A New Year’s Resolution for ACI Catholics
The new year is a time of hope, a time when we hope good things will happen and bad things will change and go away, a time for a New Year’s resolution and for a fresh start.
That is a necessary ideal and we should hold on to it. But, like all New Year resolutions, it requires some critical analysis if our hopes are to have a future reality. We need to ask ourselves what might stand in the way of our realising our New Year resolution. For example, if we decide to give up smoking but continue to buy cigarettes and sit in the midst of friends who smoke our chances of success are very low. Similarly, if we decide to give up or cut down on our consumption of alcohol while spending our free time in the pub with drinking friends, our hope of success is similarly doomed to failure. If I decide that my marriage needs renewal then continuing to rarely spend quality time with my wife or husband or to talk together about what matters most to us, as well as ‘small talk’, then renewal seems very unlikely and the drift apart will continue. Near the beginning of that marital journey of renewal it may be helpful if both husband and wife share their concerns about their marriage, hopes and dreams openly and honestly and pledge mutual support and ready forgiveness when failures occur, as they undoubtedly will.
That brings me to my main point. What does the New Year hold for those who love the Catholic Church and treasure their loving relationship with Jesus the Christ? Many who still belong are holding on with their fingertips! Some argue today that religion is not necessary for spirituality or a relationship with God; in fact they say it often gets in the way. In the past there is no doubt that much of the outward aspects of Catholicism often substituted for a developing and mature spirituality. We put our faith in conformity with man-made dogmas, moral codes and institutions and in a host of inward-looking pious practices rather than in the redeeming and unconditional love of God and in seeking daily to mediate that love to others within our own sphere of influence. The prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture (the Bible) was often absent.
Can we do that without religion? I don’t think so, at least not for very long. And the reason for that is the human need for community, in this case for a Christ-centered community to give us encouragement and spiritual growth through mutual support, especially at times of failure or disillusionment. So, as Catholics we need the Catholic Church but it must be a Church very different from that of today. It must be a real community of mutual support and involvement, encouragement and spiritual growth. For many Catholics it isn’t that at the moment; in fact, it is a long way from it. That necessitates a twofold course of actions for our New Year resolution.
The first movement is to clearly identify in a variety of ways and in a variety of media all that has been and still is seriously wrong in the Catholic Church at all levels and to continue to so identify until real and lasting reforms are implimented at all levels. Continuing to speak such truth onto the power of the clergy, hierarchy and Vatican is vitally important and that is the major role of The Association of Catholics in Ireland website and other movements. History tells us that those with power are very reluctant to share it or give it up so persistence is necessary.
The second movement is to seek ways of building spiritual communities of genuine Christian faith, communities that seek to continue growing in love and service of Christ, communities that listen to the suggestions and concerns of each and every member, communities where each and every member feels loved and supported, communities that draw life and direction from all that is good in the Catholic Church and its rich Tradition, not least from its Eucharist and Sacred Scriptures.
As Catholics we must continue to look both inwards and outwards; at ourselves to identify all that may hinder or prevent us from engaging on the above two-fold plan of action. Is it fear, lack of self-confidence, previous failures, increasing disillusionment with the Catholic Church over many years, lack of commitment to the work of the Kingdom or merely contentment to leave it to others?
The first movement will cease when genuine reform, perhaps by a third Vatican Council, takes place and, unlike the Second Vatican Council, beds in throughout the Church and particularly at parish level, with the genuine support of a reformed hierarchy and reconstituted local clergy.
The second movement for the formation of small, active and spiritual communities of mutual support for the outward moving faith of their members will likely be permanent. With limited experience I cannot detail exactly how they will be organised and operate. I visited some small house groups/Base Communities in the slums of Nairobi and was impressed by their mutual support, enthusiasm and deep conviction. Training in spirituality, Scripture and group dynamics, particularly for lay leaders (female and male), will be essential. Groups must be prepared to grow and split to form more communities and so avoid the danger of becoming a holy huddle of the self-satisfied and like minded. Priests (celibate and married) will be there to advise and serve but not to lead such groups. Parish groups will come together every Sunday for the celebration of Mass and will contribute to the detailed preparation of that Mass with the presiding priest. Active involvement and appeal to each generation around a reformed liturgy will be key. This will be essentially a lay movement, supported and served by hierarchy and clergy but not led by them.
