LOOKING TO THE FUTURE WITH CALM REALISM
Fr Tim Buckley CSsR (Parish Priest)
Most of you know that on Sunday 22 September I spoke at all seven Masses in our two parishes, Bishop Eton and St Mary’s, Woolton. I considered that it was an opportune time to review my previous eight years as parish priest and assess how we should respond to the challenges of the future. As an aide memoire I am recording the key points I wished to stress.
- Firstly, I noted that when I took over in 2011 (June 1st in Bishop Eton and September 9th in St Mary’s) there had been much discussion about how we would cope, particularly in view of the fact that St Mary’s would no longer have a resident priest. A plan had been put forward which would have reduced the Sunday Masses from seven to four. There was much disquiet. With the restructuring of the Redemptorist community, I was able to suggest that we would try to retain the existing timetables in both parishes (Sundays and Weekdays).Apart from transferring the Saturday evening Mass in Bishop Eton to Sunday evening, no changes have been introduced and to date we have managed with only the occasional blip.
- Eight years ago I stressed my hope that our two parishes would flourish and that much would depend on both communities pooling gifts and resources to achieve this.Our Awakening Day in October 2015 was a remarkable experience and bore much fruit. I believe that in many ways we are indeed flourishing. However, along with the wider Church, we continue to face new challenges and this may be the moment to take stock and look for new initiatives that will enable us to respond effectively.
- I do have a concern that many people may still not have grasped the seriousness of the situation regarding likely provision of clergy to celebrate the Eucharist and theSacraments. This was illustrated by the number of people who bemoaned the fact that “they had taken Fr Charles Randall away and had not replaced him.” My response was to ask: “who do you understand THEY to be?” “THEY” happen to be the members of our Redemptorist Provincial Council: Fr Ronnie McAinsh (Provincial) who is over two years older than I am, Fr Andrew Burns (our Rector and a contemporary of mine) and Fr Richard Reid, whom many of you know and who is now Rector and Parish Priest of St Mary’s Clapham as well as being Vicar of the Province and Vocations’ Director, to name just a few of the many hats he wears. They are not trying to make life difficult for me or for you. Like the Bishops and other Religious Superiors they were simply trying to ensure that we fulfil as many of our commitments as possible, in spite of the rapidly dwindling resources.
- We need a NEW MIND-SET. For example, in the near future, it is simply not going to be possible to provide the timetable we have maintained for the past eight years. At present, it is being sustained by two generous and remarkably capable confrères, Fr Jim Casey (85 years) and Fr Michael Henesy (84 years).
- It does not seem to me that there is anything obvious that we need to do immediately, so I am proposing that we follow some wise advice, offered to me many years ago by Fr Timothy Radcliffe (former Master General of the Dominicans). In the early 2000s I had been asked to facilitate the clergy meetings in Portsmouth as they restructured the Diocese from 90 parishes to 24 pastoral areas. He recalled how, as Master General, he and his confrères were regularly confronted by issues to which there was no obvious solution. He always proposed the following: “Can we just agree on the next step and if, in a month or so, we find we have to step back and try again, so be it?” May I suggest that we do the same as and when the occasion arises? In the meantime, will you please be patient, if from time to time, I have to adjust the weekday timetable because of mounting commitments in any given week?
- There are two areas, in which I wish to ensure that we are as well organised as possible: hence the meetings for Ministers of Holy Communion, which have now taken place, and an invitation for people to consider training as Ministers for Funerals. This training will be available in the Archdiocese in November.
Of course, in any future decision making we will need to take account of the requirements of our Pastoral Area (Deanery) and indeed of any decisions which result from next year’s Synod. Therefore, I urge everyone to take an interest in the Synod and contribute to it whenever possible.
Thank you for your patience and understanding and for all the encouragement you give to me and all the members of the Redemptorist Community.
Love and prayers,
Tim Buckley, CSsR
EASTER AND THE SYNOD
Of all the Easter stories the one that captivates me most is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. If Synod 2020 is about us walking together with Jesus, then this seems to me to be the perfect starting point. It has all the elements that make it easily applicable to our present situation. While there is always a temptation to regard the present age as far worse than anything that has gone before, the Church is certainly going through an unprecedented time of turmoil. It is quite something when an Archbishop can boldly state that we have “lost our moral authority”. Like those two disciples we may well be tempted to walk away and look for solace somewhere else. It is important to note that they had turned their backs on Jerusalem and some commentators suggest that Emmaus was the sort of Las Vegas of its day! Anyway we know they were downhearted.
Jesus confronts them with their misery and begins to probe, eventually having an in-depth conversation with them and helping them to see what was going on in the wider perspective of the history of their people. They are helped to see some important connections in all that had already been written in their scriptures. In fact when they looked back on the conversation they use that remarkable phrase: “did not our hearts burn within us?” As we seek to engage in an in-depth conversation now, it is important to remember that the Lord promised he would be with us always and so we can trust that if we are honest and open with one another, he will be there too. Hopefully, we will be able to look back on the whole Synod experience and say something similar about it when reflecting in the years to come.
