Renewal comes in small, manageable steps

“The Lord will provide in an ultimate, final sense”, writes Fr Chris Hayden

Fr Chris Hayden

“Where is the Lamb?” That was what Isaac asked when his father, Abraham, was preparing to sacrifice him. Abraham, tormented by the command to sacrifice his only son, replied: “The Lord will provide.”

“Where is the Lamb?” The full answer came many centuries later, when John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus, said: “Look, there is the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sins of the world.” The full answer was delayed, but meanwhile, God did indeed provide, and Abraham’s crisis was resolved. A ram was found for the sacrifice and Isaac was spared.

A full answer, and a lesser solution to keep things from falling apart pending the full answer. It seems to me that here we have a good description of what is required for renewal in the Church. The full answer is always Christ, and we need a vision that is broad enough to keep us moving towards him. But, like Abraham, we also need lesser solutions, smaller interventions that keep us moving and give us hope.

Renewal can be problematic when we have a vision, however excellent, that is not pursued by means of small, manageable steps. Equally, renewal can be problematic when our concrete, local plans and projects are not clearly in the service of a broader vision. To use a metaphor: if we are to navigate we need both oars and a horizon; we need specific tasks and a vision that unites those tasks.

There is no shortage of discussion in the Church regarding where the responsibility for renewal lies. It lies, of course, with bishops; yet they cannot do everything, they cannot micromanage every task and every step. And it is the responsibility of those at local level, of priests and people in parishes and communities; yet they are not best placed to guard a vision that unites all that is happening at local level, a vision that draws all of those local tasks and manageable steps into something broader and more universal.

The Lord will provide in an ultimate, final sense. The conviction that he will do so is what sustains us as we journey, and our particular endeavors are the steps we take on that journey. We need both the broad-horizon leadership that pursues the vision and the local initiative and commitment that keeps us moving.


Out of the mouths of babes A retired colleague told me recently of how the candor of a small child helped him to discern that it was time to retire. He was visiting a junior infants classroom and wanted to see if the children recognised his priestly garb; or if, indeed, any of them had seen him in church. “Do you know who I am?” – he asked them. A little voice piped up: “You’re an old man.” Factually true, even if not quite what my colleague had in mind!

We clergy are occasionally reminded that some of the language we use (words like ‘grace’, ‘reconciliation’, ‘sin’ and so forth) can be quite opaque to our hearers. But perhaps we ourselves are a tad opaque too. While we have a general sense of who we are and what we’re about, we’re little more than conundrums to many of those whom we seek to serve. That may not be such a bad thing. Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” led to a deepening of his disciples’ faith.

The question is, of course, vastly less important in our case, but benign curiosity about clergy – and even benign ignorance – can help keep the door open to some meaningful communication.


A spirit of gratitude

The parents of a little girl gave her a birthday gift. It was something she had longed for, but when she opened it, she fell silent, then went away into another room.

Her parents followed her, to ask what the matter was. “I’m trying to think of a bigger word than thanks” was the reply.

We will never get very far along the winding path of renewal without recognising what we have received and fostering a spirit of gratitude.

“Talking up the good stuff,” it’s sometimes called.