Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Religious leadership
Almost without fail these days wherever a priest goes, the question is asked "What is the situation with vocations to the priesthood?"; and, as often as not, the conversation will then turn to the state of the priesthood in today's church. All the readings today touch on the subject of religious leadership:

Malachi criticises the priestly class for failing in its duty of religious instruction;
Paul describes his own ministry as teacher;
In the gospel, Christ criticises the Pharisees for their failure to provide genuine religious leadership.

Introduction: Anyone who knows anything about Church history knows that its rise and decline relates directly to the state of the Priesthood. Where there is a strong and stabile Priesthood, the Church is strong and stabile. Otherwise, the Church goes into a state of crisis and decline. There is no doubt that recent years have seen a dramatic decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood. There are no clear answers to why this should be so. A partial explanation may be found in the fact that priests, discouraged and uncertain about their own futures in the Church, do not encourage priestly vocations they way they used to. This is probably due to the disillusionment that many feel about how the Church, after the high hopes of Vatican 11, has again become bogged down, and the relevance of the institutional church is being questioned by laity and clergy alike. The "identity crisis" is symptomatic of this mind-set. Then, too, the popular image of the priest has been seriously damaged by the scandals that have come to light in recent years. A younger priest was heard to comment recently that he was reluctant to be identified as a priest because he did not want to be judged as "one of them"! The question of celibacy is immediately put forward as a problem, as if to say that, were it not for the rule of celibacy, such abuses would not happen. To me this seems to beg the question of why is it that less than 1% of priests fail in this regard? And why do a greater percentage of married people, men and women, abuse children sexually? No! the fault lies elsewhere in a person's make-up.

Looking at the overall picture of the Priesthood, I see in it a parallel of the Church. There we find images of the Ugly and the Beautiful. Before his conversion to Catholicism , the great Anglican scholar of the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman, wrote -"There is nothing on this earth so ugly as the Catholic Church and nothing so beautiful". After his conversion he became a Cardinal. For many today, the Church is still the Ugly One! Such critics point to those who, in ages past, by their venality and sensuality, have dishonoured the office of Pope; they point to the excesses of the Crusades and the Inquisition; to the buying and selling of spiritual favours bringing on the Reformation; the siding of the Church with the strong against the weak. Such ugliness has been present at every level of the Church in every age and in every place, and in the midst of it has been the Priest. Now, let us come to the second part of Cardinal Newman's statement - "and nothing so beautiful". There is the beauty of good men and women, overworked and dedicated, trying to provide leadership in a very confused world. Mother Teresa is far from being unique. There is beauty in the life of Blessed Mary MacKillop who saw that the traditional church structures of her time were not reaching families who lived outside the cities. She threw convention to the wind, established a unique religious teaching order and was excommunicated for her efforts There is beauty to be found in the efforts of ordinary men and women seeking to bring a Christian response to the demands of everyday living. There is beauty to be found in the liturgy of the Church - the celebration of Mass, in the honesty and sincerity of people seeking to be reconciled with God; in the sight of parents accompanying their children for the reception of the Sacraments. There is beauty in the faith inspired struggle of people responding to the invitation of Jesus to make this world a better place. There is beauty when groups of people meet to understand and to pray the Scriptures. There is beauty when death is accepted in faith. And here, too, the Priest, invariably, is present.

So, when we are confronted with the Ugly, let us not forget the Beautiful that coexists with that ugliness. It is not easy to explain the beauty of the Catholic Church to those who have not experienced it; but the willingness of so many to persevere suggests that it is there and to those who let it, that beauty speaks to us of God.

Scriptural reference: I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, .... There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, [Eph 4:1, 4]