Is all that, or any of that, possible and appropriate for a New Year’s spiritual resolution for all Catholics, and especially for those supportive of this ACI website? I pray sincerely that it is.
Here’s one model that might be helpful http://www.parishcellsireland.ie/
A very interesting link. Thank you Martin. What are the pros and cons of that model? Is it a realistic solution or part solution to any of our current problems within the Catholic Church?
People meet in their homes.
People share their life stories.
People share their faith in the context of these real life stories.
People support, help and pray for each other in their joys and sorrows.
People read and connect with the Scriptures in an simple way (by praying rather than studying the Scriptures.)
People develop the ability to articulate their faith rather than being just the passive recipients we see at Sunday Mass.
People grow in confidence to share and pass on the spiritual hope they themselves have come to experience.
People tend to go on to offer their gifts to either their local church or local community.
If we understand evangelisation to lead beyond individualistic spirituality to incorporation into the community of believers, the downside lies in how the institutional church continues to undermine the Parish Cell System. People who are invited in and who’s hearts have been opened to God and others through the experience of a parish cell can soon be disillusioned by archaic, unaccountable, unjust structures riddled with clericalism and misogyny that wouldn’t pass the most basic of standards in the secular world from which they come. Some can look the other way, live with it, or even whole-heartedly embrace the status quo. Some will find a way to remain – uncomfortable and embarrassed but recognising the pearl of great price. Others unfortunately will move on again to look elsewhere for the wholeness and meaning they thought they had found.
The parish cell system is a good one and those who give their time so generously to spreading love and the good news of the Gospel deserve better. They also need to recognise the hole that is in their bucket and join us in the call for reform.
Martin, would ecumenically based small communities, independent of parish and hierarchy, with those from different denominations going on Sundays to their chosen place of worship with a much wider Christian community (if they so wish) and occasionally going together to each other’s denominational place of worship, solve the ‘cons’ you listed?
It would remove the small base communities/house groups from the undermining clerical authority and disinterest in reform of many of their diocesan clergy and bishops while still availing of Eucharist for those in such groups who would wish to protect that vital sacramental link. The current parish structure has been falling apart at an increasing pace in many Irish, UK, American and European dioceses due to the increasingly dire shortage of priests. It would be a much looser connection to parish than currently exists with such groups.
The only clerical answer so far to declining attendance at Sunday Mass and to the growing shortage of priests has been to ordain male deacons and close more local churches, joining traditional parishes into much geographically wider units. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the elderly without transport to get to Sunday Mass and to feel that they belong, in any meaningful sense, to a ‘local’ Catholic community. I fear it won’t only be the elderly who quickly drift away in that scenario.
I like that idea Aidan.
Martin, from your experience of parish cell groups, have they anything to offer children and teenagers, the group that is perhaps lapsing more quickly than any other? What could, or should, they do to encourage that age group to join and remain committed to both cell group and Church?
I have also asked that question of Noel (below) who also has experience of parish cell groups.
Good question, Aidan. Is there not a need to clarify for everyone the difference between ‘spirituality’ and what could be called ‘mere secularity’?
My understanding is that the rising tide of mental illness among young people is closely linked to a youth culture that links ‘success’ and ‘happiness’ with popularity-among-peers. Is not ‘spirituality’ a state-of-consciousness of connection to a source of self-esteem that is ‘out of this world’, while ‘secularity’ (called worldliness in the Gospels) is a consciousness only of the judgemental authority of ‘society’ as it is now – an array of media-displayed competitions, from sport to the X factor to Young Apprentice to Westminster and Leinster House?
If Catholic Schools are not pointing this out, is there any wonder that ‘Catechesis’ has as much penetrative power as water on a duck’s back. (My own old Catholic school was enthused in 2011 by the success of one of its alumni on Young Apprentice – a guy who said ‘I have integrity, but, when it comes to winning, integrity goes out the window’.)
‘Spirituality’ in the end can’t be simply a temporary haze of ‘good feeling about God’ – it is an option – a choice – to relativise all valuations that do not come from God, including those coming at young people daily from ‘the culture’. If Cell Groups are to be effective in helping the development of youth spirituality they need to convey that somehow, within the family and the parish – TO the young.
