Catholics for a Changing Church

Presbyters not Priests! Servants not Tyrants!

by Ray Lyons

As a youngster, about 10 years of age, I remember getting on a coach at 5am in Dereham in the mid 1960s to attend the Vocations Rally at Earls Court, and a Mass with Archbishop/Cardinal Heenan, where a woman breached security and verbal attacked Heenan on the sanctuary. The rally clearly didn’t work as vocations to the priesthood (and Religious Life) have all but dried up. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had/has a different Plan for the Church’s future that the Bishops don’t know? Or they refuse to acknowledge and accept it?

Bishops then were fearful that the huge, huge, bulge in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, post WWII, that had resulted in massive extensions to seminaries and religious houses/convents, had stalled. Sixty years later, with almost all of the seminaries, convents, religious houses, schools and hospitals gone, they persist in ploughing the same furrow with minuscule vocations, even these days from the extremely conservative wings that have damagingly filled the gaps!

Have the bishops never heard the Eisenstein dictum of insanity: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

For at least sixty years in the Western World the Holy Spirit has not been calling forth men and women to become presbyters and religious. The decline is historic by any definition! Bishops having in the past two decades trawled the depths of conservative young men, today even those numbers have collapsed to near zero!

To try and fill the gaps European bishop have plundered priests from the developing world via the back-stage door to keep the Matinee Performance on the road! In a Colonial style arrogance they have plundered pastors from Developing Nations/Continents where the people to clergy ratio is much, much, lower than ours! Morally reprehensible!

It is time for our Church Leadership, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, pope, to wake up and smell the coffee. The Holy Spirit clearly decided sixty plus years ago that the model of Church, their “vision” of “Your kingdom come, on earth as in heaven” was no longer relevant, no longer a part of his/her future plans for the Kingdom/Church o earth!

Vatican II proclaimed that The Eucharist is “the source and the summit” of the Church! But despite the catastrophic collapse in men being called by the Holy Spirit, or declining to respond to such a call, they have systematically chosen to reduce opportunities for “lay” Catholics to celebrate The Eucharist together, rather than seriously reconsider alternative modes or models of priesthood/presbyters evident in Acts and the first millennium of the Christian Era. They are fixated on preserving the Medieval Model of the second millennium, rather than returning to the Acts/First millennium models that enables all Catholics to celebrate the Eucharist in their local communities!

If, as Vatican II teaches, The Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic community life, then there is an obligation on all Bishops to be open to the voice and promptings of theHoly Spirit to a renewed models of Church, and therefore of the Presbyterate! Presbyters not Priests! Servants not Tyrants!

To my mind a return to a twenty first version of the Church of Acts is urgently needed. We need to follow the Holy Spirit’s clear call for renewal of the Presbyterate, not priesthood. We need wise men and women formed and called from local communities to serve their communities. Ancient ideas of ritual sexual purity need to be confined to history. Away with priests who grab power to themselves and more Presbyters who proclaim and live an evangelical life of service of the Kingdom!

Telling the Story


A Story-teller reciting from the Arabian Nights. (1911) -TIMEA
A Story-teller reciting from the Arabian_Nights. (1911) TIMEA (Wikimedia)

by Ray Lyons

Story and storytelling are essential to a flourishing and healthy human society, anthropologists tell us.  To this day, we use ancient Greek and Roman myths, or stories, to illuminate and teach our human story.  Across the globe for thousands of years, ancient civilisations have passed down their history and culture by retelling their story.  Shakespeare and Dickens are more recent examples of this essential human-society process.  J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books are a current example.  Film and TV dramas likewise.  Empathy, co-operation, friendship, all essentially flow from a common story and its story-telling.

Indeed, we know our ancient Judaeo-Christian beginnings were originally handed down by story-telling from generation to generation long before they were written down, combined, edited, and re-edited.  Eventually these were accepted in various forms as the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament.

We also know that, apart from a number of letters written by Paul and others, the early Judaeo-Christians also used the ancient art of verbal story-telling over a simple supper-club meal to pass on their experiences of Jesus, and especially his passion, death, and resurrection, warts and all.  Only with the passage of time did the apostles also relate the stories of Jesus' life, teachings, and ‘mighty works’, which eventually were composed into official accounts by Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, along with several other unofficial testimonies by the likes of Peter, Mary of Magdala, Thomas, and others. 

Today we accept many of these as our Christian beginnings, or New Testament.  Combined with the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, we accept them as Sacred Scripture, the Bible of the Christian Community.  But essentially they remain our Judaeo-Christian origins story.

From the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the Diocletian Persecution (303-311) and Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313), the followers of Jesus of Nazareth grew from a small group of disciples and apostles to roughly 10% of the population of the Roman Empire, despite, or perhaps because of, regular persecution and mass martyrdom, as was also the case with many other minority religious, ethnic, and political groups.

