I had an interesting converstaion with my parents on the weekend. We were discussing our Diocese's new pastoral plan, 'Who is My Neighbour?' and the impact it will have on parishes in the Hamilton area. For those of you who haven't seen or heard about the plan, it outlines how we will move from 23 parishes to 9 pastoral areas. Each pastoral area will be made up of a number of Catholic communities who will share three priests, one parish council, one parish office etc.
I guess, this plan had to happen. The reality is that we are running out of priests. The report publishes the ages of the priests in our diocese and, believe me, the numbers are not encouraging. The Bishop has talked about how he has tried recruiting priests from overseas with some success but there needs to be a shift in our expectations to deal realistically with the problem at hand, a problem that is only going to worsen as our priests age and retire.
The problem is, I don't want to be realistic. When I was sick in hospital a few years back I had visits from the hospital chaplain which was nice, but what was really special was when the priest came and annointed me. I've attended liturgies of the word before when our priest was away, but what I really crave is holy Mass. I know a deacon can perform a funeral, but when my family members die, I want a requiem Mass. When I need advice and guidance in spritual matters, sure I could go to a lay spiritual director, but I trust the guidance of my priest. Priests, by their very consecration are holy men, close to God… am I wrong to feel that the ministries of lay people are a kind of "second-best"?
At Hearts Aflame two years ago I was lucky to attend Fr Gerard Boyce's lectures and one phrase of his in particular stayed with me: "The Church has seven Sacraments – spend your life collecting them and then living your life in the reality they make you." When we have less priests, will it become harder to "collect" the Sacraments?
I know in coming years we will all have to step-up in our parishes, but I don't have to like it. Maybe I'll just continue to bury my head in the sand… it seems a lot easier than facing what's coming.