The Church Catholic does seem to have gotten itself into a real mess during the past decades. The Pope’s visit to Ireland was a prolonged declaration of regret and sorrow for the sins of the clergy since the 1950s. This was certainly how it came across in the newspaper reports. The poor man must be shaking his head in sorrow and anguish!
What caused such dreadful things to happen? Why were people not believed when they spoke out? Probably a culture of superiority, of “Father knows best.” taken to ridiculous and dangerous lengths. Even clergy can experience this with fellow clergy. I can remember being in conversation with a public school educated, 6′ 3″ bishop. During our conversation, the grand (and equally educated and tall) vicar of an “important” parish, came to join in the discussion. It was quite clear to me that the lad from the back streets of Birkenhead (me) no longer had a place in the ensuing conversation. I stood my ground and didn’t allow the clerics concerned to push me out. (The fact that the conversation was of the utmost tedium was not the point.) On another occasion, a young man tried to introduce me to his college chaplain – who dismissed me with a mumbled “hello” and a wave of his arm. In an instant I realised that he didn’t see me as a step on the road to becoming the bishop he did, indeed, become.
Clergy can behave very oddly. There is always the danger of being the big fish in the little pool. “Angela’s Ashes” describes a young boy growing up in difficult circumstances in Ireland. It is a long time since I read it but I do recall the (RC) priests not always treating him with the love and respect a brother-in-Christ should expect. (Or, indeed, any fellow human being.) The exception was a young priest who didn’t give him a penance for stealing his (drunken and asleep) father’s fish and chips in order to feed his brothers and sisters. If I can recall the priest’s words, “I should be kneeling down and washing your feet, not you kneeling before me in the confessional box.”
I fear that the problem has been caused by a number of reasons.
1) The isolation that many priests feel – even from fellow priests.
2) The training in the fifties and sixties that didn’t take into account the increasingly sexualised nature of western society. (Not the modern return of the usual sexually-transmitted diseases of the past, AIDS apart.)
3) The inability of the church authorities to deal with the growing sexual awareness of the men they were training for the priesthood. Even my own college didn’t deal with the questions raised, or not raised, simply because of the mores of the times. Sex was not discussed. Was it in the film “If” that the boy who asked the chaplain about his sexual desires was simply told, “Fight the good fight, Binns! Fight the good fight.”
4) Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Liverpool and, later, Westminster, wrote in the 1960s of the Catholic Church being a leaky sieve. He was writing when Catholic churches were packed and mass had to be offered on an hourly basis in order to cater for the crowds. Yet he could see clearly that the numbers making their first communions did not add up to the numbers in church week by week. Could it be that priests, even then, began to realise that things were changing. Did it induce a depression due to an increasing lack of role within that society?
5) The combination of loneliness and sexual frustration, not to mention the emergence of a greater awareness of homosexuality, together with other societal changes, must have affected a number of priests. Then there the culture which developed. There used to be a joke about clergy being like manure, effective when spread thinly on the ground but nothing more than a pile of s**t otherwise. There is no doubt that evil breeds when the circumstances are right – or wrong.
The sad thing is that, like a marriage going wrong, people look for reasons and excuses for giving up a relationship, be it with God or a fellow human being. There are many wonderful, hard-working, self-effacing, holy priests (and laity) – but even they are human. There are, sadly, others, who have been damaged, damaged others, and have caused damage to the Church. Equally sadly, others have turned a blind eye – or not even comprehended that such wickedness could even happen.
Pray for the Holy Father – and for the healing of the Church – and for faithful priests and people.
A wonderful gathering on August 15th to celebrate Our Lady’s taking up in to heaven. People came from all over the place to join in the concelebrated mass. The barbecue ended up in the church hall – so much easier to sit and eat and to avoid grit and grass in the food. There must have been seventy people in church to honour God’s Mother – but God first of all.