How was this truly remarkable achievement accomplished by an originally very small, largely uneducated, lower-class, ethnically suspect group?  They told, and retold, again and again and again, to themselves over a simple supper on the first day of the week, in the Portico of Solomon, and every public square they could, the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his followers.  As Luke shows in Acts, and Paul and others in their letters, exactly how the story was retold depended on the audience they were telling the story to.  In our terms, it was inculturated to the hearers' life experiences.

In addition, the early Christian communities told and retold the story of their brothers and sisters who gave their lives to uphold the story of Jesus and its working out in their lives and communities, the lives of the martyrs and saints.

Since the 5th century until today, when Christian Communities were replaced by a centralised Christian Church which took on the governing roles of the collapsing Roman Empire: the story and story-telling have been replaced by governance, power, control, doctrines, and uniformity, rather than unity in diversity, as the story required.

So what on EARTH does the Church exist for today?  Power, governance, doctrine?  Or the story of Jesus, his disciples, apostles, and the early Christian traditions?

Today’s traditionalists have something of a myopia that exists to impose recent moral/sexual and liturgical rules, ‘orthodox’ doctrine, and seek a supposedly ‘purer but smaller Church’.  To my long-sighted mind, that is ‘orthodox heresy’.

Today’s progressives try to rediscover and live something similar to the early church, as documented in Acts, the Pauline Letters and Revelation, within the culture of our contemporary cultures worldwide.

In Acts, the word ‘church' (ecclesia) barely exists.  The emphasis is on the Kingdom.  The Church should merely be the 'Job Centre' to find workers for the proclamation of Gospel/Kingdom on earth: ‘Thy kingdom come’.  That is the story that we as Church are commissioned by Jesus to tell and re-tell to our communities and wider society.

In Acts 5, we hear they gathered in the Portico of Solomon by ‘common consent’ or ‘one mind’, not by direction of the Apostles.  We need to re-discover and re-invent that ‘flat’ model of Church, to replace the hierarchical model imposed by the self-proclaimed clerical elite from the 5th century until today.

Acts 2 records that they were faithful to the ‘teachings of the apostles’ (Passion, Death, Resurrection), the prayers, the community, and the Breaking of Bread.

Paul, to his sexually/disruptive Corinth church, asks which is most important: faith, hope, or love: the greatest is love, NOT faith.  Today’s Church wrongly reverses that order.

The Church today needs to rediscover its original purpose.  As with the 16th century Reformation and the later Catholic Counter Reformation, we need a 21st century internal reform.  Pope Francis’ Synodal Model, building on Vatican II Teachings is that internal reform encapsulated.  Ultimately it is a rediscovery of the model of Church we find in Acts.  It is a radical reform.  It is an orthodox reform, a story and story-telling reform within the regional and local culture context that is ultimately faithful to the traditional and orthodox. 

It is a reform that seeks to eradicate a clerical mindset that is dominant in both clergy and laity.  A simple reform that would undermine this clericalism would be the removal of ALL titles of deference, privilege, and power.  The only legitimate titles in a non-clericalised church would be ‘sister’ or ‘brother’.   Abolish Fr, Rev, Canon, Monsignor, Rt Rev, Most Rev, Holy Father.  The first rule of psychology is ‘un-rewarded behaviour ceases’.  Take away the clerical rewards.  Establish properly elected and representative PPCs.  PPCs should write a description or story of the parish and describe what sort of presbyter is needed.  Possible candidates as presbyter should be interviewed by PPCs and a 5-year written pastoral plan agreement signed.  All major decisions should be by ‘common consent’, not imposition.

In the likeness of God he made them, male and female he made them.  If ALL children of God are equal, then there can be no bar to any child of God holding leadership roles.  There is no ‘almost equal’.  Equality is absolute.  There is no room for differentiation or discrimination. 

‘They announced all these things to the Eleven, and to all the rest.  They were the Magdalene Mary, and Joanna, and Mary of Jacob, and the rest of the women with them.  They said these things to the apostles’.  (Luke 24:10-11).

We are above all a community

by Ray Lyons

I’ve never celebrated a ‘private mass’, or made a ‘spiritual communion’; to my mind, both are oxymorons, for ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the middle of them’ (Mt 18:21). So the invitation to ‘participate’ in the Easter Liturgies or Sunday Mass via the internet is equally nonsensical to me. I let the invitation pass on the other side of the road.

To some I’m sure they bring comfort. Watching. Yes. But is it participation? Do we participate when we watch a TV programme? No. We are an audience, not a congregation, still less the Assembly called together. We are gathered around millions of TV screens but we have not come together. We may laugh, or shout, or scream, but no one beyond those beside us hears us. We may believe what we see, but we don’t take part.

We are living through an extraordinary time, mostly confined to our homes, with shops, businesses, even churches closed, sacraments unavailable. Pastoral care from the officials of the Church is patchy at best, mostly non-existent.

Read more …We are above all a community