Regardless of how we got here, where we are at provides us with an opportunity to slow down and observe more carefully what is happening, and maybe the experience of our over 60 years toiling on the earth might have some value.
The Catholic Church in our London Ontario diocese, and throughout North America at least is having to adapt to changing conditions, not just little things, but major changes. Here in our diocese, there is the particular phenomenon of the shrinking priesthood. This is not about why that is happening, but how we as practical Catholics are responding to it, and how we might be able to respond better.
In our parish of St. George, we have a new church that was built 10 years ago, which is a drastic improvement over the old building that preceded it. Until this week, we have been blessed to have two priests on staff at the parish. It is a large parish, and is also a pretty well to do parish. The part of our city that the parish is located in is a growth area of London, what used to be the outlying town of Byron when I was a kid, and it was way out of town back then. Now it is part of an explosion of new housing, and not starter homes. The people in our parish are mostly prosperous in the view of the world.
Our pastor, Father John Pirt is a good man, an excellent preacher, and one who brings the sacraments to us with reverence, and devotion. That is truly a charism that he has. Even though he has had an assistant in Fr, Francis Jeyaseelan, C. R., he has been busy - run off his feet might be a better description. Suddenly, after this week we will find ourselves with only one parish priest, as Fr. Francis, and two young priests from the Congregation of the Rosarians in Sri Lanka, from whence Fr. Francis came himself, will be taking over the diocesan Marian Shrine in Merlin, Ontario, and forming a small community themselves to minister to all who come to the shrine. Though this itself is a marvelous work of God, it leaves a void in our parish.
Where Father John was somewhat beleaguered before, I am concerned that he will move to a state of overwhelmed.
The parish model, at least in our diocese, is that the Parish Council, elected by the members of the Parish to serve the parish, actually serve at the behest of the parish priest. The priest is in most of our parishes large and in charge. This is a long standing model, but tends to break down now, with the diminishing number of priestly vocations. Here in London, we have had parishes twinned so that one priest could look after two or more congregations, and have seen many parishes shuttered as well.
But, God is good and He always will be. He will meet all of our needs through His riches and glory.
Recently, Father John has had to make some choices for the parish, in light of the changing situation. As a result some noses are out of joint, with good reason, at least from their perspectives. There will no doubt be frustrations and irritants going forward.
As I have said previously, a few of us gather in the morning to pray the Divine Office for each of us, our families, the world we inhabit and our parish. As a couple of the recent decisions impacted two of our group, they brought their frustrations to prayer for a couple of mornings this past week. One morning was just praying and venting. But, by the second morning, I believe the Lord gave us the answer that we need for our day to day lives.
Father John is our pastor. His position of authority in our parish comes from the Bishop, who derives his authority from the Pope, and ultimately from God. Of course, if we don't like what he says or does, we are free to wander off to another parish, to a different denomination, or go and sulk in our own corners. But, that is a self defeating approach. It is better to address our own anxieties directly, and so we concluded the following:
We love our pastor, regardless of what decisions he feels he has to make.
Recognising that he, like all of us, has a limit to what he can do, we will also do our best to draw alongside him and offer ourselves to assist him in any way that he allows us to.
But, most of all, we will support him with our prayers, asking God in these trying times to grant him the wisdom to shepherd this parish to the best of his abilities, and the courage and strength to do that which he discerns is the path he must follow.
We will leave the rest of it in God's hands.This is by no means an easy time to be a Catholic priest, and it is time that the people in the pews, you and I, step up. In the past we could get away with sitting in the pews for mass, and go about our week, but it was not really a spiritually health strategy for that time, and is definitely not one now. We must grow in our faith, and in our prayer lives for the good of the Catholic Church, and for our own salvation.
Those of us who go to mass receive the Body and Blood of Our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, through the consecrating of the Eucharist at the hands of our holy priests. This is a blessing of immense and untold worth. It is the essence of the Catholic faith, and draws us into the salvation that Jesus came to give us.
But, if our priests are no longer able to bring this gift to us as "alter christus", who will? We must do what is in our power, and prayer is always in our power, to lift our priests up, to give them strength, to love them for giving of themselves in service to others.
Show your pastor that you appreciate his sacrifice. Pray for him, and encourage him in his work.