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Without the ­Resurrection, everything else is meaningless

There are lots of lessons to be learned from the present crisis in the Church, but the ­theological heart must be the Resurrection, says Fr Jamie McMorrin

Napoleon Bonaparte is supposed to have instructed his officers: “Never admit a mistake and never retreat.” He wasn’t a bishop, and those under his command weren’t priests. As a priest, by contrast, the Church makes sure I own up to my ­mistakes—‘to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters’ —at least at the beginning of every Mass, and the Code of Canon Law obliges me, and every priest, to ‘retreat’ from parish life at least once a year.

Last year, as I wrote on these pages, I spent my week’s retreat alone and in silence in a ­Trappist monastery in ­Leicestershire. This year’s will be a bit ­different.

Archbishop Leo Cushley has asked all of the priests of our archdiocese to spend our retreat time together as a presbyterate, living together, eating together, praying together, like the first disciples, gathered around the Lord.

The archbishop has invited a guest preacher, the American Benedictine Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, to guide us in our reflections. Fr Jeremy was my professor during my time in seminary: he was a memorable lecturer, and his classes were always thoughtful, challenging and delivered with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say to us.

He’s given us a clue already in the title, ‘Resurrection: What It Means and What Are Its ­Consequences.’ At first glance, it seems a strange choice. Easter is by now a distant memory and priests are already (I’m sorry to say) beginning to dig out their checklist for Advent and ­Christmas.

But of course reflection on the Resurrection is not confined to the days of Eastertide. Every Sunday is a ‘little Easter,’ every Christian funeral is a celebration of the Lord’s victory over death, and the Lordship of the Risen Jesus is the very heart of the Gospel handed on to us by the Apostles.

Without the ­Resurrection, everything else is meaningless. St Paul puts it bluntly in his ­letter to the Corinthian church: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is worthless, and so is your Faith” (1 Cor 15: 14).

In his book, Awesome Glory, Fr Jeremy puts it like this: “The Church lives her whole life in the world from the regular and continual nourishment she receives from her participation in the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus.” He’s talking here about Sunday Mass, but it also seems to me like a good description of a retreat: a return to the nourishing, ­refreshing and life-giving source of our Faith and, amid the many pressing concerns of parish life, a renewed, attentive focus on what is most essential.

We really need it. In recent years, our Church, and my own Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh in a very particular way, has been going through a long Good Friday. The details are well-known and don’t need to be rehearsed here. Many innocent people have suffered and have become disillusioned with the Church, with the ­priesthood and even, in some cases, with God Himself.

Priests are by no means immune. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes feeling like the disciples on the first Easter Sunday: afraid, disillusioned and discouraged. There are days when the lush, green hills of Galilee, with the great miracles and the inspirational sermons of the early days of our discipleship, seem very distant, and the knowledge of own weakness is all too real.

God’s answer is the ­Resurrection. The Resurrection is the paradigmatic Passover journey from darkness to light, from death to life, from despair to hope. There are lots of lessons to be learned from the present crisis in the Church, but the ­theological heart must be the Resurrection: the conviction that Jesus is undefeated by the darkness and, in spite of ­everything, is alive and at work in our world.

I hope that this retreat will be, for me and my fellow priests, a personal meeting with a living Saviour who gathers us together, lays hands on us once more and, with a gentle smile on His face, says, ‘Peace be with you. Don’t be afraid.’ I hope that it will be an encounter with the Lord who makes our hearts burn within us as we read the Scriptures anew in His ­company, who comes to meet us on the beach in the early morning and who walks ­alongside us on the road when the day is almost over.

St John Paul II said to the Church back in 1994: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

This is as good a time as any to reflect on the Resurrection. Napoleon was wrong. Now’s the time for us as priests to admit our ­mistake if ever we thought that we could save the Church with our own schemes and our own strategies; now is the time to retreat, so as to return to our parishes with new strength, new hope and new song.

Say a prayer for us!

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