Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Friday, 29 March 2013

Moved only by zeal for souls

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor celebrated our Chrism Mass in the absence of a bishop. "Look after yourselves; look after each other," he told the priests towards the end of his homily. We brothers looked at each other, some in the north transept, some in the south, with very little dark hair on anybody's head, and our responsibility for one another became newly clear. Just before we had repeated our priestly promises: we had undertaken to follow Christ, our Head and Shepherd "not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls." Our vocation really is extraordinary: our sole raison d'etre is to draw people towards Christ.
It occurred to me reflecting afterwards that the big temptation for us priests is to find some other objective to which to devote ourselves. I've recently been asked how many students at Leeds Trinity are to be received into the Catholic Church this year: none; and how many new students for the priesthood the diocese will have: precious few. We lack measureables to shore up our sense of self-worth.
Fortunately, zeal does not depend on manifest pastoral success. Nor need it degenerate into desperation when faced with rejection. It is an interior disposition, something that can be constantly renewed in prayer, something that is fostered by the fellowship of the presbyterate. Really nothing can rob us of our capacity to intervene in people's lives. Our strength as priests became apparent to me as never before on Wednesday evening. Pastoral "failure" humbles us, purifies our motivation, gives us a particular access to the cross and renders that quiet assurance that one glimpses in a really good priest all the more astonishing - the source of his self-confidence can only be divine.
Another highlight of recent days was this morning's ecumenical walk of witness in Horsforth. The Revd Richard Dimmery, Vicar of St James's Church in the town and the Chairman of Horsforth Churches Together, preached beautifully in the open-air to a good-sized group of people at the bottom of Town Street. He said more than that the cross reveals God's love; he described that love precisely and rhetorically: "eternal love, personal love; unconditional love," plus other adjectives. As I listened it was as if the fullness of God's salvific plan was unfolding before me.
When I got home after the Liturgy of the Passion at St Mary's, Horsforth - excellent choir and fourteen altar servers! - some students and recent graduates invited me to watch Mel Gibson's "The Passion" in the Chaplaincy Lounge. I had never seen this before; it is incredibly moving. A beautiful motif running through it is the relationship between Jesus and Mary: she is there throughout, supporting him with her gaze. There was complete silence in the room when the film ended. Everybody was emotionally exhausted! Then one of the students said, "Let's say Evening Prayer." After fish and chips some of us rounded the day off by watching the Pope's Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum.
Here is a picture of the Rev'd Dimmery and two Leeds Trinity men just before our outdoors service.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Envisioning parish life anew

Part of the joy of ministering here at Leeds Trinity is that so much of the work is, properly speaking, priestly. I am often talking to people about Jesus and listening to them recount their various religious experiences. The students may find it difficult to commit to worship, but many of them are very glad that I and a few others are doing it near them. Sometimes the Chaplaincy Lounge is full and then a single student will leave his or her peers and join me and one or two others for Mass. Others will look through the glass doors of the chapel, intrigued. I intuit that students are glad that religion, and more specifically Catholicism/Christianity, continue to matter. They have become friends of a priest and a religious sister and two committed laywomen in the Chaplaincy Team. And they have found a space in which they may discuss faith with each other. These are big, important things. They constitute significant contributions to the young people's personal and spiritual development.

When I was a parish priest at St John's in Buttershaw, Bradford, I used to feel frustrated because I could not find a way to reach out to people outside the Church. I remember thinking one evening: "Am I doing anything to evangelise this area?" Of course I was: I was ministering to my parishioners and together we were a sign of God's love and mercy. But I hardly ever spoke to anybody who was not a practising Catholic (apart from at baptisms and when visiting the families of first holy communicants) or other Christian. Hundreds and hundreds of people lived on two council estates in my parish and I talked to hardly anybody in them, nor indeed to anybody in the more prosperous areas, who was not already connected with the parish in the four years that I was there.

That is why I found so interesting a talk this evening by Rev Dr Philip Knights which the Chaplaincy co-hosted with Theology and Religious Studies here at Leeds Trinity. Entitled "Local expressions of Church and the New Evangelisation: Is the Catholic Parish fit for purpose?" Dr Knights critiqued common pastoral assumptions. The most exciting thing he said, to my mind, was that the parish needs to be ordered to the task of mission if it is to fulfil its purpose. He noted a tension between two ecclesiological models: Eucharistic communion and sacrament; if the former alone is considered important the Church can become a "holy huddle" whereas in fact the Church exists to intervene in the lives of people currently outside of its visible boundaries.

The Church needs to review its life. The key question is: How can we bring people to Jesus Christ? Often this can best be done in initiatives outside of the parish. To recognise this is not to denigrate the experience of parish life; rather it is to set it in its proper context; we cannot expect parishes to do more than that of which they are capable. Fr Knights contrasted our understanding of parishes with minsters in the Anglo-Saxon church in his home area of East Anglia - these were large episcopal churches with groups of priests and religious brothers and sisters attached which had daughter churches in surrounding areas to aid the spreading of the faith. He also noted that a lot of the new energy in the Catholic Church in the west was coming from extra-parochial groups like Youth 2000 and the Neo-Catechumenal Movement.

I'm conscious that some of what I have written above will be the thoughts that this excellent lecture provoked in me rather than what he actually said verbatim. I'm sure he'll forgive me. I've just given him my best boeuf bourgignonne, courtesy of Delia. Here is Dr Knights before the lecture with one of our finest theology students, Henry.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The beautiful Church

I went to a great training day today for those in the Church who work with young people. It was entitled "Called to a Noble Adventure," after the just-published report by the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation. It was organised with characteristic efficiency and imagination by the diocesan youth service and was held at our Youth Retreat Centre, Myddelton Grange, overlooking the beautiful Wharfedale valley.

It was good to be with highly committed competent lay people and to engage with them in purposeful activity. Being a priest has been a little difficult in recent days, given events. The brotherhood of which I rejoice to be a member has been painted as a dysfunctional clerical caste. The painful thing is that within this vicious caricature there is some truth. Clericalism does indeed infect our Catholic culture: it stifles true dialogue, personal growth and evangelisation. It is a social sin. We all want to get rid of it.
Today's training day showed how. It was an instance of the Church, in the words of the famous dictum, "always reforming." Through the multiple conversations that I had, I discovered the strength of lay involvement in youth ministry. In one workshop I attended, various catechists, youth leaders and coordinators of altar servers quickly swapped stories of what activities worked best, how to introduce prayer into periods of fun and what night of the week works best, all of them conscious that they only had a few minutes to impart and receive this information. In another workshop a female lay chaplain and a female parish youth worker spoke about the success of a sixth-form CAFOD group at St Mary's High School, Menston. In another a female parish youth worker gave a presentation on praying with young people. In another, an engaged couple provided tried and tested techniques for breaking the ice in youth groups. The keynote speech was given by a laywoman, Anne Trotter, our director of diocesan youth services; various prayers were led by a laywoman, the diocesan youth officer, Anna Cowell. Priests were in the mix: Fr Anthony Jackson, the diocesan youth chaplain, celebrated Mass and preached and Fr Christopher Angel, gave a presentation on some new Confirmation catechetical material which he has prepared.

All in all, everybody chipped in according to their different skills, charisms and ecclesial states and the day marked a significant step forward in the new evangelisation of the diocese. Lay leadership and clerical leadership were exercised simultaneously. When somebody next implies that I am part of a weird, all-male, celibate cabal intent on distorting the true teachings of Jesus, I'll simply say: "You need to participate in the life of the Church more." The ecclesial reality which is emerging, and which is being thrown into peculiar relief in this Year of Faith, is something beautiful to behold.