Bishop Mails It In

Jimmy Mac forwarded me a letter from Angela Howarth of Liverpool to the Tablet editors:

In our parish I am very fortunate to be part of a Conversation Group that meets once a week to share and reflect on the readings for the coming Sunday. The depth and honesty of sharing never ceases to amaze me and when listening to the homily at the Mass, the priest never fails to see it from a different angle which enriches the readings further. The readings for me have taken on a whole new meaning.

So there I was at Mass last Sunday (Vocation Sunday) and waiting for the homily. Alas, I was to be disappointed as we had a letter (in the form of a CD) from one of the bishops, auxiliary Thomas Williams, about vocations. I found myself getting quite annoyed at the message that was being presented through the speakers.

As it was about vocations, it was addressed only to the men of the parish, and within that group, only a tiny percentage at that. I couldn’t help looking around and gathering statistics in my head as the voice continued:

  • one priest – male
  • four altar servers – 3 female
  • several Little Church helpers – all female
  • one reader – female
  • four Eucharist ministers (I carried on gathering throughout the Mass) – all female
  • organist – male
  • choir – mainly female

Instead of enjoying some quiet, reflective time during communion, I made a point of “viewing” the congregation as they came forward. There were a lot of women, so the bishop’s appeal wasn’t relevant to them. And what men were there were either parents or quite elderly, so they wouldn’t have been interested in the request either.

Ironically the bishop finished with a quote from a woman doctor who had given her life to helping those in DR Congo. It’s a shame that the opportunity wasn’t taken to call all of us to some sort of vocation.


There are so many levels of nincompoopery in this approach it’s a wonder there are any priests at all in Liverpool or its diocese.

1. A recorded letter is used in a lot of places, audio and video. I’m not convinced, despite widespread episcopal approval and usage, that this is a valid or appropriate means of delivering the homily. In my thinking, it’s a liturgical abuse close to the level of adding raisins to eucharistic bread. Ms Howarth is accurate in her feelings of annoyance.

2. A recorded letter like this is, as Ms Howarth suggests, a shot in the dark. Ill aimed. Not unlike coming to a seaside and throwing a harpoon in, hoping to catch a whale.

3. Calling the baptized to a vocation: what a concept! Wouldn’t it be great to have a priesthood rooted in the prime sacrament of baptism, and with experience in living a baptismal life? Instead of a religious subclass trained to be serviced like some sort of pseudoaristocracy. They might be great throwing harpoons, but if you are serious about evangelization, even an outreach to bolster a clerical society, you can’t get beyond the need for one-on-one contact.

In my sleep I could have given a better homily encouraging priestly vocations, and that wouldn’t even have been legal. So an aux bishop tapes a chat and mails it in. Do you suppose any parish in that diocese got a real live body in the pulpit that weekend?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to Bishop Mails It In

  1. David D. says:

    “Ms Howarth is accurate in her feelings of annoyance.”

    Except that Ms. Howarth’s complaint obviously has to do with the issue of women’s ordination rather than liturgical abuse or ineffective vocations programs. We all have a responsibility to encourage vocations, especially fathers and mothers. Apparently Ms. Howarth’s gender fetish has made her blind to that responsibility.

  2. Todd says:

    David, I read it over again, and I don’t see any mention of women’s ordination. It sure looks like a person hoping that a wider view of vocation would be presented. Especially considering the audience.

    Fetishist, heal thyself.

  3. John Drake says:

    Come on!

    There are PLENTY of folks, whether they appreciate it or not, who have answered the call to the married vocation. And undoubtedly, at least implicitly, the parish priest’s homilies throughout the year address the call of all of us to our vocation.


    And we need to hear it loud and clear and frequently.

    BTW, in the nearly twenty years I have lived in the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, I do not recall a single instance of a pre-recorded message from a bishop on any subject being played at Mass.

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    If you want priests, look for candidates where they are, not where you want them to be.

  5. Molly Roach says:

    “Nincompoopery” is a wonderful word. Thank you for this example using it. As for “vocations” where I’m from (Philadelphia), it’s all about being part of the “in-crowd.” More nincompoopery. It’s everywhere.

  6. Mike says:

    David is making things up. His misreading would rate an F from any competent teacher.

  7. David D. says:

    Perhaps I was hasty in inferring that a Tablet reader who spends mass tallying the altar girl:altar boy ratio would also reject the Church’s infallible teaching on the male priesthood. Mea culpa. Let me amend my prior statement to read “…Ms. Howarth’s complaint obviously has to do with the issue of women’s ordination or some similar issue relating to gender…”

    My main point was that we all have a part in fostering vocations including priestly vocations. If parents, teachers and parish leaders do not take an active role, even the best of efforts from the diocesan vocations office will come to naught. Looking back on my childhood, I find it odd that no one, including my own devout mother, ever discussed with me the possibility of becoming a priest.

  8. Mike says:

    Again, David, you’re misreading it. There is no support for your inference in anything she wrote. None. Zip. Nada.

    • David D. says:

      So tell me Mike, what is her point? Why does she make a point of mentioning that the bishop’s message was “addressed only to the men of the parish”? Why does she make a point of pointing out that 3 of 4 altar servers were female, that all of the “Little Church helpers” were female, that the lone reader was female, that all four “Eucharistic ministers” [sic] were female and that the choir was mostly female? Why would any of these facts be relevant to a bishop’s message regarding priestly vocations?

      • Liam says:

        Her point is stated very clearly for those who care to read carefully: that, at the time a live homily would be addressed to the gathered faithful, instead of that communication there was a taped message addressed to a tiny percentage of those gathered. Her counting off recitals are merely illustrative of the last point. But the real objection seems to be the displacement of the homily by the message; had the message come at another point in the Mass, I suspect the ire would have been less.

        I would have been miffed too. Taped episcopal messages or missives should not displace the homily. (Even when they nominally gesture at the readings of the day, because the nominal gesture invariably makes the gesture look forced.)

        I grew up in a time when priestly vocations were preached about a lot, and where my parents would have encouraged mine; it was my pastor, who used a confession of mine as an opportunity to snag a vocation, who screwed the pooch with his exploitative gesture that made it clear to me that that was not the path for me. I will say, however, that very very few parents of my peers would have welcomed their sons announcement of a vocation to the priesthood. Why? Priesthood was a high-status profession until WW2, but with assimilation and rising prosperity and opportunities for American Catholics, it lost its status. Indeed, by the time I was considering the vocation, the reputation of local young seminarians was not exactly that of the best and the brightest, shall we say. (I have to add that an emphasis among newer diocesan priests today on parroting catechetical talking points combined with avoidance of anything resembling grappling with more complex spiritual issues doesn’t improve the impression a generation later.)

        High rates of vocations to the priesthood and religious life are, historically, subject to cyclical bubbles and busts. The mid-20th century was a bubble in the USA; those who think it was “normal” are not taking the longer view.

  9. David D. says:

    Here’s the author’s own explanation.

    “My annoyance was that it wasn’t relevant to approximately 99% of the congregation. It was about priestly vocations but it could have included those vocations which you have mentioned and also highlighted what everyone can do to spread the word of God. It didn’t and in my eyes that was a missed opportunity. I do wonder how many men that would have struck a chord with. Given all that has gone on over the last few years is there really anyone out there who wants to join the priesthood? The Church is worried about falling numbers, closing churches etc. Why not turn that around and praise those who are there and find ways to empower a congregation who largely are passive. Making a request for priests isn’t going to do that and it won’t solve their problem in the long run.”

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