Monday, 27 June 2016

Why I am a Faith Priest

This article, soon to be published in Faith Magazine, is a brief personal testimony of what it means to be a ‘Faith Priest’, as we are sometimes called.

Every year I attend four national events organised by the Faith Movement (three events for youth and one for my own formation). This is a massive commitment in time, energy, and money. It takes me away from my parish for the inside of a week four times a year. Yet, the reason I am absent from the parish for these events is in order that these very events might be harnessed to serve what happens in my parish. Over the years I have learnt various parts of what can be called the ‘Faith’ apostolic strategy, a strategy that we feel serves the needs of the contemporary Church. Let me outline six key elements of that strategy.


Prioritising Youth Work
Anyone who attends a Faith conference cannot help but notice the high ratio of priests-to-youth. This is not just a feature of our conferences but a reflection of the fact that our priests have particularly devoted themselves to youth. We live at a moment in the history of the Western Church when the institutional Church is in decline in every imaginable statistic. Yet, we also live at a moment when numerous ‘New Movements’ and new apostolates have arisen, and the Faith Movement is one of these. In Faith, we believe we need to prioritise the formation of youth in order to preserve the Church’s future, and in order to remedy the injustice that has been done to them by years of catechetical and pastoral neglect.

In prioritising ‘youth’ we need to note, more specifically, that Faith focuses on teenagers and young adults. In contrast, many parishes today devote great energy to young children but offer practically nothing for them once they reach an age when they can begin to think for themselves. This, however, is exactly the stage when a more mature engagement becomes possible, and this is the ‘youth’ we target.

Another feature of our priests and our youth work is that a great many for our priests are themselves products of the Faith Movement: We attended the conferences ourselves when we were young, and we benefited from advice and formation from Faith priests in our own youth. This is a huge part of why priests like me feel a need to give the same to those who are young today.


Parish Youth Groups (‘Forums’)
Prioritising youth work isn't just about taking youth from our parishes to national conferences. An integral part of our strategy, practiced now over some decades, is the establishment of youth groups in our parishes. These groups serve a threefold function: we catechise in them, we teach youth how to pray, and we enable youth Catholics to meet and socialise with other young Catholics. For example, in our Shaftesbury forum a typical meeting has 45 minutes of catechesis, 15 minutes of prayer in church, and 30 minutes of snacks and socialising. Of course, these three pillars are not unique to Faith, they are found in many new ‘youth discipleship’ programs, but they have long been part of our vision.

It is important to note that our youth groups, typically called ‘forums’, are very different from the ‘youth clubs’ that characterised Catholic youth activity from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such clubs were primarily social gatherings, and presumed other formation elements were happening elsewhere: prayer in the home and catechesis in the schools. In practice, however, such spiritual and catechetical formation often didn't happen, and so our youth forums aim to offer it in a more systematic fashion.


National Youth Conferences
Local parish youth groups need something beyond the local parish. Young Catholics (and the families they often come from) frequently feel isolated, feel as if they are the only young Catholics in the world. Regularly attending a national Faith conference gives a young person an experience of the world outside his or her parish, gives encouragement, and offers speakers of a quality that a local parish might not be able to provide. It was our founder’s (Fr Edward Holloway) hope that these events would also enable young Catholics to meet and marry other suitable young Catholics, and this, and the formation of many friendships, has been one of the many happy outcomes that we've been able to observe in Faith.

The national youth conferences and the parish youth forums feed each other in a cyclical manner: the national events provide an experience that cannot be achieved in an isolated parish, and the parish groups provide year-round formation that a periodic national event cannot achieve alone.


Appealing to the Mind
The Faith Movement has a reputation, not undeserved, of having some towering intellects among its members. Outsiders are probably less aware that we have many ‘ordinary’ folk too(!), but it is nonetheless an essential part of our strategy to target the mind.

Young Catholics today grow up in a world where they are assaulted by numerous conflicting opinions, with the general presumption being that religion is for ignorant or stupid people and that the Church has nothing intellectually credible to offer society. In Faith we seek to face this head on. Apologetics, serious catechesis, and an explicit appeal to the mind are what we offer. We see ourselves as an antidote to the content-lite programs that passed for ‘catechesis’ in recent decades.

As a priest in a parish, however, this appeal to the mind involves a mental effort on my part too. To translate our intellectual vision into parish talk series, adult formation, and youth catechesis is hard work. It is much easier to pass such things by and stick to the simplicity of Holy Communion rounds for the sick. While the everyday pastoral work must continue, the Faith apostolic vision pushes us to do more, to appeal to the mind in both youth and other work.


A Christ-centred apologetic rooted in Science
At the heart of our appeal to the mind is the rooting of our apologetic in modern science. Admittedly, in the 21st Century people are more impressed by technology than by science, but the scientific mindset remains the dominant undercurrent that is typically considered more credible than the Church.

Our vision is rooted in the science of evolution, a vision that shows the interconnectedness of all things, the need of all things to find their proper environment, and the manner in which all things interrelate under the control and direction of a Mind. God alone, who created all things through His Word, who planned to enter and fulfil His creation through the Incarnation of His Word, is both the Mind that directs and the spiritual environment where Man finds his home. A rabbit needs the carrots and warren that constitute its natural physical environment; man needs grace as the sunshine of his soul, as his spiritual environment. While many of our conference attendees are arts students (and not scientists) they come because they recognise the appeal of a scientific apologetic in our contemporary world. As a priest I offer it because I believe it meets the needs of our time.

The need to give young people this apologetic, to give them a reason for believing in Christ, His infallible Church, His seven sacraments, and His Blessed Mother, is so important that we repeat at least some outline of the apologetic at every one of our conferences. Young people today need a reason to believe, otherwise they will never be able to know and commit to Christ. The imparting of this apologetic has the same goal as my whole ministry. What was the purpose of Creation? The coming of Christ. What is the purpose of my priestly mission? That Christ might come into the hearts and lives of our people.


My own need for Formation and Support
One of the dangers for a priest today is to react to the difficulties of our pastoral situation by retreating into a minimal, yet frantically busy, parish life. One of the reasons I am committed to the Faith Movement is that I recognise that I need the support of a group. My attendance at the different Faith events is admittedly a huge drain on my time, but the support and vision it offers me in return more than outweighs the cost. Crucially, my parish benefits by having a parish priest who is inspired and enlivened by all that Faith offers. In addition to the various youth events that have already been referred to, Faith offers ongoing formation for priests in its annual Symposium and regional study days.


Summary
As a priest, Faith offers me a strategy for how to function and prioritise pastorally. It offers me national events to support my parish youth work. It provides me with an apologetic to appeal to the minds of my parishioners. It unites me to a body of likeminded apostolic priests, men I can phone and turn to for advice in the daily grind of parish life. This is why I am what people call a ‘Faith priest’.

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