Welcome to Saint Mary’s Church, Harborne, Birmingham, UK.

Order of St. Augustine.

Archdiocese of Birmingham

“Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”  St. Augustine.

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INDEX

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                                       Fr. Bernard O’Connor’s Homily

                                               for Sunday 22nd April

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Vocations


John 10: 11-18

 

On this Good Shepherd Sunday it is customary to reflect on vocations to priesthood.

That there is a relative shortage of priests, compared to what we have become used to, and the prospect of an even greater shortage, is beyond doubt.

Take our situation here:  We have five priests, which is a state of luxury compared to other parishes, which have at most one priest.  However, all of us are over seventy and three of the five are over 80.  How long more can this situation continue?

 

There are two ways of approaching this question.

 

Can you imagine  a situation where there was no longer a priest available to live in this parish, where the most that could be expected would be an occasional visit from a priest to say Mass and celebrate rhe Sacraments.

 

This situation has been foreseeable for the past 20 or more years, and it has always surprised me that more is not being done to prepare for it.

 

There is a policy at present that I would question, namely no priest equals no parish.  So if there is a shortage of priests, parishes are amalgamated, and one priest manages two or three parishes.  In some cases churches are closed  to the great dismay of their people.

 

I suggest that the local community should manage the parish if there is no priest.  It is our parish. It is your parish.  This is a great challenge for you, the people of the parish.  If it were to happen in this way, I suggest it would lead to a more vibrant church.

 

There is the example of what used to be mission territory.  For example, our Augustinians from Ireland went to Northern Nigeria in the 1940s.  From a centre they would serve many outlying villages.  An elder would be appointed and trained to prepare the people for the Sacraments and to lead a service of prayer on Sundays, sometimes with Holy Communion.

 

These would be men who had only recently been baptised, had little formal education in most cases, yet they were entrusted with managing the local church in their village.

The result is a thriving church in Nigeria.  Where our Augustinian went in Northern Nigeria, there are now three dioceses, served by Nigerian priests and there is a large Augustinian province.

 

This was the method used by St Paul on his missionary journeys.  He would preach, introduce the people to Jesus Crucified and risen from the dead, eventually appointing a group of elders to manage the local church and move on.  The newly established church flourished..

 

Now is the time to start organising ourselves for the day when you, the people take responsibility for your parish.  That is the challenge to you.

 

 

The second approach is to focus on vocations to priesthood.  I am sure we must accept that there will not be again the superfluity of priests that we had become accustomed to. 

All that I have already said still applies.

Even with parishioners fully owning the church and the parish, there is still need for priests.

But where will those priests come from?

They certainly will not come from Ireland, nor have we the right to expect that they will come from somewhere else out there.

 

Each parish should produce its own priest.

It is a sad fact that we Augustinians have been here for 45 years and there is no Augustinian from Harborne.  In our early days a few joined us for a while but did not persevere.

Whatever about the past, if we want to encourage vocations to priesthood, we the parish must be pro-active.

 

Yes, we need to pray.  You will read in the parish bulletin that we shall have a monthly day of prayer for vocations to priesthood.

But that is not enough.

 

We might take an example from the life of St Augustine.  His biographers tells us that once at Mass in Hippo in North Africa, the bishop Valerius was lamenting that there was no priest for the church.

The more he spoke, the more people in the congregation turned and fingered Augustine, until a group of them took him bodily, led him to the bishop, who ordained him priest there and then.

I always try to imagine what Augustine said when he returned home ‘You will never believe what happened to me at Mass today!’

 

In our bureaucratic age,  we are unlikely to get away with anything so simple.  Yet we can take example from it.  We need to be pro-active in encouraging candidates for priesthood – perhaps identifying men and encouraging them.

Nowadays, not only young men in their twenties are welcome, but also older men, who will have the benefit of experience..  ate teens might be encouraged when considering the options for s future career to consider priesthood.  Even for children, the seed can be sown at an early dtae.

 

It is a huge challenge to you the people of this parish.   But the Church has faced more difficult crises in the past and come through them.  As gold is purified in fire, so the Church grows through such challenges and emerges stronger, and more in the image of Christ.

 

That is our hope and our prayer today.

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