Story one. Three years ago in Lourdes we were sharing the hotel with another pilgrimage from Liverpool. In the bedroom next to mine there was a Roman Catholic priest and his wife.

All above board. He had been an Anglican minister and became a convert, one of the many to leave their church in protest against  the introduction of women priests and bishops.

Story two. After dinner one evening on a recent pilgrimage I passed this question around the room: ‘”If you were Pope Francis for a day what changes would you make?”

I was surprised by how many who said: “The first thing I would do would be to would allow priests to marry.”

Story three. Let’s face it, we have a crisis. This year the national seminary in Maynooth had only eight students entering to study for the priesthood. Half of these will probably leave during their training. When I went there in 1966 there was over 80!

Priest-less parishes are appearing all over Ireland and may be here in this diocese before long.

The church needs to adapt to these changing times.

We may have to take another look at celibacy and women priests.

In fact Pope Francis may soon  fulfil the Brazilian bishops’ recent special request to allow married priests to resume their priestly ministry, according to liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.

‘The Brazilian bishops, especially the pope’s own personal   friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly requested Pope Francis to enable married priest in Brazil to return to pastoral ministry,” Boff said.

I have recently heard that the pope wants to fulfil this request – as an experimental, preliminary phase for the moment confined to Brazil.

With its 140 million Catholics, Brazil needs at least  100,000 priests but it only has 1,800, which is a ‘catastrophe’ Boff said.

“No wonder the faithful are going over to the evangelical churches or to the Pentecostals in droves as they are filling the personnel vacuum,” he said.

“If the many thousands of priests who have married are once again allowed to practice their ministry, that would be a first step to improving the situation but at the same time also an impulse for the church to free itself of the fetters of celibacy,” he added.

(Of course we already have married priests as I explained above)

Asked if he, as a former Franciscan would reassume his priestly ministry should the pope decide to acquiesce to the Brazilian bishop’s request, Leonardo replied: “I personally do not need such a decision.

“It would not change anything for me as I have continued to do what I have always done: I baptise, bury and when I come to a community that has no priest I celebrate Mass with the faithful.  Up to now, as far as I know, no bishop has ever objected, let alone forbidden me to do this.  On the contrary bishops often tell me to keep it up, as people have a right to the Eucharist.”

The late Cardinal Arns had always been very open this issue, he said.  Whenever the cardinal noticed married priest in the pews, he would invite them to come up to the altar and concelebrate with him, saying: “They are still priests and they will remain priests.”

Boff, now 78, has often been a sharp critic of the hierarchy; he was silenced by the Vatican in 1985 and again in 1991 for his teachings on liberation theology. (Much of that has now become mainstream).

In 1992 he resigned from the Franciscans and the priesthood.

As far as the inner-church reforms were concerned, Boff said: “Only recently, Cardinal Walter Kasper who is close to the pope, said we could expect some big surprises shortly.  So who knows? maybe we can also expect some women deacons soon ?’ As Bob Dylan sings, the times they are a changin’

THE VINE

(A short poem I based on last weekend’s Gospel)

Lord, you own the vineyard, while I’m a single vine.

You planted me in a fruitful field/ so one day I’d bring you wine.

With loving friends and family/ you fenced me all around.

You blessed me as I grew in years/Culdaff being that holy ground.

I put out early blossoms/ I soon filled up with leaves,

You had a plan, a dream for me,/a rich harvest to achieve.

That harvest day is coming close/as the years go flying by

And I ask myself what can I offer/what fruit to you provide?

What if, after all the years of grace/sour grapes are all I grow?

So in your mercy I’ll place my trust/that the fruits of love I’ll show

Word of wisdom

Spend a short time every day in silent prayer of thanks and praise    .

Joke: Question: what did Jonah say when the whale spat him up? (last Monday’s first reading)

Answer: it’s hard to keep a good man down!

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