Pastoral Reflection on the Themes of ‘Our Future Church’

Sr. Stephanie O’Brien, Chairperson, Diocesan Pastoral Council

IN HIS POEM ‘Gods grandeur’ the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of a world that is tired and a bit seared ‘Generations have trod, have trod, have trod’  and continues ‘And for all this nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things’. It is this freshness the eight themes hope to nurture and bring to fruition as they provide some guidance for our way forward.

Any reflection on ‘our future Church’ sends us first to Jesus our model and guide. Let us focus for a while on what we see in Him.  He did not come with a programme or timetable but was free to respond to situations he met with care and compassion: a grieving widow, bereaved friends, a young couple at their wedding, a woman despised and alone by a well, a boy disturbed by spirits, a blind man… He did not discriminate or judge but treated all with equal respect. He knew how to celebrate and had a passion for a fuller life for everyone. Right from the beginning he worked with others and empowered them ‘Whoever believes in me will do the things that I do, they will do even greater things.’ (John 14:12). All of this had its foundation in a deep relationship with his Father; a relationship which grew as he gave it time and was the source of the great wellspring of love which inspired all his words and actions.

First of all a question: Do our eight themes point to a way of true discipleship, to living as He lived, sharing his values and dreams, putting our hand to the plough and moving forward in joyful hope?

We are called to deep faith in and personal relationship with God nurtured by prayer both personal and communal. This provides a deep well and clear identity from which we can reach out with hope, courage and confidence.

‘Welcome and include’ calls us to true dialogue with others without discrimination, holding in creative tension the variety and differences. To be committed to honest dialogue is no easy task. This walking together will mean drawing on the gifts of each one and supporting each other in developing skills and readiness to be co-responsible.

We will not be too inward looking but ready to ‘love and serve’ always reaching out to meet needs and seeking to respond as Jesus did, moved as he was by compassion and love. Our journey will not be without His cross. We will meet obstacles, opposition and the need for forgiveness. Roads, walked with others, will sometimes be rough and uphill. We will need the strength and nourishment which comes from knowing we belong and from the sacramental riches our Church has to offer. We will need to be faithful to ongoing reflection and evaluation.

Our time, with wonderful strides in so many areas and with its moral confusion, needs the values offered by Christianity. We are all called to be mystics and prophets; people with hearts big enough to care and ready to join forces with those in dialogue with the big issues of our time. Only this will make our claim to be Christian recognizable. Only this will enable us to listen for and draw forth the ‘dearest freshness deep down’.

Hopkins ends with ‘because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’. May the themes put before us be a springboard from which we can take flight knowing this same Holy Spirit still broods, lives within us all and is ever ready to guide and inspire.


Theological Reflection on ‘Our Future Church’

Fr Chris Hayden & Dr Seán O’Leary, Director of Pastoral Development


OUR FUTURE CHURCH will be rooted in the Word of God, which is both ancient and ever-new. Our conversations about how God is presently calling us to live as his people help us to grow in clarity. We have been blessed to have many such conversations; they have been fruitful; they have helped us to listen out for what the Spirit is saying to the churches – to use a visionary phrase found repeatedly in the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev 2:7).

            It would be impossible to give a brief summary of all those rich conversations, but more important than a summary of what has been said is a synthesis of what is understood. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart.’ For the Pope, there is a world of difference ‘between enlightening people with a synthesis and doing so with detached ideas.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 143).

            The synthesis, the heart of the matter for us, as a Diocesan family stepping out into the future, is that as Church, we are not just another organization: we are Christ’s body (1Corinthians 12:27). And our purpose is not simply to be comfortable in each other’s company, but to reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact, Pope St Paul VI wrote that the Church exists to do just this – to evangelize, to share the Good News (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).

            Of course, we need structures, plans, working groups, meetings; we need to organize ourselves at the levels of diocese, pastoral area, and parish. But all of this organization is for a clear purpose, which is described in one of the key documents of the Second Vatican Council: ‘The social structure of the Church serves the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.’ (Lumen Gentium, 8).

            God reaches out to his people ‘not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness’ (Lumen Gentium, 9). Here we touch on the heart of the lay vocation, which is not simply to ‘help’ the clergy, but to bring the Gospel to bear on all aspects of life. This vocation is ‘to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them (the lay faithful) that she can become the salt of the earth.’ (Lumen Gentium, 33).

            It is our task, as Church, not just to focus on our communities, but to reach out to others. Participation, therefore, cannot be reduced to doing things within pre-existing communities and structures. Participation in the life of faith entails bringing that life into the world, our society, our culture, our places of work and leisure. This is a participation we do from the Church, and not just in the Church. As Pope Francis puts it, ‘the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organisation but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 31).

            We journey together to carry the light of Christ to others. This is our shared mission as Church and as communities of faith. This is the principle that governs all our activities, including the eight themes of ‘Our Future Church.’ And in all of this, we are mindful that we are building on a solid foundation of faith. As we move forward, we bear in mind the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn’ (Isaiah 51:1).

            As Church, we are ‘a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 111). We do not have full clarity in advance, or a roadmap that shows us every junction and every turn of the pilgrim way; but we are confident that the Holy Spirit will guide us. We step out in trust, with the promise of that guidance resounding in our hearts: ‘Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it”.’ (Isaiah 30:21)



Spiritual Reflection on Synodality

Fr. Roger O’Neill and Colette O’Doherty, Director of Religious Education & Youth Ministry


THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY asks the question: ‘What does God want from the Church in Ireland at this time?’. From the outset, further questions come to mind: what or who is the Church?, what is being asked?, how are we being asked?, what can we ask?, and what happens after we ask?

These questions and their interpretation may feel confusing and unsurmountable in their magnitude. For one reason, if we are to address this question to the full faith community does it take cognisance of the journey of each one of us on the spiritual path as we ‘walk the way’.[1]  This is an important question as it addresses the spiritual maturity with which we approach the table of discussion.

For that reason, perhaps the best starting point is to ask: what does God want from me at this time?  Simple right? Not really, it is a question that philosophers have been asking for hundreds of years.

Dr Hugh Moorhead contacted 250 of the best-known philosophers, scientists, and writers throughout the world and asked them if they knew the meaning of life. As expected, a variety of questions were returned with some admitting to not knowing the answer.  So, if that question can mystify those who spend their lives exploring and creatively addressing these kinds of questions, how can we address such a profound question? 

We could start simply by looking towards God and asking Him to show us the Way.  What is the Way?  We know that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.[2]

We also know that God has sent us a guide in the Holy Spirit, the divine interpreter, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. ‘But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.’[3] 

But in asking ‘what does God want of me now?’, we must embark on the spiritual path and wait patiently for the answer as God may not reveal that answer until we are ready to hear it. 

The spiritual path may not be a quick or easy one. According to Harry Moody & David Carroll there are five stages of the soul on its journey towards God: the Call, the Search, the Struggle, the Breakthrough and the Return.[4] 

Each of those stages allows for a growing relationship with Jesus, a spiritual growth within us, a deeper knowledge of our faith, a richer engagement with religious practices and a stronger commitment to do the Will of God. 

It is only on this path that we begin to shed our own will and begin to truly understand what God is asking of each of us.



[2] John 14:6

[3] John 14:26 The New Jerusalem Bible

[4] ‘Five Stages of the Soul’ by Harry Moody & David Carroll