Can I record here my thanks to Father Kevin for maintaining the weekday masses during my holiday. It has to be said that the rest of the congregation hardly made much effort to join in the worship. I was conscious at the Assumption Mass just how the presence of the faithful is an encouragement to clergy and laity alike. One visitor travelled from HIXON (the other side of Stone) in order to keep this Holy Day of Obligation.
God bless your faithfulness.
SERMON FROM FATHER PATRICK GRIFFIN
You are what you eat? Have any of you heard that before?
I remember eating bran flakes with that logo printed on the back of the box. Whether we give ot credence or not the phrase does stick with us because it touches a reality that we know to be true. That which you consume not only physically but emotionally and spiritually begins to dictate ones life. Like our beloved Fr. Brian here today with 35 years of service at Holy Trinity we trust that what he has ‘consumed’ simply by ministering there through his experiences both active and passive have in turn, over many years become in part who he is today joining us at worship here. More about that another day perhaps.
These verses in John’s Gospel appear at the end of the lengthy Bread of Life Discourse. Scholars remind us that in this Gospel Jesus is depicted as drawing on rich motifs in the Hebrew Scriptures to speak of who he is and what he does for those who believe in him. In the earlier sections of chapter 6, the symbol of “bread” refers in a particular way to the revelation that Jesus offers. Jesus feeds people by revealing the Father to them in word and deed. He is the enfleshed or the manifest wisdom of God who satisfies people’s hunger for God, a hunger we all have. In verses 51-58, the language of “bread” contains a clear allusion to the eucharist.
Francis Moloney, a scholar of the Gospel of John, says this: “The eucharist renders concrete, in the Christian reader, what the author has spelled out throughout the discourse. The eucharist is a place where one comes to eternal life” (The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina Commentary , p. 224).
What does it really mean to encounter Christ in the celebration of the eucharist? What does it mean for our relationship with Christ and with other people? For Catholic Christians, celebrating the eucharist is part of our normal, routine life of faith. We do it all the time and know it by heart. It can seem quite ordinary. It becomes so familiar to us that we can sometimes go through Mass with our minds a thousand miles away from what we are doing. Even for me as a priest who presides at the eucharist, I can sometimes find myself distracted with worries and concerns and not concentrating very well on what it is that I am doing.
In a pastoral letter written some years before he died, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin said this: “It is in the eucharist that we discover who we are and whose we are.” I have always found that statement to be illuminating. In the eucharist we discover our true identity as Christians because we come to realize to whom we really belong. This means that we Catholic Christians are at heart a eucharistic people.
The eucharist is a mystery that is very rich and multi-dimensional. It is like a magnificent diamond that has many facets to it. For our purposes today, I would simply like to suggest one dimension of what it means for us as Catholic Christians to be a eucharistic people. As those who come to Christ the Bread of Life, we are a people who keep a memory and who live by a story.
Stories are so important in our lives. Just think of some of your own treasured family stories that you share with parents, siblings and other friends. Call to mind, too, stories of important moments with good friends that have shaped your life. These remembrances help us to keep in mind who we are and where we have come from. Our personal identity comes from our memories, and the important stories housed in our memories shape that identity. They enable us to come to a deeper appreciation of the people we love. Those memories also help us to keep hope alive, especially in difficult times. This view is rooted in St. Augustines view that the soul, the very essence of who we are is comprised of three facets, intellect, will and chiefly in this context memory.
Growing up in a large family, I listened to my mother and older siblings tell family stories around the dining room table. They would often launch into these stories, both serious and humorous, after big family dinners. I would listen intently to those stories, no matter how many times I had heard them before. They always seemed fresh and new to me. It was through those stories that I came to know my who I am through who others were. It was through those memory-filled meals around the dining room table that I became present to me, a companion to me.
