Renewal is Happening in a Thousand Ways.

January 30, 2014
Many parishes give reason for optimism, writes Michael Kelly

Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during the hierarchy’s quarterly meeting in Maynooth.


That’s why at the heart of any authentic spirituality must be a culture of accountability: are we preaching the God of encounter that we meet in the Scriptures and the Sacraments, a God who draws near to us or a God who appears to people as petty and vindictive?

A wonderful moment

Again and again in the Bible notions about God and power are confounded. The First Book of Kings describes the Prophet Elijah’s encounter with God: “Then the Lord himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (I Kings 19: 11-13).

Where, we might ask, are the gentle breezes in our Church today? Just as many the holy women and men in the Bible and the Church’s history found God where they were least expecting him, so too we may be surprised where we find renewal, reform and transformation in the Church.

The election of Pope Francis has been a wonderful moment in the Church that has breathed fresh life into people. But it would be unfair to expect too much from the Pope. One man – any man – is limited in what he can do to bring about transformation at a local level. There’s always a temptation to look upwards for future direction. Obviously, in our Catholic tradition the Pope – as Supreme Pastor – has a unique role in leading the Church and setting forth the vision. But unless there are people in local parishes and communities willing to work hard, really hard, to embrace and promote the Gospel then the Church will have a wonderful figurehead and nothing else. The same is true in dioceses: priests too often look to the bishop for everything and parishioners look to a dwindling number of priests to do everything. The future of the Church in Ireland is uncertain, certainly, the clerical Church will not be able to be as present as has been the case in the past. Some churches will undoubtedly close or have Mass less frequently. But, overall, the future will depend on parishioners being willing to embrace a sense of co-responsibility for the Church. This does not come easy for Irish Catholics given the traditional clerically-dominant model of the Church that we have inherited, but the future depends on it.

Where there is light, and growth, and transformation in parishes that I visit it is when there is a positive and engaging collaborative relationship between priests and parishioners. It is where a parish is outward-looking rather than self-obsessed and self-absorbed. It is where a parish is consciously mission-driven and has clear strategies for engaging with parishioners rather than a ‘wait and see’ mentality.

– See more at: