In today's extract from his book, Francis relates some of the sense of alienation he felt on leaving the clerical priesthood and his pathway to find a new place of spiritual equilibrium in his life.
By the Waters of Babylon I Wept...
What happened to the thousands of ordained priests that have married and to the other priests, no longer in "active" ministry? "Reduced", without a desire for it, to the "lay state," as opposed to the "clerical state," each of them carried their priesthood into the oblivion of the masses. This was in contrast to those who remained to preside over those masses to bring them, kicking and screaming to salvation.
It is about those masses and the displaced priests living as one with those masses that I write.
Some of those priests dislodged from a priesthood that they loved were remembered by their colleagues and given jobs within some or other aspect of diocesan life. Some fended for themselves, living their Christian life and struggling with their "hidden" priesthood. Others adopted a new career, doing studies to equip them for their life apart from the priesthood. Starting from scratch, they became successful and financially supportive of themselves, their partners and families. Others, without "hanging around the sacristy door," yearned to express the priesthood to which they had felt themselves called and in which they had spent a major part of their lives. No matter what career or employment they adopted, they felt the call to continue what they had been trained for by the Church and guided to by the Holy Spirit.
This brings the writer to look at the masses to which these married or otherwise displaced priests belong. I, one of those married priests, moved into a large parish. I entered enthusiastically into what was for me the vitality of the Body of Christ in that parish. I had my employment, which gave wife, family and me a living. Into that situation my priesthood entered making it successful. I was confronted with people exhibiting varying degrees of unhappiness or sadness but all working at their salvation in one way or another. I was there with them in their agonies and joy. I walked in their shoes along the path they were traveling. I was with them in their lives as they sought to open up the truth within. Most of these people were real but were considered marginalized or unchurched. In all of them I could see the reflection of the Christ, of which we all are, and their Holy Spirit guiding.
Within my parish, I was vigorously involved in ways of expressing the reality of the Body of Christ. A system of cells, neighbourhood prayer and Gospel discussion groups, were attractive to other churchgoers and to me. Presence and discussion in the cells opened the way to a growth in Gospel perception and prayer, but something seemed to be lacking. Most of these cells faded away but left people more enlightened because of the experience. What was present in the cells was a sense of coming together and fellowship. Not represented was the Eucharist, celebrating the coming together that was achieved. The Body of Christ was present, often more real than in conventional church, but not celebrated.
My involvement with one cell in particular and with other parishioners in one quarter of the parish where I had assumed a form of parish visitation, gave me insight into a world of Catholics no longer fitting the traditional mould of "Catholic." There are Catholics who are traditional to the extent of being and practicing "the faith", as it was practiced 50 or 60 years ago. Others have acknowledged Vatican II, and, allowing changes, remained pre Vatican II in their thinking. Still others have felt the freshness of the air coming from Vatican II and are enthusiastic with the hymns and liturgies that try to express new life in the Church. There are others who remain impatient with the tardiness, especially with agendas of dismantling Vatican II. They want that the full life of the Church be allowed to grow.
I moved beyond the confines of parish or diocese as I came into contact with groups of unchurched people, of Catholic, of other Christian, of Jewish, of Arabic, Buddhist and Hindu backgrounds. These impressed me by the depth of their spirituality and reminded me of the Jews exiled in Babylonian captivity who could not sing their songs in an environment so contrary to their origins. These friends of mine could not go ahead with what did not ring true to them. They opted to go it alone, but not alone. They called constantly on the Holy Spirit and felt the influence. They sought the truth within them, placed there by their Creator. They managed to see truths that I had seen only dimly as in the mirrors of ancient times. They brought me to an enlightenment that only existed in me as a small child. They had a wonderful love for Jesus whom they regarded as their Elder Brother, constantly calling all to awaken to the reality of Creation, to renounce any concept of separation from the Creator, from others or within themselves. They were prepared to live in this illusionary world but to correct their perception so as to see, with Christ-consciousness, only love. I have experienced these people in some areas of Australia and I have heard of others having the same experience worldwide. I feel the affinity of fellow displaced or exiled members of the Body of Christ and I serve them whenever needed with the priesthood I feel within me.
New Eucharistic groups...
There are, yet again, Catholics who have great love for the Eucharist but have a discomfort at current liturgies and non-patent bonding in large congregations. They have formed into Eucharistic groups (even ecumenical) that have a bonding they can feel. They share the Scriptures, pray over topical events in their experience, make thanksgiving and celebrate their being Body of Christ by the Breaking of Bread. These people celebrate in each others homes and are part of several groups across Australia. I find myself comfortable with such gatherings, where the priesthood of our Baptism is recognized.
On occasion, I have been brought into contact with displaced Catholics in felt need of sacramental input with events of their lives. I have been present enough to people in need to contribute something towards their growth. In particular, crippling guilt and fear have been dispatched and a hopeful present bestowed. Again blessings and prayers have been added to parties entering matrimony. Inquiring minds have been fed with the messages of Jesus and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The hungry have been fed with the Bread of Life.
A fellow member of Epiphany Australia, Anthony Stanfield, well-accepted by Catholics and others of his neighbourhood in the Eucharistic Service he offers them, needed to be officially installed into leadership of the community he had based at his home. I was called on to assist him and his community by installing him in the name of the Christian Community of the Way as Pastor. In the City of Redcliffe in Queensland, he has achieved a degree of unity amongst the pastors of the various churches. I have been welcomed into that bonding. I add here since the original writing of this article this man was in September 2003, ordained to official priesthood in the Ecumenical Catholic Church and his community incardinated into that Church. Subsequently, he has been consecrated to the bishopric of The Independent Catholic Church. This Church has valid apostolic succession of bishops and does accept all peoples some of whom have been marginalized by the Roman Catholic Church. For my Church which I have loved since childhood to leave its marginalized to be picked up by others continues to be a pain to me. In my experience of Oneness there are no strangers or caste-offs in God's Kingdom.
 Bishop Anthony MacKillop Stanfield, OSB AM, was consecrated a bishop on Sunday, 23rd July 2006 at Blessed Damien of Molokai Ecumenical Catholic Mission, Waimanslo City, Hawaii, USA.
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Francis Brown is a priest of the Roman Catholic Rite who was ordained in St Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane in 1953 after completing study and training at St Paschal's College in Box Hill, Victoria. He served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea with a group of fellow Franciscans from 1955 to 1973. Having obtained permission to marry in 1973 he worked amongst the villagers on road construction and continued as their elected representative in Local Government. At the end of 1973 he, along with his wife, Mary, continued family life in Australia. He worked as a Probation and Parole Officer before retirement and has continued an active engagement in the parish and community life of the suburb of Kingsgrove South-West of Sydney. His main hobby is writing poetry and prose endeavouring to help himself and others gain a greater awareness of God and all as One.
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