A Lenten Experience
Seize the moment:
Two disappointed women rang this morning. They sang from the same hymn-sheet. They were not connected to each other or in contact with each other. They had a problem. It was the Mass on RTE. They felt it was a glorious opportunity to reach people at this time. Both found it shocking that all they heard was that it was the Rosary only that would fix this crisis. One lady who is prominently involved in the pastoral life of Parish/Diocese, was much more impressed by the Humanist than by the Mass! I haven’t watched/listened to any Mass. I cannot comment myself but these ladies are deeply committed people and were sad that such a special and sacred moment, might not reach the depths of the viewers, at this time. Seize the moment.
What colour is God’s skin?
Jeremy Corbyn had his final PMQs in the past few days. Jeremy is a very fine socialist. He cares deeply. His focus is on the very poor in society. He has been a bad political leader because he hasn’t got the flexibility which is essential in politics. He was as much responsible for the failures in the Brexit debates as anyone. He had no ability to reach across the political divide. He was quoted as saying at PMQs: “We’ll only come through this as a society through a huge collective effort. At a time of crisis, no one is an island, no one is self-made. ….“The wellbeing of the wealthiest corporate chief executive officer depends on the outsourced worker, cleaning their office. At times like this, we have to recognise the value of each other, and the strength of a society that cares for each other, and care for all.” (The bin men; the shelf stackers; the cleaners). His sentiments are sharp and right. These aren’t words. This is his philosophy.
The scoffing starlings:
I will never be a Carthusian. As Up With People said and sang: ‘People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.’ I need people! The empty house. The silence. The absence of banter. The non-visiting. The non-communion (2 metres). The defined two metre distance between people. This non-contact sport. Is it any wonder that the starlings keep on looking at me. (The back door). I think of the word – grig. They are. They are laughing at me. They even come to the open door and noisily have fun at my expense. They then retreat to the trees behind the bungalow and gang up on me. A flock of starlings is called a murmuration. Whatever they are called; it isn’t murmuring that they are doing with me. They are having fun and scoffing at me. They shout of their freedom as they see me almost locked in.
Now I do escape to Phoenix Park each day for an hour’s walk. I go to the 15 acres (a myth indeed). It is much bigger. I have most of the place to myself. I do meet the deer. They are gentle. And very quiet. They don’t laugh. They don’t murmur. They sense that is a time of gentle reflection. They look kindly at me. They seem to understand me and us and now. But then I reach the Residence of the American Ambassador. The White House. I stop. And I wonder. How is it possible for such a country to produce Donald Trump and Joe Biden as the candidates for the Presidency? I have greater regard for the deer and even the starlings, than for those two. I move on.
Decluttering mind, heart and house:
I had an idea. My office is cluttered. I always intended to do something about the clutter. But I never gave myself the time to do that. So paper and files simply accumulated. It was a skip I needed and not several bins. I met my past. I discovered so much that I had written over the years, most of which I had forgotten. It was intriguing. Some items jumped out at me and took me back to a place and to people of long ago. It was a memory trove. In spite of that, most of those files were ruthlessly dumped. The office began to look worse rather than better. Only for the virus; it would never get done.
Funeral stories: The Album of lives
I had a huge ‘treasure’ of the personal stories of the dead and of the families. The funeral homilies were there (all personal). The story of every funeral was there. The Litany was there which brought together all the extended family. It was the tree of life in death. I wanted to file them carefully because they told the story of the history of the Parish. But I decided, that these had to go. Nostalgia wouldn’t tidy the office. And no-one ever was going to see them anyway. These summaries of family life in the parish were very special. I was remembering the names of long ago and once more recalling the privilege of ministry and the sacred invitation into the heart of home life. The virus gave me time to think and appreciate the graced ministry of this call. It was very humbling.
Little things matter:
I didn’t hear as yet, many say – or accuse God, of being the cause of this crisis (virus), I didn’t hear the opposite either: This happened because of the evil in our society and was due to God being forgotten. But somehow there is room for a reflection where we can imagine how little we are in control of life. If it can stop us to say: It is good to be able to go out! It is good to be able to go to the shops. It is good to be able to hug someone. It is good to be able to work. It is good to be able to celebrate our faith. It is good to be able to look around and listen to the birds singing. It is good to be forced to think anew and creatively about the routine of a day. It is good to think of someone/anyone/ everyone and their needs rather than be lost in oneself. It is good to take some exercise by just walking in the parks. It is good to have our schools. It is good to have our hospitals and all the related services. It is good to have the lorries who bring food to our shops It is good to have the people in the shops who serve us. I met an English man on the beach in the Algarve. He said to me: “This is magical and we own it.” I look around the Phoenix Park and I say to myself: “We own this.” The air. The sun. The moon. The flowers. The trees. The wind. The scenery. We can only bow and say: Thanks be to God. Jeremy Corbyn spoke of the equality of all. The virus doesn’t recognise borders. Doesn’t recognise the status of anyone. (Even Boris and Matt are now afflicted). We have been given so much. We cannot take it for granted. The virus tells us of this being one world and that we share a common world. We all belong. We all need each other.
