Challanges facing the Church of the Future – 2002

Home » Library » The Athenry Journal » Record

Stain Glass window from Newcastle Church – Photo by Cáit Curran

A request from Gerry Ahern to write an article on the challenges facing the Catholic Church in Ireland in the twenty-first century and how people and priests can meet those challenges poses a daunting task. It has set me thinking and wondering. Recently I was talking with a group of classmates about the changes that have taken place since we were ordained priests in 1963 — forty years ago next June. On one thing we were all agreed, we were not prepared for the world that we faced and we could not imagine in our wildest dreams that we would be reading the breviary and celebrating Mass in English within a few short years!

Pace of change

l know it is a cliché but the pace of change has been enormous and in particular in the past ten years. All we can be sure of now is that everything will keep changing. l know that some people are frightened by all that they see happening around them. Many would like to circle the wagons and try to ignore it all as if we can keep change at a distance. Other people enjoy change and feel challenged by it and all the varying patterns in life today. While there are many features of life that are difficult to cope with the impact of drugs and the abuse of alcohol, the number of suicides that is greater now than the number of people killed on the roads and the heart-break that has affected every parish in the country, I still believe that it is a great time to be alive. I think if we are to be honest with ourselves there were many things that were not good in what we often refer to as ‘the good old times’. And I constantly remind myself that God loves all of us, the people of our times no less than any generation before us. His Spirit is guiding us into a future that will be different but it will be all part of God’s plan for Pobal Dé.

A changing church

So, like it or not, change is certainly all around us — not least in our religion and Church. l was looking at Meitheal 2002 list of all the various ministries that were unheard of when I was ordained a priest – Readers, Ministers of the Eucharist, Basket Collectors, Baptism Team, Altar Society, Family Programme – to mention a few. The whole range of involvement by people in church and community not to mind a Pastoral Council or Parish Finance Committee! I celebrated my first Mass in Latin and everything continued in the same pattern as it did for hundreds of years. But then the Vatican Council called the church to reflect on its mission to the world and so many changes and adjustments began to take place. The people of my generation experienced all that and it was not easy for many to cope in the beginning. The 196Os were times of enormous change not merely in the Church but in the world of the time.

Facing the future with confidence

What of the future? I believe what happens in parish is vital. If it does not happen in the parish it does not happen at all. The Lord works through people and we lean on one another for support to travel onwards. On a Sunday afternoon recently, I sat in with a group of about fifty people in the Canton Hall. We were led by a visiting team and we prayed together and reflected on the command that Jesus gave to his disciples. We recognised that it is the same Lord who is calling us to be his disciples today and sending us out to bring the “good news” to people around us.

That is the work of evangelisation.

That we are a people called and chosen and each one of us has a mission to bear witness to that truth in our lives. How we go about this task of our mission in our parish — that is the challenge. The whole purpose of the church is to evangelise and to find new ways to bring the truth and hope of that message to a new generation.

So the renewal of parish is at the heart of it all. That is why prayer is the power that moves us to be renewed. People who pray, homes who pray together are the lights along the shore battered by the stormy seas of our times. In the end of the day, evangelisation is about one heart touching another heart and finding hope.

The parish is the place

A parish must be a place where people can discover a sense of belonging and a communion also with one another. Privacy and individualism ultimately leads to isolation and we have all seen that the end of that road is a desperate loneliness. We all desire to know our neighbours and to be known by them in return. That is essential for any kind of health and wholeness and any sort of growth in any community. A parish is a network of communities. To achieve this, we would have to get to know one another in a new way. I do not mean the knowing which comes from belonging to a club or organisation, important as that is in any community, but the knowing that comes from a deeper search and reflecting together — by reading and sharing on God’s Word in all the rich variety of how the Spirit speaks in our hearts and how we share our insights with one another in small gatherings.

For the faith to survive in the world of the 2lst century, Catholics will need to be contemplative people and be living their faith with hope and compassion in the market place of a secular world. The driving force for this renewal will come from the people and it will come through the parish and from the ground up. The priest in a parish will have a role — to nurture, encourage, guide and support — but it will not be a priest-led-recovery but a people- led-recovery and it will come through the parish where people and priest work together.

Otherwise, I believe in twenty-five years from now, the crows will be nesting in many churches around the country.

– –

About this record

Written by Tony King

Published here 20 Jul 2023

– –