A New Year Pastoral Reflection…
It is book of the year time once again. Covid 19 afforded us plenty of time for picking up a book and there were some for serious recognition. I know that I will be accused of ACP nepotism when I nominate A Priest’s Diary by Brendan Hoban as my best read of the year.
I liked this book for many reasons. Firstly, it is an easy read as it comprises short stories of reflections and of pastoral situations that Brendan encountered over the years. In the telling, he reflects on the people he meets, on their situations, without judgement. He considers his response, both pastoral and spiritual. I could resonate and identify with many of the encounters. His reflections and way of dealing with people and outlook challenged me on my own faith journey and how I respond in pastoral situations. Am I Christlike or do I respond in an uncaring and unreflective way? The book challenges all of us working in an increasingly more complex society.
An example: Recently I was contacted by a Cork city radio station. They had an enquiry from a couple seeking advice on how to proceed with having their baby baptised. They wondered if they would be made welcome in the Catholic church because they were a gay couple. The producer of the programme put them in touch with me. After speaking with one of them I discovered that both were baptised Catholics who felt they and their child would not be accepted. They feared rejection and they would have to find some other place where they could have a naming ceremony for their child.
This encounter raised many questions for me and how I and our church put forward the gospel message. The fact that people were afraid to approach says to me that we are doing something wrong and suggests the kind of questions that the proposed synod should be asking.
Questions like: What constitutes family? Who is or is not welcome in the church? Is the time of a baptism a time for this conversation to be had? And what about the language that we use and the kind of message we are putting out in society not just by what we say but also by what we leave unsaid?
Some months back, a colleague said that he could not understand why gay people wanted ‘special attention’. Why couldn’t they just blend in like everybody else? This familiar stance among ‘Church people’ comes from a feeling of ‘being normal’ and being an accepted part of the tribe. This shows a lack of understanding of the journey of ‘coming out’ for gay people and the feeling of being ‘different and unwelcome’. I asked him if he ever welcomed gay people to his parish. “Never,” he said, and I suspect it is the same in most parishes.
Since meeting the couple I have tried to become more aware. Baptismal forms that request the father’s name and mother’s name might be changed to reflect a more understanding parish, e.g., parent’s names. Imagine how a gay couple feel when confronted with the present form.
I will conclude with telling lines from Brendan’s book:
“In the past, in line with what passed for pastoral strategy, we distanced ourselves from our people. Now, in a peculiar way, our people seem anxious to distance themselves from us. What we are now seems significantly less important than we were. RC is no longer PC.
And just as the outgoing personable types among us were casualties of the past, now the quiet, private among us are thrown back to our own resources, clinging to a wreckage of our humanity. Not a good place to be no matter what way the wind is blowing.”
A Priest’s Diary should be compulsory reading for anyone engaged in Pastoral Ministry.
Happy New Year.
Tim Hazelwood, ACP Leadership team.