‘Carpe Diem’: the Latin phrase for ‘seize the day’. It always reminds me of the film, ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ in which Robin Williams plays the teacher who uses some unconventional methods but inspires his pupils to grasp the opportunities life affords.
Whether you are familiar with the film or not, I hope you will understand me when I say that I believe that for our two parishes such a moment is presenting itself. When I was entrusted with the care of Bishop Eton and St Mary’s four years ago, you were in the throes of looking at how you might reorganise yourselves in face of the challenge of sharing a parish priest. In the event with the closure of our house in Sunderland and the reorganisation of the Redemptorist Province I calculated that we would have enough priests in Bishop Eton to maintain the timetables of both parishes and we have successfully achieved that in the intervening years. Now I do not anticipate that there is any immediate need to review that decision, but I do want to alert everyone, young and not so young, to what is happening all around us, not only in the Liverpool Archdiocese but across the country and indeed in many other parts of the world.
As you know I have a lot of sympathy with ACTA, that group of Catholics who wish to have a fruitful dialogue about how we deal with the problems besetting our communities at this time. In a recent letter to Pope Francis, to which they contributed there was this sentence:
"Around the world, our bishops increasingly respond to the priest shortage by merging active and vibrant parishes into anonymous unmanageable superstructures."
The letter goes on to suggest that in those circumstances the priests become remote and “people feel alienated, unsettled and insecure.” Now it is not my intention to unsettle everyone in our two parishes, but I have experienced at first hand the pain described when priests and people have failed to “read the signs of the times”. Now that I am again a member of the Provincial Council, I am experiencing this in regard to the former Redemptorist parish in Sunderland, where I was once parish priest, as the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle does a complete review of the viability of all its churches. So, may I ask you to stop and think about our own situation again? In the past few weeks two churches which border our pastoral area have closed and then there is the reality of the situation in our Redemptorist community here in Bishop Eton. All things being equal, which of course they may not be, if we see through the next four years, Fr Jim Casey will be 85, Fr Barrie O’Toole will be 82, Fr Jimmy Smale will be 75 and Fr Andrew Burns and I will be in our early 70s. (These are the five priests at present available to celebrate the Masses.)
There is a temptation in every walk of life to lay the blame elsewhere when we see things going wrong. I admit being prey to this temptation and in recent years I have wondered why radical solutions are not being sought to the problems outlined above. But there is an alternative and I believe it is a healthier and more positive one. It is for all of us to take joint responsibility in our own situation; to sit down and think about how we are going to ensure that our communities remain vibrant and life-giving, energised by the gifts of God’s Spirit and reflecting the abiding presence of Jesus in our midst. May I ask: has it really occurred to you that the day may come when the Redemptorists can no longer staff Bishop Eton, let alone St Mary’s as well? I think that what is certain is that in the future we will not have the Eucharist celebrated as often as at present. However, we can ensure that we still have a rich communal prayer-life and active missionary parishes, reaching out to others with the compassion of Jesus, as Pope Francis continually urges us to do.
Therefore, I invite you all to come to our ‘Parish Awakening Day’ on Saturday 10 October. The venue is St Julie’s School in Woolton and I am immensely grateful to Mr Tim Alderman, the Head-teacher, for his interest in and enthusiasm for the venture. How to ensure that all our schools, primary and secondary, are involved and looking for imaginative ways of developing support for and ministries among our young people will be high on the agenda.
The exact nature of the day is still to be finalised, but suffice it to say that I want it to be a day when you can come together and voice your concerns and your interests. We will need all our societies and groups to be represented, displaying clearly their roles in the community so that others can see what is already available and then we can all consider what more we need to put in place. The day will begin with a keynote presentation and for this we have secured the services of Fr Paul Cannon and Sharon Beech. They head up the department for evangelisation in the Salford Diocese and have published a small book, Welcome to Witness: Becoming an evangelising parish, which has been published by Redemptorist Publications. These books will be available in the coming weeks and I sincerely hope that many of you – all of you? – will want to read it and capture the flavour of what we are about.
On the day itself we plan to have a series of workshops and again we will require much help in planning and preparing these. For one thing, I intend to spend some time with our readers and ministers of Holy Communion, which hopefully will make up for all the days of recollection which we haven’t had over the past few years.
We will close the day with a liturgy, the fruit of our workshops on music and scripture and much else besides.
When the holiday period is over, in early September there will be open meetings for all who wish to help organise the day; for Bishop Eton on Tuesday 8 September and for St Mary’s on Wednesday 9 September, both at 7.30pm; and a joint planning meeting at St Julie’s on Thursday 17 September.
Meanwhile, please commit yourselves to the cause… Let no one count him or herself out. Spread the news, seize the day and let the Spirit of God do the rest.
Fr Timothy Buckley, CSsR (Parish Priest)