level. It is very interesting to observe during these times of crisis how people are being creative, as the popular saying goes: “necessity is the mother of invention”. People are inventing all kinds of ways to save water, from building cisterns which store the rain water from the roof tops to a machine that recycles, cleans and purifies dirty water so that it can be used again to water the garden or wash the car.
But when there is a church crisis or when church renewal is necessary this gift of creativity is sadly lacking. Perhaps this failure to be creative is due to the fear that exists within us or the inertia that comes when it is a question of changing or renewing long standing church structures. Reverence for religious customs and practices is important, to be sure, as people want to save and prolong established religious beliefs and practices but any question of renewal or change in this area is generally frowned upon and meets resistance from those in power.
For example, when it comes to who should preside over the Eucharistic celebration it is taken for granted that this can only be done by a male celibate as it has been like this since the 12th century when celibacy came into practice. There are some though who just cannot imagine a mass being celebrated other than by a male celibate priest. Yet in the light of present day facts and statistics which highlight the shortage of priests, solutions to this crisis are slow in coming.
Today in some countries, a “Eucharistic famine” is a real possibility. There are communities today that are deprived of the Eucharist or that only have mass every 2 to 3 months because there is no one to celebrate it. It is well known too and statistics prove this that there are countries where the average age of priests is very high and that there just won’t be enough priests around to carry on the pastoral work when these pass away. This year, for example, there will be only one priest ordained in Scotland: “there are just 279 deployable priests in Scotland, leading to fears that the local parish priest is an endangered species”(source: The Tablet, 29/5/2015).
So we have this fear of change, of doing things differently, of introducing new forms of ministry and so nothing is done or no solution is put forward to answer the shortage of priests. Yet we are asked to pray for vocations, and this we will continue to do, but what forms of vocations are we asking Our Lord to send us? If the appeal to be a celibate priest is not as strong and attractive as in times past then surely we should be looking at other forms of priesthood such as ordaining suitable married men, accepting female priests and inviting back to parish ministry priests who have already married and who are doing pastoral work.
Many dioceses have a vocation director or a team of priests who give talks to young people on vocations or who hold weekend discernment retreats, this work is necessary. We could be creative though and so instead of these vocation teams being made up of celibate priests only we could have teams comprised of both celibate and married priests who could share their own particular experiences of what it means to be a priest. These mixed teams would be able to present a wider picture of what priesthood is about that possibly could answer the searching questions of young people in our modern world.
This article began by using an analogy of what happens when there is a water crisis, obviously it is only an analogy, however it is true though that “the children of this world are wiser than the children of light”(Luke 16:8). The walls of the Vatican won’t fall down if we look at new forms of ministry, so that the day may come when celibate and married priests are seen to be working together in our parishes for the good of these communities. The Eucharist was and always will be the centre of the Christian community. It is unthinkable to imagine a parish without the celebration of mass. Extraordinary situations call for courageous action.
Brian Eyre: Catholic married priest, Recife, Brazil

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  1. No doubt Brian, you are committed to the promotion of the “married priest”, however, the challenge(s) facing the Universal R.C. Church, today, are far greater than a “priest shortage”. As well, I believe it is highly inappropriate to refer to a Eucharistic famine….as God is always with us….I have to admit….there are different priorities for different folks!

  2. If we were to judge by the fullness, activeness and consciousness of participation by the faithful at Mass, maybe we would conclude that we already are in a Eucharistic famine, brought about principally by the quality of language used at Mass in the English-speaking world. The Mass we had until recently had that noble simplicity enjoined by V2, but that has been vitiated by this imposed translation. But it raises a question that might be of interest and relevance in the times we are in: do we have nothing in our liturgy – public act of worship – apart from the Mass? There are many occasions where the faithful meet where something other than Mass might be appropriate. Can we be creative and make a liturgy worthy and answering the needs of the faithful now?

  3. Maybe reality is dawning…
    Here is the quote from The Irish Catholic
    Bishop Leo O’Reilly has said he is “liaising” with other bishops with a view to setting up a commission to discuss the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood as well as appointing female deacons.
    Bishop O’Reilly is making the proposal as a result of a 10-month listening process in his Kilmore diocese which led to a diocesan assembly and a new diocesan pastoral plan to tackle challenges facing the Church, including a declining number of priests.
    Bishop O’Reilly told The Irish Catholic he plans to ask for the idea of a new commission to be put on the agenda for discussion at the next meeting of the hierarchy at Maynooth and “take it from there”.
    “I think the other bishops would be open to the idea of a discussion and we are reaching a situation where we have to look at all the options possible,” he said. Dr O’Reilly told The Irish Catholic that his proposal was in response to Pope Francis.
    “Pope Francis has encouraged individual bishops and bishops’ conferences to be creative in looking at ways to do ministry in the future, so I think we have to consider all options,” he said.
    The proposed commission would be similar to one in Brazil under the leadership of Cardinal Claudio Hummes and Bishop Erwin Kräutler to study the possibility of ordaining married men in response to the shortage of priests.
    The new Kilmore pastoral plan identifies four areas of pastoral action: youth ministry; liturgy, sacraments and prayer; diocesan structures; and support for priests.
    The diocese is putting a number of proposals into action this year starting with the establishment of a Youth Core Group by the end of the summer and the employment of youth ministers on a regional basis by the beginning of next year.
    – See more at:

  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    I was delighted to see my Maynooth contemporary, Bishop Leo, leading on this twin initiative. The more SERVING bishops who come forward after listening to their priests and people, the more chance there will be of real movement through the Conference of bishops. As Chris McDonnell knows, we had a similar call here from three bishops over a year ago: +Seamus Cunningham of Hexham & Newcastle, +Tom Burns of Menevia, and the recently retired +Thomas McMahon. They were to float their balloon at the next ‘Low Week’ Bishops’ Conference meeting,but whether it proved full of hydrogen or of lead I haven’t heard. Bishop Leo’s proposal certainly didn’t appear among the 15-point Press Briefing after last week’s General Meeting at Maynooth – let’s hope he found a select and appreciative audience along the cloisters or on the way from the Columba Centre to the refectory and back!
    Of course when it comes to discerning “viri probati” and “mulieres probatae” in the parishes and dioceses of Ireland, who does the discerning? Who does the probing? Who does the proving? Will the rules of compliance be as pernickety as those by which bishops have been appointed over the past three-and-a-half decades? Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for men and women deacons? Or could the congregation in a parish in, say, Kilmore or Clogher or Ardagh&Clonmacnois or Killala, stand up one Sunday morning and declare in unison, “Let Ambrose be Parish Priest and Angela be Deacon.” That, of course, would be the result of years of familiarity and discernment.
    Just some stray thoughts that struck me as we met in our 1961-68 Maynooth class in Enniskillen last Sunday-Tuesday. As Trinidad’s FIFA crook, Jack Warner, said: when you’re 72, you can think and say what you like. And you may know where the bodies are buried. Well, that’s what I now tell my ordained classmates.

  5. Malcolm R says:

    Your readers may find this article interesting reading, as well as the website.
    Mercy Begins at Home: An Open Letter to Pope Francis
    Posted: 15 Jun 2015 04:48 AM PDT
    Dear Pope Francis,
    Although I am a mere laywoman, I listened attentively to the video of your talk at the recent priests’ retreat (posted below, in Spanish) and I liked much of what I heard.
    Yet, as you spoke so eloquently about the need for priests to show a merciful Church to the faithful, to forgive seventy times seven as Jesus taught, my mind kept coming back to how unmerciful the Church has been with its own and I would like to challenge you to do two things to make the Year of Mercy more than just pretty words.
    First, I am mindful of the priests who have been not only stripped of their priestly faculties but completely excommunicated in recent years because they had the audacity to publicly express their disagreement with Church teachings on issues such as women’s ordination and gay marriage. I am thinking specifically of Nicolas Alessio (Argentina), Roberto Francisco Daniel, aka “Padre Beto” (Brazil), Roy Bourgeois (United States) and Greg Reynolds (Australia), but I’m sure there are others who fit this profile. For these men, who gave up wife and family to serve God’s people, this banishment from the table has been the most painful experience of all.
    If you really believe, as you told the priests’ retreat, that the squabbles that exist in the Church are a sign that the Church is alive, then you must recognize that the presence of these dissenters is healthy. Use the power of your office to lift the excommunication that has been imposed on these men and let them speak their minds.
    As you spoke, I was also mindful of the many workers who have been treated unmercifully by Catholic Church institutions in my country — the United States — and elsewhere. Workers have been terminated for “offenses” ranging from merely expressing opinions contrary to Church teaching in the social media, to conceiving a child out of wedlock, to exercising their legal right to marry their same sex partner.
    I heard your anger as you told the story of the young single mother who cried to you because a priest refused to baptize her baby. You passionately declared that if this woman had the courage to bear her child and not “return it to sender” (abort it), the least the Church could do is baptize that child. Can we not also add that the least the Church could do is not deprive that woman of her livelihood and health insurance at this critical time? These sorts of terminations for private activities that don’t impact the individual’s job performance need to stop. I implore you, in the upcoming Year of Mercy, to publicly instruct Catholic bishops worldwide to stop the termination of church workers in their diocese without just cause.
    If you can find it in your heart to do these two things, many of us will find it easier to believe that your talk of mercy is more than just empty rhetoric.
    Blessings and thank you for your inspirational words,
    Rebel Girl,
    Blogger, “Iglesia Descalza”,
    June 15, 2015

  6. Might make for interesting reading for some, it’s a link to the “Church Statistics 2010/11” for the Church of England.
    “Full time equivalence of stipendiary clergy” is down (it seems a lot of their clergy are self-supporting), “The number of people entering stipendiary ministry is not sufficient to replace those who are retiring.”, Sunday attendance is down, marriages are down, baptisms are down.
    Whatever the merits/demerits of married clergy etc it seems suggesting it as a way to increase vocations to replacement level or above may be a bit misguided.

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