Every time we celebrate the eucharist, we tell the story of God’s saving love for his people. We make memory of the redemptive, life-giving love of God that culminated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We tell that story by proclaiming and listening to the Scriptures. We continue to recount that story throughout the liturgy, especially in the great eucharistic prayer that the priest prays in the name of all the people. The center of that story is Jesus Christ, in his self-offering for us. All of us in the congregation give our assent to the truth and significance of that story as we sing the “great Amen.” We make memory of this Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, who gave himself completely for us and who continues to give himself to us in the eucharist. In that living memory, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we experience the real presence of Jesus as we receive his body and blood. We experience communion with this Jesus who lives, who is risen and alive. As Jesus offered himself for us on the cross, so he offers himself to us in this sacrament to be our food, our strength along the way of life.
Stories help to shape our vision of life and of people. Certain stories have a profound impact on our personal and spiritual development; they become guiding narratives for our lives. We internalize those stories from many different sources: from our families and friends; through the education we have received; from our national and ethnic heritage that we must never be ashamed of or apologise for. Sometimes these stories can be conflicting and can have a negative impact upon us.
So, in our society we are constantly bombarded with the message that our worth as persons depends upon how much we accumulate for ourselves. We are presented with “success stories” of people who have managed to accumulate massive amounts of money, possessions, power, influence and/or prestige. This is a story — a kind of social narrative — that has a deep impact on the way we see things and the priorities we set in our lives. Our vision is also shaped by the stories we hear in movies, books and music. Did you ever listen closely to the stories about people and life that are told in old folk and country songs especially those of that great Christian Johnny cas? In our own personal development, we may have heard and internalized a story that subtly told us we would never amount to very much. We may have a harmony playing inside of our minds and hearts that tells us that we will never quite amount too much in the strength of our own merits.
One of the many reasons that you and I need to celebrate the eucharist faithfully is so that more and more we will allow this story – the story of God’s faithful, saving love in Christ – to become the guiding narrative of our lives. If we truly enter into the mystery of the eucharist, the truth of Jesus Christ begins to shape our vision of ourselves, of others, of what is really significant in life. This story reminds us again and again how important — how treasured — each one of us is in the eyes of Christ. Through our communion with Christ in this sacrament, we deepen our friendship with him and allow him to shape the ways we see, decide, and act.
In and through the eucharist, we experience communion with Christ and communion with one another. There is a oneness with Christ in receiving him that is unique in our human experience. It is a closeness that exceeds expression in words or even in fancy theological explanations. And there is also meant to be a communion with our sisters and brothers in the eucharistic assembly and all those with whom we are united in faith. In his encyclical, God is Love, Pope Benedict XVI speaks about this communion that takes place in the eucharist. He writes, “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can only belong to him with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians” (n. 14).
At the end of every celebration of the eucharist, the priest or deacon says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The eucharist never simply ends, as a play, movie or folk song ends. No, we are sent forth, sent forth with a mission . In every celebration of the eucharist, you and I are commissioned to go forth and to proclaim the story of Jesus Christ with our lips and our lives. As we have been blessed with the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, so we are sent forth to make Christ’s presence real to others. As Christ the Bread of Life has given us himself to be food for the journey of our lives, so we are sent forth to feed the hungry people we meet. As we have experienced communion in this celebration, we are sent forth to work to strengthen the bonds of communion between the people with whom we live and work. As a eucharistic people, we Catholic Christians are a people with a mission.
As Cardinal Bernardin expressed it, in the eucharist we discover who we are and whose we are. We are blessed to recognize again and again that we belong to Christ. We discover how worthwhile we are in his eyes. In the eucharist Christ the Bread of Life gives us himself in order to make us his own. In your prayer on this 12th Sunday after trinity, I invite you simply to express your own gratitude to Christ for the gift of the eucharist. If your regular practice is to celebrate the eucharist on Sundays, you may wish to participate in this celebration one extra day this week. Ask Christ for a deeper appreciation of this sacrament and a willingness to enter into it with faith and enthusiasm. Pray for the grace to make his presence real to others. The eucharist is a gift, and in this life, there is no greater gift that we could ever receive.
Preached at S. Margaret’s Wolstanton – in the presence of the terrifying Vicar of Sneyd!