Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Having coffee with Christ

I returned today from the annual, two-day conference for Catholic Chaplains in Higher Education. We met at Loyola Hall in Liverpool. (Katherina Muller, who gave presentations on interreligious dialogue and Fr Dominic White OP, the chaplain at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, are pictured above). It was uniformally excellent. I learnt a number of important things. Firstly, our ministry is "on the edge." Half the time you're not sure what exactly you're doing as a chaplain. You have multiple conversations and most people you talk to don't seem especially changed through having encountered you. Canon John Udris, spiritual director from Oscott College, put our ministry into context beautifully with an extended meditation on the fact that in Chapter 17 of Luke Jesus travelled "along the border" of Samaria and Galilee and it was there that he healed the lepers. We are on the border, between secular society and the Church. Moreover, we meet the Lord on the borders of our weakness and vulnerability. So basically, when I feel useless and ineffective, when I feel I am boring rather than engaging my interlocutor, who gives every impression of being entirely happy with his/her religious indifference, I press on with the conversation. I find that paradoxically deeply encouraging.

The second thing I learnt dovetailed with this. The role of the chaplain is essentially one of "presence." Professor Bart McGetterick of Liverpool Hope University expounded a wide and complex vision of Catholic education which, he said, was manifested in good Spirit-filled relationships and, a corollary of that, justice. The chaplain is one who is charged with building up good relationships within the institution. It's a very adequate, all-encompassing job description.

There was lots more but those are the two things that I found especially helpful. It's great to have a theological rationale for what we do. It has reminded me of the high significance of each pastoral encounter. I once saw Daley Thompson's face before the starting gun in an important 100m race: moment by moment distraction drained away until he was completely focused on the race in hand. It would be good to be so attentive to Christ in the other, as we chat over coffee, the same Christ in, say, the fifth encounter of the day, demanding my attention, as the lepers demanded Jesus's. In the photo above are Margaret Holland (centre) our Chair, and Roberta Canning, our National Coordinator, with Ray Bayliss, the chaplain at Keele University. Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, our President, was with us for the whole of the conference.

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