Sunday, 1 May 2011

Going under

Recently I came across, in the religious interest magazine "The Tablet" (12th February 2011) an article about the priesthood in Australia by Chris McGillon, titled "Going under". He begins his article saying that some "fear that the priesthood in Australia is threatened with extinction", and he ends the article speaking of lingering "impressions of disenchantment ... which should provide food for thought for clergy and laity alike." This life-sapping article is based on a questionnaire, which he and a colleague sent to Catholic priests throughout Australia in 2008-09. The result of this questionnaire was their book "Our Fathers".

The article doesn't indicate what kind of questions were in the questionnaire, but suggests rather that Chris McGillon's way of looking at the Catholic priesthood is the one which the majority of priests who responded to the questinnaire favoured. And, not surprisingly, Chris McGillon is someone who thinks that Contraception is an issue that still needs to be resolved!

My experience of the priesthood in Australia is somewhat different. When I arrived in Oz almost three years ago I was extended an enormous welcome; I felt like a newly ordained priest who was being embraced close to the Church's heart. Now this was obviously a subjective experience, so let me speak a little more objectively about what I have seen (in Sydney).

There is a very strong and warm sense of fellowship among Diocesan priests. This is evident in the sacristy, in concelebrations and in glergy gatherings. Australian Bishops mingle freely and easily among the priests. The parishes are brimming with Mass-goers every day, yes, every day, not just Sunday. There are priests from many different Asian countries who are clearly welcomed and embraced (as I was) by brother priests and parishioners alike. People in the streets and in shops greet priests warmly with "Hello, Father". I have collaborated on two ocassions with other priests in parish missions in Sydney; in both of these the sense of the priesthood was manifestly Eucharist-centered, missionary, fraternally supportive. I have collaborated on many occasions with other priests in formation events in Sydney and experienced with them the great joy that priests are given when the Church is being built up.

I join other priests each month for the "Theology on Tap" sessions, where hundreds of young people delight in our presence in their midst. Working in the seminary in Sydney I have the immense joy of encountering every day young men who are alive in their vocations to the priesthood, and who are responding with the Theological virtues to the challenges which they meet; seminarians who are aspiring to offer their whole humanity to be formed by grace so that they can become God's intruments. And I know that since 2007, thirty five men have been ordained to the priesthood from the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney.

These are just some of my experiences, experiences which do not point to Chris McGillon's bleak view that the priesthood in Australia is going under. In any case, the Holy Spirit continues to be very active in His great Southern Land, in spite of surveys which have their own independent agendas.

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