The rattling bones. ‘Dem bones.’ Lazarus. This was dramatic. If we can have the life breathed into us; if we can catch the breath of God – then the story in Ezekiel and the story of Lazurus is not strange hyperbole from the past but is happening here among us. We will rise again. We will have the breath kissed into us. We will do it. The birds still sing and will. The sun shines. The gentle breeze (1Kings 19) is still soothing us. The bushes, flowers, trees are smiling. People speak to each other. People look out for each other. People help each other. People nod to each other. People shop for each other. The kiss of life can happen; is happening; will happen.
Seamus Ahearne osa
Seamus, we certainly live in strange times. We will come through this but I wonder how will we be at the end of it all. Will the world be a better place? Will we all be more compassionate and caring towards one another? Will some be so affected that they might have a reluctance to ever venture out again?
I haven’t watched/listened to any Masses either. Our local PP at home, Fr. Pat, is doing a great job saying Mass in an empty chapel which is broadcast/streamed live and I know many people at home and beyond greatly appreciate it and get a lot from it.
One of the major changes in my life this last week –our first week of lockdown–is having all this time on my hands. I have never had enough time to catch up with everything. So, life has always been about prioritization. I can relate completely to your decluttering project in your office. I have a room/study which has been a source of great family amusement for many years because of its untidy state. Even our wee grandson, Joseph, who is only three and a half, now refers to it as grandad’s “messy room”. So, the time has come and this is my big chance. You seem to have made great progress in a short time, Seamus, though I suppose you were in partial shutdown for a while before Boris made his move over here last Tuesday. Well, so far I have just managed to clear the top of my desk and even that feels like an achievement. All dental practices are now shut down here, and probably will be until July, so I feel quietly confident the study will get done.
Leo seems to be handling the crisis very well. Even people I know who would not have been his natural supporters have nothing but praise for him. I initially thought Boris was right to wait a bit longer as, I suppose, we wanted to keep working as long as we could. Our big concern now that there is a complete close down is the financial viability of our practices. Everybody is, of course, in the same boat. However, with hindsight I think the Irish government was right to take drastic action when they did. We were at least a couple of weeks too late. I hope Fine Gael and Fianna Fail now form a viable coalition government at home. I am not too concerned who leads it though I do think that Michael Martin is a thoroughly good and decent man.
The other major benefit of having all this spare time is having time to watch television with your family. I never watched much telly except the BBC 10.00 o’clock news every night and then Newsnight at 10.30, Match of the Day on Saturday night and Sportscene here in Scotland on Sunday evening and a few other thing that might interest me. Now, I am watching multiple news programs and many other things as well . I have always tried to avoid those “dark” crime series and there seems to be so many of them. However, I recently got into Noughts and Crosses on BBC I –seriously “dark” and not good for race relations, I would think. Anyway, there was a fairly happy ending . At least I knew I was watching fiction. I have also now watched, twice, the two episodes of Redress. Breaking the Silence on the RTE Player and, sadly, that was not fiction. It was really heart breaking and disturbing to watch. Michael O’Brien is now one of my heroes after watching it. I think I love that man! How he described the worst eight years of his life and his only crime was his mother dying. He once again, talked about the lawyers/barristers trying to make a liar of him and the 90 year old man who came from Rome to tell him he was telling lies. I wonder who was that. Might it have been the awful Castrillon Hoyes, by any chance. I initially became aware of Michael a few years ago when that clip from Questions and Answers came on Facebook. Joe O’Leary and I had a “conversation” about Michael one Sunday evening here on this site. Joe, I hope you watched the programs. I think they are still available on the RTE Player for a few days yet. I had watched States of Fear a number of years ago on Tara, a station which broadcast RTE programs over here, but, sadly, is no more. But, even so, I never really understood the injustices of the Ryan Commission which Sean Ryan himself now acknowledges — namely that criminals were protected by not having their identities revealed. And, I never realised how the victims were made to suffer all over again at the Redress Board hearings and, eventually, having to sign a non-disclosure order to keep silent !! These two programs were finally “breaking the silence”
These children, of course, were not just any children; they were the poorest, the most marginalised and the most destitute children in Ireland. How did we become a place where such unspeakable evil could happen? One of the first victims to tell his story when all this first came out was John Prior. In one of the programs he explained what made Christmas Day special –there was no sexual abuse on Christmas day ! I know Padraig McCarthy wrote a book on the “injustices” of the Murphy Commission. Padraig, there is so much injustice around the Ryan Commission and the Redress Board which would certainly justify another book. Patsy McGarry was excellent as always. I would have thought Patsy would have thought about writing a book on that whole litany of abuse and injustice. I think it is now reasonable to ask the question can our church ever really recover from all that?
Seamus, I don’t understand how you could mention Trump and Joe Biden in the same breath !! Did you read, by any chance, Jonathan Freedland’s article in yesterday’s Guardian. I will share the link at the end of this .
