Msgr Paddy Delargy
On being appointed a Chaplain to His Holiness, Msgr Paddy Delargy wonders whether the clerical honour actually acknowledges human limitations
Is there really a significant choice in everyone’s life that sums up all that has gone before and influences radically the future course of events? If so, in my life it was the decision at 25 years of age to take a post-graduate degree in spirituality rather than the more formal academic studies then on offer at the Gregorian University in Rome.
Bishop William Philbin of Down and Connor always valued theological orthodoxy, but in addition the teacher he appointed had to able to apply his theological learning to everyday life and so influence positively the student teachers he was to educate in the next 15 years.
I soon realised I had a lot to learn about relating faith to life and culture. Did St Mary’s College of Education benefit from my limitations being revealed? Is becoming a monsignor now a badge of the spiritual benefits of ‘human inadequacy acknowledged’, a symbol that by myself I cannot achieve success, that God’s grace empowers, that the primary role of a priest is to pray for others and with others, to share their interests and hopes and accompany them on their eternal journey.
I began working in Belfast during ‘the Troubles’ shortly after two fellow priests were killed on pastoral duty. In their ministry they were sharing in their parishioners’ hopes and fears and fell as innocent victims of the arrogant insolence of supremacists and the impotent rage of those who resisted suppression.
The names of the two clergy are not widely-known, their sacrifice and their beliefs not adequately honoured. Yet those brave chaplains shone a light among human limitations. They witnessed to the truth that it all goes wrong when men and women trust in violence.
The Church wants modern disciples to model themselves on saintly peace-makers, followers of Christ like St Francis of Assisi and St Francis de Sales. Their abandonment to God was a Christ-like, their gentle and humble way of service to the Church and world.
They were expert communicators; teachers of devotion of Christ by their way of living and by their ability to engage audiences of every age, of every stage of life, of every social background. Today I am called to a new role of chaplain because Pope Francis wants to guarantee that Faithful ministers will strive to follow Christ better in 2019 by being obedient to the Good News, proclaiming God’s word before all else and above all else.
A parish priest is there to facilitate parishioners in expressing their faith, to join in prayer and reflection with those who worship the Lord”
Once a friend remarked to me: “You are not a recognised scholar nor will you ever be a popular celebrity, how will you communicate your religious convictions and enthusiasm?”
The answer is to accept those limitations, to preach, teach and pastor in the local parish community and to recognise leaders in the congregation who live their faith in the world.
Clergy have often made the mistake of trying to do it all by themselves and then in panic, recruiting well-meaning unqualified assistants who make the situation worse. Each parish and diocese can and should rely on competent lay organisations who help those in need. For instance, many accompany the addicted who are often oppressed by violent gangs who threaten and blackmail their families.
It’s a dark world and those who enter must not discriminate about whom to help but above all we must be competent as Pope Benedict advised in God is Love. Everyone needs to pray for perseverance and resilience to let Christ’s light shine in that particular encircling gloom.
A parish priest is there to facilitate parishioners in expressing their faith, to join in prayer and reflection with those who worship the Lord. By spending one hour every day before the Blessed Sacrament he may lead others to ask the life-enhancing question: “Is this world as good as it gets?”
Ecumenical progress has been limited despite many initiatives since Vatican II. I used to collaborate with a Presbyterian minister as joint chief examiner of religious education at ‘A’ level. After a few years we got to know each other really well. Often we marked papers together to check that our standards were equivalent. It was uncanny how our minds thought alike. We hoped that many students would emerge with a better understanding of each other, accepting differences of opinion, developing Christian convictions. I wait to see the evidence. Perhaps the seeds have been sown very deeply!
Was I asked to be a chaplain to Pope Francis because I was once a principal of a post-primary school for 13 years? The staff were committed, the academic standards high, the musical and dramatic performances widely appreciated, the students ambitious. In hindsight, more time and effort could have been dedicated to encourage them to speak out for the Faith, to be articulate in matters religious, to witness to the missionary spirit.
Confident witnessing to Christ’s word should be a major aim and ambition of Catholic schools today.
Success of others
On a lighter note, as a GAA activist I presided over a school that never won a senior hurling title in all those years. It was said the teams lacked intensity. Failure was to be accepted as a healthy humiliation. Our reward was feeling honoured to participate and rejoice in the success of others.
With other priest colleagues I belong to the Fraternity of Charles de Foucauld, a group which strives to assist its members to abandon themselves more and more to the will of God by persevering in daily prayer, by sharing candidly our hopes, plans and failings so as to become better pastors of the people that Jesus has called us to serve.
Making such a commitment reminds me constantly of human inadequacy and of the counter-cultural element in being a Catholic priest today.
To be ‘recognised’ is to be called to think of Jesus first, to persevere and begin again after failure, to hope against the odds that the rights of the unborn might be respected, to face the embarrassment of being a public representative of an organisation that must atone for having so often failed in its primary duty to children; to accept being confronted and dismissed by those who promote populist causes, to try to fathom and appreciate the various forms of feminism, to ask why society has to be so drastically divided between wealthy and deprived, to teach by word and example that submission to the will of God, to the Christian gospel, to the Church community of faith, hope and love is humankind’s best way to freedom and dignity.
Msgr Paddy Delargy VG is Parish Priest of Ballymena. Last month, Pope Francis appointed him and Fr Joseph Glover as a ‘Chaplain to His Holiness’ with the title of Monsignor.