Tim Hazelwood: A New Year Pastoral Reflection…

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.  


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  1. Mary Vallely says:

    Tim Hazelwood: A New Year Pastoral Reflection…

    I agree that A Priest’s Diary is a wonderful read. It’s not just that Brendan Hoban writes beautifully anyway – he has a natural gift – but that the spirit of the man who is priest shines through, faults and all. There’s a refreshing honesty about his admission to his own failings and failures.
    It was interesting for me, as a Northern townie, roughly the same vintage as the writer, to read about life in rural western Ireland, a way of life that is dying, so tinged with a certain poignancy. The book is indeed a great testament to the life and the powerful impact a good priest can have on a parish community. I loved it, truth to tell.

    Tim Hazelwood seems to be in the same mould, a good priest, trying to reach out to all souls in his parish. We really do need to stop pretending that things are as they were, that family is just mother, father and their biological children. We need to stop judging and accept that there are many combinations of families, most struggling to live life as best they can. To feel rejected by leaders of a body which claims to follow Christ is a shameful stain on our Church. People will only follow you if they feel cherished and wanted and only then will you be able to influence them into following the Master’s teachings.

    Back to A Priest’s Diary and I fully endorse Tim’s recommendation that it should be required reading for any priest. The great sadness and loss to humanity is the fact that a “priest” can only be chosen from the male gender. That Prayer for vocations is something I genuinely find difficult to say from the heart. Being honest.

  2. Paddy Ferry says:

    Tim Hazelwood: A New Year Pastoral Reflection…

    Excellent, Tim and excellent Mary too.

    I haven’t read Brendan’s new book but I will.

    Mary, we should hear from you more often.


  3. Pat Savage says:

    I note the reflection and response from Father Hazelwood.

    Yes, very much so, every individual, no matter their situation, should be dealt with compassion and understanding. But does that mean in order to allow someone fit in we change the historical fact that in the eyes of the church that two parents of a child should be a mother and father and not a ‘pc’ answer on a baptism cert.

    We have just celebrated Christmas, the moment that God took on our human form born to a mother and father and raised by a mother and father.

    Finally, it amuses me that when a radio station or a journalist sticks a microphone out for a comment they seek the guidance of certain clergy and not others.

    I’ll leave that up to the more highly educated readers than myself on this forum to work out.

  4. Tim Hazelwood says:

    Tim Hazelwood:…

    Re * 3 above:
    The policy of the Association of Catholic Priests is to continue to embrace the spirit of Synodality as promoted and practised by Pope Francis. Therefore, we welcome dialogue, be it with contributors to this website or with journalists.

    Points of information: the radio station requested an interview concerning the gay couple and their predicament. I turned it down, as the priority I believe was the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of the couple and their child.
    Secondly, the radio presenter had contacted the Communications department of the Irish Bishops Conference but did not receive a reply. The ACP always responds to media requests, even if it is to say ‘no comment’ or decline an interview.

    The intention of the reflection was to highlight the pastoral challenges faced by priests today. The previous writer says there should be compassion and understanding but then states that family is a mother and father. He does not suggest how situations that do not fit this view of family should be dealt with from a pastoral perspective…

    What of single parents? Surrogacy? More and more people are availing of fertility clinics. Should we have a DNA test done before we baptise to discover the true identity of the parents?

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Tim Hazelwood…

    ‘We have just celebrated Christmas, the moment that God took on our human form born to a mother and father and raised by a mother and father.’

    But the first lines of the NT cock a snook at this by going out of its way to mention 4 women among Jesus’s forebears who were prostitutes, or played the prostitute, or were involved in extramarital sex, namely Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. What a shocking beginning to the Gospel.

    Jesus was set up to be the illegitimate offspring of a single mother, until Joseph cast his cloak over the shameful situation.

    Brought up by this completely unique couple, Jesus had a very unorthodox attitude to mums and dads. Adultery? Look in your heart (Mt 5:28). ‘Neither do I condemn thee’ (Jn 8:11). Gay couples? ‘Not even in Israel have I found such faith’ (Lk 7:9). Prostitutes? ‘Your faith has saved you’ (Lk 7:50). Mum and dad? ‘They will be divided; father against son… mother against daughter’ (Lk 12:53); ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?… Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mk 3:33, 35). His family ‘went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind”‘ (Mk 3:21). ‘Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:37). ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple’ (Lk 14:26). There is an anarchic streak in the acts and words of Jesus, and it resurfaces in Paul and John too with their doctrine of the sole sufficiency of Love.

  6. Paddy Ferry says:

    Tim Hazelwood…

    America Magazine reports:
    In another sign of support for L.G.B.T. Catholics and those who advocate on their behalf, Pope Francis sent a handwritten letter on Dec. 10 to Jeannine Gramick, S.L., the co-founder of the Catholic apostolate New Ways Ministry.
    Sister Gramick is celebrating 50 years of working with and advocating for L.G.B.T. people. Noting her anniversary as the reason for his letter, the pope congratulated her in Spanish on “50 years of closeness, of compassion and of tenderness” in a ministry that he described as being in “‘the style’ of God.”

    Moderator: an article commenting on the America Magazine story above is carried by New Ways Ministry:

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