Doesn’t the Gospel story tell us that in the end all human judgement is fallible and superficial, that only God’s good opinion of us is reliable and worthy of our attention? The pursuit of popularity is futile, so any absence of it is NOT a tragedy.
The Catholic Mass – a group of people who sit in the pews and face forward focused on the priest / altar. Other than the sign of peace – there is no real interaction between the congregation.
How therefore can we expect the Catholic Church to be a genuine community when we never communicate?!!
A VERY radical change is needed I think. The mass is it’s current form – does nothing to promote community. Never underestimate the importance of communication in building community!
I agree Colette with the importance of communication, in both speaking and listening forms, to build community.
My article suggests that the over-formal physical location of a church building and current rigid liturgical format of the Mass might be the problem. House or cell groups, of their very nature, encourage active participation, sharing, listening and intimacy in an appropriately informal setting.
Any time I have participated in Mass celebrated in a home at a table around which all sat and actively participated by discussing the meaning and implications of the scripture readings, sharing their own concerns in their own informal Prayers ‘of’ the Faithful, (which have become Prayers written by clerics and merely read by a member of the faithful) and were offered the intimate Presence of God under the species of both bread and wine, I left greatly spiritually and communally uplifted and much more attentive whenever I participated in Eucharist in the parish church.
Agreed! However how will we ever get a cell structure up and running when we don’t even know the names of our fellow parishioners … because of the lack of any real communication? Would the church structures not need to get behind this and support this to get it up and running – to enable it to be fully inclusive and open to all?!? Otherwise I fear the cells themselves might simply be made up of like minded people who probably already knew each other through other means. How would the parishioner who is new to the parish get involved in these cells?!
You ask exactly the right question, Colette. If there is no communication there cannot be true ‘Holy Communion’ at Mass either. The huge inertia in the clerical institution that refuses to arrange communication – dialogue – between all of us lies at the root of the church’s current crisis. The monologues of bishops, of even the Pope, cannot substitute for dialogue at parish level. My recollection is that the early dialogues that followed Vatican II (1962-65) dwindled to nothing in the wake of Humanae Vitae (1968), while the abuse scandals from 1994 have further inhibited our clergy. We are now a deeply divided, non-communicating and therefore also dying, Church.
The cell group is a brilliant suggestion. I agree priests should not lead but facilitate and encourage. Lay people need to develop their own lay spirituality.
I totally agree! What would your views be as to what constitutes lay spirituality to make it any different from what is available to lay people at the moment?
I don’t think of it as different, more a feeling of spirituality that one experiences whilst involved in lay work , be that in the Church as an Eucharistic minister or in public trying to spread the Gospel message to others. I can’t explain the feeling but for me I am aware of the Holy Spirit at work in me , a feeling of internal peace and fulfillment from knowing that I am putting the Gospel message into practice. It is knowing that a higher power is with you and within you . Hope this helps.
As far as their own lay spirituality , I think it is a personal connection to God , through the Holy Spirit , noticing the small things in life and that even though we have our own freedom of will , when we look in the right places we can see God at work and how the Holy Spirit guides us to do what is right ,which sometimes is the hard thing to do .
I agree with you Derek that spirituality is about a personal relationship with God, grounded in the Holy Spirit and reflected in every aspect of our lives. It is different from what often exists today as lay spirituality in not being solely about attending more Masses and saying more prayers. Weekly Mass and daily prayer, built on meditative reading of Sacred Scripture and contemplation, are essential but as divine ‘feeding’ to give us strength, encouragement and direction to witness to God in every aspect of our lives.
In Baptism we received the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the call to use those gifts to be evangelists. As lay people that call to lay spirituality and lay evangelism is to witness to the joy of the Good News and recognise that we are all part of some community or other, most likely of several communities. Our call, our lay spirituality, is to serve with unconditional and practical love all those within our communities – our marriage, our family, our place of work, our circle of friends and neighbours and our Catholic community. That is the most effective way, with the support of the Holy Spirit and our use of the Gifts of the Spirit, of gently encouraging others, especially our children, into a deep, loving and lasting relationship with Jesus the Christ.
If Parish Cell people and reform minded Catholics worked together on the ‘inside of the edge’ of the Church (as Richard Rohr talks about), they could be a powerful force for good, contributing to both the needs of the church and society.