Of course, the crowning moment of the story is the supper. They prevail upon Jesus to stay with them for the meal, but then he disappears, leaving them to put the jigsaw together. And they do. In the breaking of the bread they recall the Last Supper and are so excited that they cannot wait to share their experience with the other disciples, returning immediately to Jerusalem.
Those of us who are members of the Synod have now attended two preparatory meetings. Both have exceeded my expectations and I am heartened by the very thorough nature of the preparation which is being put in place. The challenge for us now is to spread the enthusiasm so that it touches all of you. Like the disciples returning to Jerusalem we want to share the story and ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, everyone is able to make a contribution. It has been emphasised over and over again that the Archbishop insists that nothing is off limit and everyone’s experience and opinion is to be valued. In this context it is my fond hope that we will be able to have a serious conversation about some of the issues I have already begun to explore with you in my open letter, ‘What Next?’ and the follow-up article, ‘What Now?’
I have recently explained that both in the Redemptorist Congregation and in the Archdiocese the focus these days is on ‘restructuring for mission’. Accordingly, I have been reflecting on what in practice this may require of us and I am coming to the conclusion that sometimes when restructuring, you first have to deconstruct what is already in place. Using the analogy of a building that has served its purpose, sometimes you can renovate and bring it up to date, but on other occasions all you can do is to demolish and begin again. I hope this does not sound threatening or too radical, but let me use just one example of something that continues to preoccupy me and trouble me: the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Those of us of a certain age were brought up to confess our sins regularly and certainly the expectation was that practising Catholics would confess at least once a year. Many people still believe that this is part of the Easter Duty, but in fact it is not and never has been. The Catechism clearly states that this only becomes an obligation if people are conscious of the kind of grave sin which debars them from Holy Communion. The fact is that the practice has so radically changed in recent years that it seems to me that in effect the deconstruction of this tradition has already taken place. Yet, the practice of penance and reconciliation dates back to the earliest days of the Church, albeit that it was only with the Celtic monks in the seventh century that regular confession of sins became widespread. My concern is to find a way of bridging the gap; of recognising that as Pope Francis says, “we are all sinners in need of the mercy of God”, and finding a way of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a way that enables all of us to experience the peace and joy of knowing that we are forgiven. Saint Paul puts before us the paradox that it is “when we are weak we are strong.” It is in recognising that we do not have the resources to conquer our sinfulness that we abandon ourselves to Christ and he becomes our strength.
My final thought is that for too long spirituality has focused almost entirely on our personal relationship with God, neglecting the fact we have a common responsibility to each other and the whole of creation. The advantage of Reconciliation Services is that this dimension is evident: here we recognise that our sins affect one another. St Paul reminds us: “if one part of the body is hurting, the whole body is hurting.” Therefore, I do hope that once again as many of you as possible take advantage of the Reconciliation Services at the beginning of Holy Week: Monday 15 April at 7pm in St Mary’s and Tuesday 16 April at 7.30pm in Bishop Eton. There will be confessors for those who wish to make a personal confession of their sins, but if you do not feel this is necessary, you simply come forward for absolution. In the present dispensation this seems to provide a happy way forward. For the rest we will also try to offer as many opportunities as possible for Reconciliation in these last two weeks prior to Easter.
Fr Tim Buckley CSsR (Parish Priest)
THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
Fr Tim Buckley CSsR (Parish Priest)
You know by now that I try to be attentive to those moments when we see God’s providential hand at work in our lives. I had another classic example of this during my recent week in the south of England. One afternoon I called at the Jesuit House in Bournemouth in the hope of seeing Fr Brendan Callaghan SJ, who had supervised my thesis in the 1990s. I had heard that he had been convalescing there after a recent illness. In the event I learnt that he had recovered well and is due to be moving soon to the University Catholic Chaplaincy in Manchester. However, I was made most welcome by Fr Norman Tanner SJ, who provided tea and cakes! We had a fruitful conversation and as I was leaving he kindly gave me a signed copy of his book: New Short History of the Catholic Church.
BE ALIVE, MARCH 2017
THE JOY OF LENT
The old translation of the First Lenten Preface spoke in gratitude to God in these words: “Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart r
enewed.” The new translation reads: “For by your gracious gift each year your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts with the joy of minds made pure.” I admit that these words are a more exact translation of the Latin, but there was always something refreshing about the challenge of actually seeing Lent as a “joyful season” to offset the temptation of entering the six weeks with a sense of misery and foreboding.
A NEW ACADEMIC YEAR: FRESH OPPORTUNITIES
I sincerely hope that we are all returning, having had some opportunity to unwind and relax during the summer months. More even than the beginning of the new liturgical year in Advent or the beginning a new calendar year, I believe that the beginning of a new academic year provides the best opportunity for parish communities to start afresh. For it is not only the schools and universities which are welcoming students back for new courses or opening their doors to new students, but similarly our parish ‘Journey in Faith’ begins again, offering those who may be interested a chance to share our way of life and discern what the Lord may want for them. Likewise, all the existing societies begin to meet again and continue their work and prayer. It is for this reason that Bishop Eton and St Mary’s are having the joint assembly at St Julie’s School on Saturday, 10 October.
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