This whole – I hesitate to call it discernment – exercise starts, it seems to me, from the wrong premise. That premise sounds as if the Catholic people of God in Edinburgh are in a mess. I would disagree with that wholeheartedly. The Gospel is preached in the many caring facilities for the poor of our city; people lovingly greet and care for each other every Sunday in our churches; as Catholic Christians we are supported by vibrant and loving communities in other denominations; robust debate takes place as Christians meet and test out their beliefs together; we as Christians have sources of learning of world class renown on our doorstep; there are very many lay organisations who tend to the care and encouragement of their members; Catholic Christians from all over the world enrich our churches for a time, sharing their love, insight and culture. Yes, we are a broken Church, ever looking for healing in the midst of life, but not in dire straits. ‘the poor have the Gospel preached to them….the Kingdom of God is at hand.’
Try as I would, I could not hear the words of those questions in the Archbishop’s letter on the lips of Christ. When I tried to do that, I got flashes of tables being overturned, and money crashing to the floor, pigeons being set free, and people being thrown out of church. When will we learn? Of course we have to look after our resources. Of course we cannot be demanding an outrageous amount from our priests.
However, to see the present situation only as a difficulty forgets that Christ promised He would be with his church until the end of time. If we believe that, then have we not the imagination to do things differently? If we have a certain number of priests, then that might be what is in the mind of God. To say otherwise is either to say that God is not playing fair by not ‘giving us vocations’ or to say that the men of our diocese (and dioceses throughout the world) are being less than generous in their response to God’s invitation. Whichever you choose, it beggars belief. Might it be that God is asking us to do things differently? Giving us an opportunity to use our imagination? God does not play tricks nor is God cruel.
People are leaving the church. It is said they cannot take the high standards placed before us. Indeed it has been said that a leaner church might be preferable. Not much sign of a leaner church being in the mind of its founder, when He regularly fed crowds, or had to escape from people in a boat for some peace and quiet. People are leaving the church, some joining other denominations because one stupidity too many is being suggested. Even for those of us who are hanging on by our finger tips, there is a weariness about belonging to a stupid not to say faithless church, and one moreover which presumes we will go along with its stupidity and be complicit in its lack of faith.
So there might be innovative ways of being church in this land in this century. If we believe the Spirit is with us, there will ever be new ways of being Church. What of local lay leadership? What about questioning the exclusion of half of the catholic population by gender? What if we were to expect that we were treated like adults instead of being infantilised? What if our journey with God and our service of each other were to be a starting point in all of our deliberation? Then God would perhaps cease to weep, and welcome us into the Kingdom here on earth, co-workers with Christ for the good of each other and the glory of God.