This weekend’s gospel speaks of the calling of the first four disciples – all fishermen. I put a few lines on our parish bulletin this week about vocations and about our Parish Cluster. I suppose this came about as a result of a meeting we had among the priests of our cluster in recent weeks and of the diocese towards the end of last year. In both gatherings it was easy to see that the age profile of our priests is increasing and the number decreasing. Maybe today’s few lines came from that and a hope that God’s call to the four fishermen might be heard again ….
There’s been a poll running on our diocesan website for the past two weeks or so. The question posed is “When was the last priest ordained for the diocese of Achonry?” There are four options: 1998, 2003, 2006, 2010. The response hasn’t been massive but, so far, 25 people have responded. 12% think the last ordination was in 1998, 20% believe it was in 2006, 32% answered 2003 and 36% 2010. The correct answer is 2003. In other words 68% of those who responded to the poll were incorrect in their response and 32% were correct.
Was it about being right or wrong? No! The reason for the question was to perhaps make visitors to our diocesan site reflect on the length of time since a priest was ordained to serve within the diocese of Achonry. The answer – ten years. In those ten years a number of our priests have died. Some more have retired or ceased ministry.
In the cluster of parishes to which we align ourselves (Kiltimagh, Swinford, Bohola, Charlestown, Carracastle and Kilmovee) there are ten priests in parish ministry (three are aged 40-45, two aged 45-50, one aged 50-55, two aged 65-70, one aged 70-75 and one is over 75). In the coming years, allowing for retirements and other diocesan needs as well as unforeseeable circumstances it is certain the number of priests in this cluster will reduce. We have two students in Maynooth at present and that is good news!
There are twenty-five weekend Masses celebrated in this Parish Cluster – many of them at the same time. The weekend Mass is certainly meant to be the highpoint of a Parish’s Liturgical life and a vital cog in the sharing of the Gospel Message. It is a time of gathering, sharing, nourishing, healing, praying and of all that is good and necessary in the life of a Catholic Community. As we look at today’s age-profile of priests in this area it is certain that within a short number of years we will not be in a position to celebrate Masses at the present level. There will be need to re-align times with other parishes, to share priests between parishes and to make practical arrangements at parish level.
As the Lord calls Apostles to his side in this weekend’s Gospel passage, there remains of course the hope that the Spring may find its voice and that some from our diocese might again hear God’s call and join our two students on their “road to priesthood”. There can be no doubt but that He is calling priests to ministry in our diocese. Nine years is a long time …………. “Come follow me”!
At Mass this morning (Kilmovee) I spoke of a classmate of mine who was ordained a few months before the rest of our class. He was Gerry Horan – a neighbour from home – who was ordained for the Diocese of Elphin. Gerry had been a solicitor for most of his life, was widowed and had two children. He was nearly 70 when he was ordained. As a young man he had joined the Passionist Order but left before ordination. Somehow this thought of priesthood had remained with him through his life. As I say, he was ordained a few months before the rest of us and worked until he died in Tibohine (Parish of Fairymount)
Gerry preached at Mass one evening when we were in Maynooth. I think it may have been the same Gospel passage we reflected on this weekend. He talked of being a young boy and fishing alongside a friend of his on the shores of Lough Gara. His friend caught a trout and Gerry told us he caught nothing. As they cycled back home to Mullaghroe, Gerry asked his friend how come he had caught a fish when Gerry wasn’t able to. His friend didn’t answer until they were nearly at home and then he told him “I prayed”. Gerry said he laughed at him but the friend insisted. “You asked me and I told you. I prayed. I said ‘Holy Ghost, direct me to catch a fish’. You asked me and I told you.”
Gerry told us that he was back at Lough Gara on his own the next morning. He said he sat in the same spot and prayed “Holy Ghost direct me to catch a fish” and, as if he could still feel the tug on the line, he smiled as he told us “I caught the two finest trout I ever caught in my life”. He continued, “I put them on my back, cycled home, was late for school, got six slaps but I didn’t give a damn! I had caught two fish and learned how to pray”!
He finished his few words that evening by telling us that in the Gospels the Lord seemed to have a great love for fishermen but not so much for lawyers. “Maybe”, he said “that’s why I think it’s time to become a fisherman again”.
This week we have mourned with the people of West Cork the loss of five fishermen from the local and Egyptian community. Our hearts go out to them and their families and all who live the life of the sea. Fishermen have great patience and an ability to see beneath the surface – knowing where to cast the net, drop the line, direct the boat ….. Someone once told me that quite often fishermen don’t learn to swim since they know the power of the sea and possibly the futility of struggle. They trust the outcome, even if we don’t fully see or understand it, will be in God’s hands.
Maybe that’s why Jesus chose fishermen. He knew they could and would depend on him. He knew they understood patience and the need for the right bait, the dropped line and hope!
As I say …. just a thought and, as it turns out, a memory of my neighbour and classmate, Fr Gerry Horan. With the fishermen of West Cork, may he rest in peace. Amen.
And now the tune! One of my favourites. We need to be able to see the Green, the black, the grey, the blue, the yellow and not just the colours but also their very many shades …..