Personal reflection at the beginning of the New Year

It is quite a while since I have written anything in my blog. But now we have turned a new year, and even though I will be seventy three in two weeks time, there is still a sense, even if only a small one, of a new beginning.

The last few months of twenty nineteen contained two potentially significant happenings in my life.

First, the house I have been living in for the past eight years, since my “withdrawal from ministry” (to use the official Redemptorist phrase for what took place in my life in 2012) was sold, and now I am based back in my monastery. To be fair, I don’t spend much time there. I don’t find it easy. Living in the location where all the ministerial work is going on has brought me back face to face with the reality of my situation, in a way that living apart made it possible to remain distant from. 

The second happening was very interesting. A small group of people, mainly lay, got together and approached the Redemptorist authorities with a view to initiating a discussion that might lead to some way of breaking through the impasse of my “withdrawal”. One meeting has taken place, with a promise of further discussion later this month. I am extremely grateful to these people for the time and effort they are putting into this, and it remains to be seen where it might lead us.

As we begin the new year, I have a sense that this could be a defining year in my life, though what that might entail is not at all clear to me at the moment. The first five or six years after the “withdrawal” were busy, and in many ways satisfying years. I was very involved in the work for Church Reform; I travelled a lot, and spoke a great deal. I had plenty of energy for what I was doing, and was hopeful that real change would happen. 

I am still hopeful of change, and continue to be impressed by Pope Francis, but I don’t have the energy or enthusiasm for the work of reform that I had. Is that increasing age, or is it a sense of the futility of it all? I am not sure. Seeing the lack of anything really worthwhile happening in the Irish Church is depressing. More and more I am hearing stories of weekend Masses being cut, of parishes being effectively amalgamated, of priests covering numerous churches. So much of this is being decided exclusively by bishops and priests, with often no consultation with the local faithful, and absolutely no effort made to look at alternatives to our outdated and failed form of ministry. It is the clerical church still operating as if nothing had happened, as if there was no Vatican Council and as if Pope Francis had never come with his talk of collaboration and synodality.

In the international Church I see how some people who were closely involved in my “withdrawal” have been shown up to be a lot less white than they presented themselves, and some of them have become more oppositional, even ‘heretical’ (if I can judge by the standards they implied in my case) than I or my censored colleagues in the Irish Church ever were.

I am inclined to believe that if there is to be any change in my situation it will happen this year. If not, then I will have to accept that things will remain as they are for whatever amount of life I have left. I can cope, I think, with not ministering as a priest any more. At my age I wouldn’t be doing much anyway. But living within an institution that acts in such a cavalier and unjust fashion, and is quite happy to sit with that injustice and do nothing about it, will be the difficult part.

A friend of mine texts me regularly, and always ends the text with “sending you light”. I will be glad of whatever light there is, and that the Divine Spirit, which I do believe is within me and in all of creation, will be the guiding light of this year, not just for myself, but for those I care for, and for all of you who read this blog.