I agree totally, Martin. I would recommend to Colette that she seek out a few like-minded people to create the nucleus of a reform focused group or a cell in her parish. Based on personal experience once you start a worthwhile initiate and spread the ‘good news’ you will attract other people. People who are probably just waiting for someone else to take the ‘first step’.
As the institutional church shrinks with fewer large community liturgies due to the shortage of ordained priests and a rapidly declining support, the small group model of christian practice seems the obvious way forward – although in reality it constitutes a welcome return to the practice of the early christian communities.
Noel, from your experience do small house groups/ Christian cells cater well for children and young adults?
In many Catholic churches in Ireland at the moment the rigid format, lack of lay active involvement, absence of congregational singing of modern hymns and absence of a sense of community (as Colette well describes) for Sunday Mass result in many lapsing in their early teens. A missionary priest friend told me that many priests now regard Confirmation, especially in Europe and America, as the sacrament of exit from the Church! How can the Christian cell cope with that situation?
Perhaps more mothers could also share their views on that situation and on Christian cells as a possible solution to the lapsing of their children from the church and as giving encouragement to them to grow spiritually and reflect the Good News in every aspect of their young lives!
Young people are welcome to attend our meetings which are widely advertised. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, no young people attend. I don’t despair, however, because, while young people have understandably turned away from the church, there is ample evidence of many young people committing themselves to very worthy causes and working for those less well off than themselves. Many have a strong sense of social justice. I observed this at ‘first hand’ working in a university in Dublin for fifteen years. The students committed a lot of their spare time to a wide range of charity focused activities, various good causes, overseas volunteer work, etc., but they had little or no connection with the formal church activities in the College – Roman Catholic or Anglican.
Many younger people would probably associate small parish group or cell meetings with the institution and therefore are not currently attracted to such activities. I think it will take a long time for young people to develop any attraction to, or confidence in, any activity which has links to the institutional church.
Maybe in time as the influence of the institutional church is further reduced and parish groups/cells establish a reputation for authenticity, openness and independence they may become more attractive to younger people.
Thank you Noel for that very helpful response based on your own cell’s experience.
I was discussing the issue with my married daughter last night; she is a very committed Catholic and has two young boys aged 9 and 10. Like yourself, she didn’t think a cell group composed mostly of adults would be any more interesting or formative for them than the current set-up of Sunday Mass which they find very boring and somewhat meaningless, in spite of their Catholic primary school education.
I suppose it is rather simplistic to think that ‘one size or type of worship will fit all’. As Colette has indicated above, the answer is likely to involve a very radical reform of Eucharistic liturgy, with different liturgies for young people (much more lively singing, instrumentation, involvement, participation and social interaction) and older people.
Obviously that comes up against the serious decline in the availability of priests. The answer to that is to readmit those who left to get married and are willing to return and retired married men who are willing to undergo a short training for ordination (can’t see the need in the current crisis for 6 years of training for the priesthood and certainly not in a seminary or under a ruling that the married priests must be celibate if their wife dies). I haven’t mentioned women priests, which I am totally in favour of, as that debate is likely to be drawn out over forthcoming decades, whilst the crisis in priestly vocations is now!
So, we need parish cell groups, a radically reformed Eucharistic liturgy appropriate to different age groups and occasions and built on relevance, active participation, enjoyment, deep sense of worship and caring community, an open and welcoming door to returning laicised priests and retired married men (non-stipendiary priests) and reformed training for priests of varying lengths, depending on their future roles.
That reform requires a sense of urgency, missing at the moment, at all levels in the Church, particularly at the Vatican and among bishops who currently hold all the power. And that too must change!
I agree completely. Young people might respond to ‘informal’ liturgies which facilitate their active involvement -not just in the actual liturgy but also in the decision-making about what is included in the liturgy. The more they are involved in the planning and preparation the greater the degree of ownership and commitment to the event.
The issue of priests is at crisis point and will require the hierarchy to rapidly start thinking ‘outside the box’. There are, as you point out, a variety of options available. I only hope, whatever options are chosen, that there is a strategy and an absolute commitment to ensuring that the curse of clericalism is eliminated and not perpetuated by whatever new style of priesthood emerges.
I have read all the posts and well meaning suggestions .
I have a few points to make.
