Challenges Facing Us Today.
A Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Michael Neary – Spring 2009
Three years ago a diocesan Assembly was held. In preparation for it widespread consultation took place in parishes and Church areas across the diocese. In this – lay faithful, religious and priests participated very generously and with great enthusiasm. Here I want to acknowledge in a special way the invaluable work of the Diocesan Implementation Group who very generously took responsibility for collating and implementing the recommendations of the Assembly.
In meetings with the priests of the diocese at Deanery Conferences I invited suggestions as to how best the diocese might respond to the challenges facing us given the availability of fewer priests. I brought these suggestions to the Council of Priests where they were fully discussed. The Council proposed that I appoint a working group to make proposals on how the parishes of the Archdiocese might be served in the future. The working group, having consulted all the priests of the diocese presented me with an interim report which I offered to the priests of the diocese, the Council of the Laity and the Diocesan Implementation group inviting their comments. The second draft of these proposals was subsequently offered to the priests and Pastoral Councils of the diocese for their reflection. I appreciate the way in which all involved have so positively participated in this exercise.
All of this has resulted in the Diocesan Plan which I offer to you today. It is a courageous attempt to address the new challenges that face our Archdiocese. It is but a first step as we acknowledge together that the tried and traditional models of the past are inadequate in facing the demands of the future. I ask you to take it home and study it carefully with your families. Its recommendations will have implications for every parish in the Archdiocese of Tuam.
Centrality of the Eucharist
The celebration of the sacraments and in particular the Sunday Eucharist, lies at the heart of parish life. Central to our membership of the Church is a living relationship with Christ and this relationship is fostered always by prayer, particularly in the Sunday Eucharist. The Catholic Catechism reminds us that “the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s day and His Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life”. Without it we cannot give to the world, hungry for the things of God, what it should rightly expect from us. It is from the Eucharist that parish life flows and to which it always return. Recognising this, the diocese has allocated people trained in liturgy, pastoral councils and faith formation who will work with and become a resource to all involved in those areas. Recognising the importance of youth ministering to young people a Diocesan Youth Council has been formed with a view to providing young people and young adults with opportunities to nourish and celebrate their faith in meaningful and relevant ways. Various events have taken place, others are planned, through which more young adults and youth are experiencing Church in new ways.
All of this has been very warmly welcomed and has resulted in renewed energy and enthusiasm with so much taking place by way of participation and engagement in the various parishes and church areas. Many pastoral projects and fresh initiatives are emerging as prayer and Christian action combine. People are working with and supporting their priests, as together we get to know more about our faith, enter into a more meaningful relationship with God and become more aware of the gifts and responsibilities of each person.
Courage to be Christian
Today we cannot afford to be Christians who are tamed by a politically correct world in our living and preaching of the gospel. A people struggling with contradictions and empty promises of today are hungry for the word of God. In this age we need a people who will have wide enough loyalties, deep enough hearts, extensive enough sympathies to hold together fragmented society at a time when ever narrower agendas are paraded as the answer to everything. In an address to priests but which is applicable to all Christians, Pope John Paul said “we need people who are experts in humanity, who know the depths of the heart, who can share the joys and hopes, the agonies and the distress of people today but who are, at the same time contemplatives who have fallen in love with God”.
Gospel Hope – A Guide for the Future
In every age the mission of the Church has been marked by faith, hope and charity. Perhaps, today, we stand in great need of an infusion of hope. You will recall, that after the Resurrection of Jesus, two disciples on their way to Emmaus had a sense of defeat as they spoke to the risen Christ whom they had not yet recognised: “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free”. (Luke 24:21). These two disciples on their way to Emmaus were going the wrong way with false hopes. Yet Jesus walked with them, opened the scriptures to them; they listened and found the courage and vision to turn back. The desert has always been the place in the bible through which a people or a person pass to find God. It may be in these desert days in Ireland that we will find the God of all promise. St. Paul would remind us again “rejoice in hope, be patient under trial, persevere in prayer”. (Romans 12:12). Remember too the words of the English writer G. K. Chesterton “it has been the feature of the history of the Church that flowers keep appearing in the desert”.
Conclusion: A Future Full of Hope
The pattern of the past in this Archdiocese is the promise for the future. More and more people, men, women and youth have given their time, gifts and energies to the building up of God’s kingdom of justice, love and peace. Lay groups are working closely with their priests discovering new energy for the Gospel call. Together, they are adapting to the changes needed as fewer priests are available. All this new activity at the same time calls on us all to pause, reflect and see the will of God in our efforts.
We face the future with hope and faith. Lay faithful, religious, priests and Archbishop, together we can plough a new furrow. The effort and the pain associated with change will, without doubt, provide a harvest for generations yet unborn. The Emmaus Road runs through every village and town of our Archdiocese. Where are we on that road, where am I on that road? Am I still glorifying the past, abdicating responsibility for the present, dragging my feet, fearful of the future or do I recognise the risen one in the breaking of bread and in the breaking hearts that I meet?
Here in our Archdiocese we have so much going in our favour, the various areas to which I have already alluded, energetic and committed laity, religious and priests with so much to offer. As a diocese we are probably unique in having places of pilgrimage which become focal points Knock, Ballintubber, Croagh Patrick and Máméan.
I invite and encourage you to assume responsibility by becoming familiar with the proposals for the future serving of the parishes of our Archdiocese. The printed summary is available in the Church.
At a critical time of uncertainty in the history of God’s people, God’s advice to Joshua then and to us now is “be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”. (Joshua 1:9).