I accept that Joe let himself down badly when he stole Neil Kinnock’s impassioned speech about his coal-mining ancestors and how he was the first in his family to go to university. However, I feel Joe is a saint in comparison to Trump and he is the best chance America has –the best chance we all have. He is a man who shows genuine empathy something which Trump is completely devoid of. Joe is also a man who has overcome such awful tragedy and heartbreak; losing his wife and child in a car accident weeks after he was first elected to the Senate and losing his son, Beau, to a brain tumour in 2015 when Beau was only 46, I think. I have always felt empathy and respect for Joe. And his new theme of recovery has certainly touched something in the most recent primaries, a theme that has had such significance in his own life story.
And, finally, Seamus, I cannot agree with your depiction of Corbyn being one of the good guys. I am a member of the Labour Party and he has been an embarrassment. He made our party “the nasty party.” I am sure you remember Teresa May’s famous speech at a Tory Party conference many years ago when she told the delegates that they had become “the nasty party”. Well, now it became our turn. Corbyn began by promising a gentler, fairer and more transparent form of politics. Well, it was nothing of the sort. He and his entourage were vicious in dealing with those who were not completely loyal to the great leader. Our two best performers on the Labour front bench here in the Scottish parliament were Jackie Baillie and Anas Sawar. Because they were not completely loyal to the great leader, they were sacked. He tried to abolish the position of deputy leader because Tom Watson was not completely loyal. And, anti-Semitism in the Labour Party became such a big issue under Corbyn that Jewish MPs felt they had to resign.
I hope either Keir Starmer or Lisa Nandy becomes our new leader. We will know next Friday and,, hopefully we can leave this dark period in our party’s history behind.
I am writing now on Sunday morning having started this last night. There is such an usual silence. There is hardly any sound of traffic and even the birds are quiet in the garden. The only sign of life are the white blossoms that are appearing on the trees. I am enjoying my long lie on a Sunday morning, in fact, ever morning now. This is another positive thing about this new situation –sleep. I was seldom able to get my eight hours. Now, I get them every night. Our parish community is reacting well, I think, to the crisis. Our SVdP is no longer visiting in person but we ring those we would normally visit to have a chat and offer any help we can, like shopping for groceries. Most of them have good neighbours so we haven’t had to do much of that. The community spirit that Brendan has spoken about is working.
Seamus, I always appreciate your thought provoking reflections and I am always surprised so few react to them. Please keep writing, Seamus.
As you would say yourself, Shalom.
Trump’s narcissism has taken a new twist. And now he has American blood on his hands | Jonathan Freedland
I hope this link works this time.
With time on our hands it might be worth while re-reading Teilhard de Chardin’s “Mass on the World” which opens with these words:
‘Since once again, Lord I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.’
Written during time he spent on field work in the Ordos desert in 1927, it prefigures in many ways our present predicament.
Paddy Ferry@1. In reference to Michael O’Brien , As it happened I was actually sitting behind Michael on that fateful night on Questions and Answers when he exploded with rage to reveal his horrendous experience as a child to a stunned audience and a panel who were rendered speechless. I met him in the Green Room afterwards , I shook hands with him and told him; I believe every word you said . That said there are still people who would cast doubt on his story believe it or not. I was in close proximity to him and he would have to be due an Oscar for his acting if what he revealed was not true.
When I viewed the programme Redress I could not believe that once again Michael was grilled and doubt cast on his testimony by the Redress Board. With all the expertise available did no one think that vulnerable , traumatised victims should have had the support of a trained professional in trauma to ensure that lawyers were not allowed to destroy these unfortunate people again after all they had been through.
Thanks, Anne for sharing that. I am so pleased you spoke to Michael and affirmed him. Everything you say is so true. Why did this great Catholic country of ours turn into a place where all this could happen.
And, I was really shocked, and I hadn’t realised, that the abuse continued during the Ryan Commission sittings and the Redress Board too. A different kind of abuse but abuse all the same. Yet, this happened even though there were good people there, Sean Ryan himself obviously has deep regrets about it all as has Michael Martin who was Minister for Health and Bertie Ahearn too who was Taoiseach. But it still happened. These poor people were still abused all over again by what Michael refers to as the well paid barristers “trying to make a liar of me”.
And the cold, calculating attitude of the religious orders who employed the most powerful legal firm in the country and , as Sean Ryan told us, their attitude was “well, you prove it”. Disgraceful”!
Ann, I wonder if you have ever read Brendan Hoban’s excellent book, “Where do we go from here”. In chap 3, Acknowledging a debt”, page 26, Brendan refers to that intervention by Michael on that Questions and Answers program as “a seminal moment, a kind of epiphany …” So, people did believe Michael, how could they not!!
If you have never read the book, Ann, I would highly recommend it to you.
With all this free time on my hands –like never before –I have a number of books that I intend to reread and Brendan’s is one of them.
Paddy@6 No I haven’t read that book, thanks for telling me. As I am a widow and live alone for a few years now, staying at home is my normal life and I am amused at my adult Grandchildren checking to see am I ok. What everyone is discovering since the lockdown there is so much to do when you have time. The internet is fantastic as I can read the papers, WhatsApp my family, send grocery lists to my daughter and neighbour , then there is the garden, my favourite TV and Radio programmes , time flies.