its own received wisdom, reference points and methods of operation. Its practitioners become typecast, sometimes developing similar physical • characteristics, habits of dress. mannerisms, vocabulary.
These characteristics can often be a source of strength among the members and in their relation to those outside the group: they establish certain standards and create and satisfy certain expectations.
But they can also.lead to hardening of the arteries, stereotyped thinking, even a gradual subordination of the purpose for which the profession exists to its own collective interests and traditions.
The priesthood is no exception. In fact because of the sacral character associated with priesthood in general, and the abnormal conditions of service required of the Catholic priesthood in particular, it is especially prone to fossilisation.
As much and more than other .professions it needs mavericks who can shake things up, challenge the received wisdom, break down the stereotypes and explore new paths. Michael Hollings is well equipped for such a role, His secular experience is unusual, After surviving the rigours of a Jesuit boarding-school, and a short spell at Oxford and Sandhurst, he survived the hazards of wartime service as an officer • in the Coldstream Guards. with whom hi; won a Military Cross.
He lost and found his faith, went to the Bede, and was ordained. His lift as a priest has also been out of the usual run — a curate in Soho, a member of the Westminster Cathedral staff, adviser to ITV, Catholic chaplain to Oxford University, and for the past decade parish priest of Southall in Middlesex.
To each employment he has brought fresh ideas and radical methods, rooted in a most conservative insistence on personal attachment to Christ, intense prayer and severe asceticism.
This broad experience is the raw material of his book. It is not theoretical. but a truthful. humble description of what his priesthood has come to mean in a variety of settings and activities.
each time prompted fresh answers. They have led to increasing openness, availability, and willingness to tackle the job in hand without preconceived ideas: to work with other Christians, to serving and learning from people of other faiths, without losing his sense of Catholic identity; to she service of people of every class and condition; to relating the local parish to the wider world and its problems.
He is a truly catholic as well as Catholic priest. And this is not all. He has still found time for more prayer in a day than many priests attempt in a week, for broadcasts, retreats, and more books than most full-time writers can manage to produce.
Many of his ideas have worked: some, as he frankly admits, have failed. All have been "kitchen tested." This gives peculiar force to what he has to say, especially on controverted matters like domestic liturgies, parish organisation, priestly life-styles, celibacy, and personal relationships.
So many books on priesthood are merely thinly camouflaged adaptations of monasticism, which ignore the human reality of the priest and the actual world in which he has to serve and grow. Fr Hollings is an English pragmatist, anxious to get at the real needs, and find out by trial arid error what will work.
The combination of experience and devotion to prayer give his example a peculiar force. He writes about priesthood as it is lived now while remaining open to the forms it may take in future: John Harriott, SJ In each role he has asked the same questions: How can 1 best serve these particular people as a priest? And: How can I make Christ real to them?
Freshly asked, the questions have