Now in even deeper crisis, our Irish church will need ‘all hands’ in all parishes to get to grips with renewal. But what would it take to revive a parish community? Here Aidan Hart offers the fruits of his own experience.
As the number of diocesan priests and vocations to the diocesan priesthood rapidly diminishes in many parts of the world – Ireland having only one ordination in 2020 – there is increasing discussion about closing or amalgamating parishes.
However, few people in charge of the closures and amalgamations ever seem to identify and discuss with parishioners the purpose of the parish and the parish structures that would help effectively to realise that purpose. In organisational management, this is called Agreed Aims and Realistic Objectives, the latter being regularly and rigorously reviewed to assure their ongoing, successful realisation.
The parish, like the Church it is intimately part of, is meant to be a community of faith, hope, love and service. The parish community should thus work unceasingly to increase the faith, hope, love and practical service between all its members and to encourage and facilitate the growth and quality of that faith, hope, love and service as it moves outwards to the wider community.
But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
The sacraments, especially Eucharist, are a divine feeding to strengthen all parish members in their daily programme of outward moving, ever-growing, deepening and widening unconditional love.
The risk is that the sacraments, and particularly Mass, become solely personal and inward-looking, part of a privatised religion and privatised spirituality. How many parish clergy and parish councils seek to identify, encourage and guide the parish in bringing about the vision of St. Paul in Romans 12:27 & 28?
(1 Corinthians 13:13)
I suspect few parishes would score highly on encouraging and developing the above charisms. Current parish life tends unconsciously to encourage, rather than challenge, privatised religion and a merely inward-looking spirituality among many of its members.
How does your own parish score, in terms of the programme of action laid out by St. Paul in the above quotation? Why not share your results with other readers, using the Comment facility below, without necessarily naming the parish.
My own recollection of a serious attempt in the Catholic Church to realise St. Paul’s vision was Charismatic Renewal. Sadly, it eventually died in most parishes for want of clerical participation, encouragement and guidance.
The only way to change things is through a Vatican II vision of what the Church, and hence parish, should be about, and through dialogue with the whole parish about a plan of action, built upon the inspirational and supportive role of the Holy Spirit in its midst, and the unconditional love of the Father. That divine love flows through Jesus the Christ into our midst and demands expression through all parishioners in service to each other and to our local community.
Every marriage should be a lifelong relationship of increasing, reciprocal, active and forgiving love, every home a cell of love, hope and faith. All those cells are the building blocks of a loving parish, in service to one another and to their wider community and imbued with the presence of God, reaching out to transform society. Love is the breath of God, forever incarnating itself in the everyday life of the home and parish.
“For the love of Christ overwhelms us….So we are ambassadors for Christ.” (2Cor. 5)