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.