Fr Alan Layt has been Parish Priest of St Aidan’s Parish, Rooty Hill for the past 11 years. Born and bred locally, he has spent his life dedicated to the welfare of others in both social and spiritual contexts.
A late vocation at age 47, Fr Alan had been a high school teacher before he was ordained in 1996 by Bishop Bede Heather, the first bishop in the relatively newly formed Diocese of Parramatta. Fr Alan had grown up in Silverwater, formed by the Pallottines, an order from Germany. After leaving school, he entered their seminary, but only stayed for around three years. During his years teaching, he also became involved in the union movement, inspired by his grandfather who had been Mayor of Auburn and a member of the steering committee of the then Labor Premier Jack Lang who saw NSW through the Great Depression. Speaking with him about his work as a Parish Priest today, it is clear his focus is on still on the care of others, and in particular their relationship with Christ.
When he first arrived at St Aidan’s in 2008, then Parish Priest Fr Renato Paras recognised his strengths and appointed him to minister to youth, in particular, to prepare them for World Youth Day 2008. Today he continues to want to see young people strong in their faith, and believes formation is critical. He appreciates the St Aidan’s parishioners who are also members of Opus Dei who have assisted with formation of the young people of the parish. Currently the youth group meets regularly and he happily reports the young people are now instructing other young members of the group.
He is concerned about the apparent drop in numbers of parishioners returning to Mass after COVID restrictions. Not only does this situation impact parish communities, his real concern is for the impact on the individuals themselves and how they are missing out on the chance to be close to Christ.
He calls on all Catholics to reach out to others with their faith. “Be prepared to do it,” he says to all lay Catholics encouraging them to evangelise. “You have brothers and sisters sitting around you who are depending on your faith,” he says, cautioning that the “It’ll be alright Jack” approach doesn’t address the urgency of the situation whereby numbers of Catholics living in the faith are decreasing.
It’s one of the reasons he has created a welcoming committee for the parish, and happily found no shortage of parishioners wanting to sign up.
Given this has been the universal Catholic Church’s Year of the Family, he has a good sense of the connection between family and faith community. “Church is family,” he says. “People tend to say that Church is like a family, but Church is the true family. We are united by the Holy Spirit.”
Reflecting on why older people make up such a large proportion of members of parish communities, he says they come to understand how Church is their family. “It’s a place for them,” he says before explaining the vital role they play in parish life.
He cautions against the thinking that our society sometimes appears to have: that younger people are making a more valuable contribution than the older generation who, because of ailments and issues that arise when we age, tend to suffer more. To counter this perception, he poses one question: “When was Jesus at his most powerful?”
Fr Alan explains his answer.
“When anyone experiences suffering, Jesus is sharing His cross with them,” he says.
“If they are prepared to accept it and offer it with Jesus to the Father, especially at Mass, then they are co-redeeming with Him.
“They may feel their contribution is small by comparison – and it is – just the way that small boy’s seven loaves and two fish were too tiny to make much difference among 5,000. It is what Jesus can do with it that counts, and that turns on the faith in Jesus of the person who suffers with Him.”
When we suffer with Jesus, three things happen says Fr Alan.
The first he says, is that He suffers less. “Secondly,” he continues, “we are suffering here for our sins instead of Purgatory, and it is better to do it here than there because here we can merit in the eyes of the Father because we accept suffering through faith in Jesus.”
“You can’t do that in Purgatory,” he reminds us.
“Thirdly, and more importantly, we are involved in saving the souls of others.”
“If you think about it, this is a real expression of the twofold law of love. You know you really love someone when you share their suffering, and we do that for Jesus and for the souls of those in need of salvation.”
Fr Alan returns to his point about the suffering of the elderly.
“Just as Jesus was at His most powerful on the cross,” he says, “when He was at His most helpless physically, so any person suffering – and that includes those experiencing all the problems of getting older – who accepts their suffering with faith and trust in Jesus, is the greatest asset to any parish and to the Church as a whole.”
This article was originally published in the 2022 Ordinary Time | Winter 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.