FR. MICHAEL WRITES:-
INSET days, that is to say, In-Service Training, must be the norm for every type of work given especially the constant technological and legislative advances applied to every sphere and then, soon after that, the accompanying regulatory framework which needs to be learned. Thus, priests, like any others about their labours, are familiar with Powerpoint presentations, small group discussions, general feedback and dodgy coffee served in un-heat-resistant plastic beakers. Where we probably fare better than most is that every INSET day has to have a ‘keynote speaker’ and if the speaker is to address a few hundred priests about an aspect of living the Gospel, there’s a good chance that the chosen subject will actually be of interest to the audience! This was certainly the case when the eminent Professor Tracey Rowland, a member of Pope Francis’ Theological Commission, addressed Westminster priests recently on the subject of ‘Creating a Parish Culture for Evangelisation in a Post-Christian Society’. Living in the charming environs of Chiswick where the holiness of time is even marked by the tolling of our own parish bell (or at least it will be soon again when the current bell-system malfunction has been rectified), it would be possible to believe that we still do live in a Christian society. We certainly live in a civilised society in Chiswick and Gunnersbury, but that’s not at all the same thing as living in a Christian society. Indeed, Prof Rowland spoke not only of our continuing ‘to live through this drama of atheistic humanism’ but that it becomes for the Church a ‘catastrophe’ when we ourselves, coarsened by the prevailing nihilism, lose our ‘sacramentality’, that ‘deep understanding of how God relates to the human person’. Her idea of sacramentality it seems to me is that which involves and engages our religious and spiritual understanding, intelligence, intuition and imagination. ‘Parishioners should have a sense that parish life is first and foremost about participating in the life of the Trinity,’ she says. ‘Making friends, and receiving social and pastoral care might be good side-benefits of parish life, but they should be secondary to the work of mediating the relationship between God and human beings.’ Thus, parishes need to be ‘islands of spiritual concentration’ in which ‘worship must be theo-centric not community-centric’ and from which ‘a new cultural purification and unification can break out.’ All very exalted stuff, the emphases of which could certainly be disputed as well as discussed. However, I did especially welcome the corollary to these arguments which I had foreseen coming, that parish liturgy should be ‘marked by beauty’. This was an excellent justification, I thought, for increasing the liturgical budget and investing even more in the liturgy in my second year than I did in my first! Onwards and upwards.