A powerful spiritual awakening happened in the early 1960s in the Dame St area by members of the reformed churches. It took flight because it was centred on the Holy Spirit – it grew exponentially because the Spirit was with it, and it began to expand to include all Christian denominations. The personal experiences of indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the reliance of the expanding numbers to be led by the Spirit were the spiritual fuel which evangelised so many people.
A few far sighted Catholic clerics (Martin Tierney)and nuns became immersed in this experience and an ecumenical dimension started to emerge and thrive – lives were radically renewed as of early Christian converts.
The gifts of the Spirit in Corinthians 13 and 14 became alive.
This was a blessed time and opportunity for Ireland and the call of the Lord to be One.
Catholic influence intervened and tried to form a Catholic Charismatic Renewal which separated Catholics from others – the chance was lost, although I only became involved in Newbridge in 1979. We met weekly in a hall and grew to 90 committed and spiritually energised people of all ages.
We as lay people operated at all times after much prayer and discernment in the Spirit – the result was that all these people became involved in outreach to nursing homes, jails, Samaritans, church readers and Eucharistic ministers, spiritual music, church cleaners etc, because they were living in the Spirit.
Many people looked askew at us – what was wrong with these people – they want to talk about God – after mass for goodness sake.
We survived until we reached a point of no new recruits – I have heard it said by a committed priest that the hierarchy closed it off.
They never closed off the indwelling force of the Spirit in us but I am now almost 75 and almost all of those beautiful people are with the Lord, including my wife Margaret.
Thank you Frank for that powerful sharing.
I wonder if, at that time when Charismatic Renewal was sweeping through the Catholic Church, all the various UK and Irish hierarchies had been instructed to pull it back from being an ecumenical movement meeting at times in Protestant churches, to a Catholic movement, and thus under the control of parish clergy and local Bishop. I say that because your experience was replicated in Down and Connor diocese.
Also, local priests were only willing, if at all, to attend a Charismatic meeting in their own parish if it was to give a teaching or, more likely, to celebrate Mass. Whilst they were comfortable with raising their hands in formal prayer while celebrating Mass they were very uncomfortable raising their hands spontaneously in spontaneous prayer at the prayer meeting and with exercising in the group any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Without their encouragement and the ecumenical dimension, the Charismatic Prayer groups soon died, to be replaced in some parishes with small rosary groups and other more traditional forms of Catholic prayer. It was a form of clerical vandalism against the Holy Spirit!
Yes Aidan, we met in a meeting hall first, but later we were offered an anteroom in a local church. This was a mistake. Even so, we invited the local Church of Ireland to come and they came – just once. The location was the inhibiting factor.
The late Cardinal Suenens from Holland was a strong supporter and Ralph Martin in the US, who met JPII.
All seemed possible for a brief moment when the international Charismatic Conference was held in the RDS and the final mass was featured on RTÉ.
One local young curate was actively involved at the outset. He was moved to Rome – to Study Latin and then was appointed to the Marriage Tribunal – he had not a clue about relationships and later drifted into very conservative ideas.
The priest who asserted the negative impact of the hierarchy in my hearing was highly placed in Dublin, and caused me to reflect seriously on the possible surreptitious influence of the hierarchy. I have no real proof, Aidan, but our local experience was one of tolerance by the parish, rather than a “chance for the church” as Suenens announced, in Rome I think.
Many negative comments seemed to be aired about emotionally unstable people being involved – my view is that all spiritual power will attract those needing healing as we know from the Gospels, and how Jesus dealt with them.
Strangely nobody seems to find any negative comment when parish or county teams win matches and many people exhibit far more extreme emotional responses.
The Psalms are full of David “dancing ” before the Lord, and David had many wayward ways too.
The Irish psyche is redolent with paradox like this – “all the songs being sad and wars being merry etc”.
I regret the passing of those years of heady experience of the Lord with so many of my friends. I am one of the last ones alive now and I miss them so much.
We self-organised with a “core group” which was acceptable to all the group and the core group met to select a leader for the next meeting.
Since my post, recent transgressions by bishops and priests in Africa make shocking reading. Now today it emerges that a recent Vatican emissary is accused in France of molesting a young male. And Cardinal Farrell, who refused ex Irish President Mary MC Aleese permission to speak on women’s day in the Vatican has been upgraded by Pope Francis. My level of optimism for fundamental change in Rome soon is at a very low level, like Marie Collins.