A New Year Resolution for ACI Catholics

01/01/2019Print This Post

  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.


5 Responses to “A New Year Resolution for ACI Catholics”
  1. Martin Murray says:

    Here’s one model that might be helpful http://www.parishcellsireland.ie/

  2. Aidan Hart says:

    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?

    • Martin Murray says:

      People meet.
      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.

      • Aidan Hart says:

        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.

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