Here are some words I wrote almost 10 years ago. It was at this time that we felt the need to start talking in Dublin about the direction we were beginning to move in.
“An old teacher in the seminary told us there is no holiday in the spiritual life! Well that’s as maybe but holidays from the parish certainly feel great. To have time for travel, family and friends is a welcome experience. But in fairness to our teacher he had a point, even on holidays I can’t resist visiting churches, attending mass and looking at the way parishes in other countries work. In my brother’s parish in Fareham, South East of England, there is just one Sunday mass at their local church and I was pleasantly surprised to find the 9.00 am congregation almost filled the church. The liturgy was good, the priest was from Africa and the age profile was the elderly and some families with young children. In France last Sunday the mass was in a neighbouring village at 10.30 am ( the priest had said a 9.00 am mass some miles away). Again there was a great atmosphere as people were arriving from 10.15, kissing each other on both cheeks! There was a good-sized congregation, music and a 20 minute homily! Again the profile of the people who gathered was very similar, older folks and some families. Interestingly in the notices the priest mentioned 3 upcoming weddings, yet there was no one of that age group present in the church. In this cluster of parishes the priest told me there are 24 steeples, with three priests, all elderly assisted by some sisters and parish workers. This parish, like so many in France, he told me went into decline after the 1914-18 war. He showed me a plaque on the wall, 24 young men from the village perished, many more were wounded and the rural communities never really recovered. Our Irish experience, I told him, also had a huge loss of young people from the countryside but through emigration rather than war. The church in England and France continues to pray, worship and evangelise. It works out of meagre resources but with a lot of pride in the gospel message and a faith in God’s promise to be with us always in Christ. They are past talking about the problems of diminishing numbers of priests and people. They are simply getting on with what they can do and try to do their very best. I am sure there is a lot we can learn from them. And yes it is great to be back home too.”
Re-reading them I realise how far we have come, now we look more like France and England did, except we are holding on to many masses for convenience rather than taking the brave step of calling the parish to come and pray as one body. That will no doubt happen soon enough when we have no longer any choice. I hope we can imitate their energy and commitment, even when we are few.