The Iconoclast of Brittany!
Jean-Jacques Le Roy, a priest in Plestin-les-Greves in Brittany apparently knocked down a statue. He was quoted as saying, “in our ministry, we are called upon from all directions. There aren’t many priests and there is a certain fatigue, irritation, stress, which all came together at that moment.” This story struck me as rather interesting and applicable to ourselves in the priesthood. I began to think of the ACP and what it is about. I began to think of the AGM and what that might be about.
I think the ACP has been a brilliant success. It captured the zeitgeist of the times: the spirit, the needs, the concerns, the hopes and even the dreams and fears. It arose out of a deep love of Christ and the Gospel with a passionate commitment to the ministry. It was angry and fearful and courageous. The leaders (Brendan, Sean, Tony) were brave and gathered the aspirations of many struggling in ministry. The ACP was shocking when it stated the obvious. The official leadership of the Church stepped back and seemed to believe that these people (ACP) were fifth columnists. There was a volcanic eruption of disbelief then when the wisdom of the ACP became the conventional wisdom of the church with the election of Francis. The ACP said and continue to say bluntly and simply what Francis now is saying. He stole our clothes. As we saw with the Synod, the pastoral approach of Francis is anathema to many. The Pope shouts out his message (Florence in the past few days) and reminds us of the Church we love and believe in. The ACP is now needed (more than ever) to push on with the message. The Irish church is dying. We all recognise the ‘mess’ that is life and the reality that is out there where we are. The reality of family life is not the idealised nonsense prattled by some at the Synod. The world of faith needs new hearts and very broad and seriously thinking minds.
The ACP is not the leadership. The ACP is not the website. The ACP is the collective membership. The original leadership cannot go on forever. They need to be replaced. Others need to take up the weight of responsibility. The priest in Brittany smashed the statue. I don’t know why it happened or what led up to this smashing. Many of us have wanted to smash various statues and demolish shibboleths that have distorted our faith in recent years but were more restrained. Jean-Jacques put his action down to burnout or stress. It can be an excuse but it can also be reasonable. I think the ACP exists not just to make noise or to be prophetic but to add ballast and communion to the collective in ministry. We are at breaking point as priests. We will fall apart if we stay apart.
I work in a parish. The full time team has two priests and a parish sister. Our ages are 65, 69 and 71. Since Christmas someone has been out of ministry, throughout that time, due to ill health. I don’t need to be an actuary to predict that this fall out will continue. We are an excellent team. We have a broader parish team which meets weekly and plans everything. None the less, we are forever firefighting. We cannot keep up with the work that has to be done. Funerals alone at present do a take over of our energies and our time. The preparation time for everything is exhausting. The flexibility demanded from us as human beings stretches the elastics of our personalities as well our physical being. Our parish has only 13,000. The practising numbers are very few – like 300+ attending. We have two churches. We have three schools. Where few practise; more time and more energy is spent on readying for everything because most don’t have a clue about Church or God. Our Church is out in the community. We love what we do and we thoroughly enjoy our community. However, when we had a priest absent, we could call in a priest to help with Masses at the weekend. In most parishes, there is only one priest. He faces the same congregation day after day and week after week. There is no let off. As Religious, there is a certain luxury to our way of ministry and yet we too are worn out and are wearing out. What about our diocesan colleagues?
The major task then for the ACP is to reach out and call attention to the tiredness and to the ageing of the diocesan priests. What is the support structure for them? Creating clusters and adding on more work to do cannot be the answer. Creative and imaginative ideas are necessary (as Francis said). We cannot go on as we are. Very few people (even those) who work most closely with us have an idea of the daily work load. It is way beyond the obvious. A day off – what’s that? What can it be? Who looks after the health and the wellbeing of our priests? Do the bishops (which should be their first task in the job description)? I don’t think so but then they too are overwhelmed. When will the issue of the pastoral care of ministers really be considered? Too often the observations on tiredness are dismissed as whinging or moaning.
The ACP is screaming out to our Diocesan men to become involved; to shape the future of the organisation; to set its targets and to define its challenges. The ACP isn’t just a vehicle for the journalists to use or an association of renegades. The ACP cannot be about the big noisy issues – nor can we forever be fighting big causes. It is the essentials of faith that are our interests and the ordinary issues of day to day life. Anyone who thinks knows the stupidity of the present structure and the flimsy arguments used to justify the lack of change.
The Religious are ageing and dying out but they have support. Our diocesan colleagues are very much on their own. Who heals the healers? Who cares for the carers? Someone has to. Bring along crowds of priests to the meeting on the 24th November. The ACP is essential but it isn’t an in group of people who love to shout and to make noise. The leaders presently are very busy people who are passionately committed to the ACP but know too they can’t carry it forever. It is over to you.
Here are two stories to end: Joanne O Riordan received an award as the ‘young person of the year’ in Japan last week. She said that ‘life is what you make of it. We all face obstacles. It’s only a matter of overcoming them. ‘ (No limbs; no limits – indeed.) Jake Bailey came out of hospital to speak to his fellow students (Christchurch, New Zealand) in recent weeks. He had been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t know whether this was the end or not. He said ‘Be gallant, be gracious, be grateful for the opportunities you have. Work with passion and pride on what is in front of you.’
Can we take inspiration from these fine young people? Our Church needs us. Our Church needs the ACP. The ACP needs you. You need the ACP.
Seamus Ahearne osa
I’m a lay person with enormous gratitude for the work that priests do. I don’t think priests hear nearly enough thanks. So … thank you!