Reflection 7th July 2019

A Reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Lk: 10: 1-12, 17-20 ( )

Now on mission in South Sudan, I started my missionary journey in Sierra Leone in 1976 as a seminarian.  At that time there were some 80 Irish missionaries in the west African country.

This May I got the chance to return to Sierra Leone and saw the developments and changes that have taken place since the Irish missionaries left.  Though there is no Irish Spiritan there today, it was great to see that the Sierra Leonean Church was not just alive but flourishing, with missionaries from other African countries as well as diocesan priests from Sierra Leone itself.

A memory of mine from the 1970s is of when I was hospitalised with malaria. The parish’s assistant priest happened to be absent at the same time. Writing to me while I was in hospital, the parish chairman paraphrased today’s Gospel “The harvest is great but the labourers are non-existent!”  I reminded him then that the Church did not revolve around the priests in the parish.

When I returned this year, I was happy to see that this was indeed the case. It was the lay people, very much alive, who were carrying the liturgy and the Church there. They were involved in all aspects of its life in collaboration with their priests.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out in groups of two so that they can support one another. In Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, due to the number of priests around, a clerical model of Church emerged, and power was solely in the hands of the hierarchy. This has to change radically so that once again  – like in the first reading  from Isaiah – the Church, the new Jerusalem will be the place where people may be nourished – “that you may be suckled, filled from her consoling breast, that you may savour with delight her glorious breasts”.

Catholics in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in the developing world find their nourishment in lively liturgies and in their involvement in the Church’s life, just like we did in the past in Ireland – for the most part. When we read the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we see that when John the Baptist began his ministry in the desert all the people of Judea, from Jerusalem and the neighbouring countryside, went out to him in the desert. People left behind their religious institutions and their religious structures to seek authentic religious and spiritual nourishment in John’s preaching rather than the rituals of the Temple.

Maybe this is what is happening with today’s younger generation, leaving behind the Church and religious structures of the past to seek more authentic spiritual experiences of God. But who will provide this? Maybe we need to empower our lay people to go out in groups of two to prepare a new way of being Church and Catholic in Ireland. And, like the Psalmist of today, we will once again be a nation that “can cry out with joy to God”.

John Skinnader C.S.Sp. – Fr. John was ordained in 1981. Having already ‘prefected’ in Sierra Leone, he was in pastoral ministry in the west African country for most of the 1980s. He also served in Rome, Ireland and Ethiopia before moving to South Sudan in 2012.