A View from the Pew

Palm Sunday was the first Sunday following Confirmation.
I scanned the Church wondering if any of the candidates had joined us for Mass today; not one. The Church was more packed than usual though, not by our local worshipers but by a large number of family and friends, back to celebrate the anniversaries of departed loved ones in what was once their Parish church. (And where the funerals had taken place).
Just a few days earlier, the Church was buzzing with children, excited to be Confirmed, with proud parents and sponsors filling the pews. Am I surprised that not one child is here today? Not a bit. What I am is sad, frustrated and a little angry at why, as Church, we insist on this annual charade. And what a waste of energy and time for the Bishops or whomsoever is parachuted in to celebrate these Confirmations. They could use their ‘ministry’ in a much better way.
Each month we Baptise the children of all those who request it. It is a hugely important Sacrament. Sadly for most, the significance is lost and it is little more than a naming Ceremony requiring no commitment on the part of parents or Godparents. Or so it seems. There is an absence of honesty in all of this.
At eight years of age when in second class, First Holy Communion looms large. Teachers spend a lot of time preparing the children. The local people participate in the Faith- Friend programmes. The Parish team expend great energy with the children and families. A great day will be had by all. And that sadly is what it will be, for many – one day. We won’t see these children again until it’s time for Confirmation. How confusing is all this short term intensity, for the little ones, who are so enthusiastic and eager to learn about Jesus. It is a delightful age and time, which does need some such occasion to celebrate their spontaneity, their exuberance, their uninhibited delight. However First Communion is not the way to do it. There is a basic untruthfulness.
Has the time come to bite the bullet and stop making preparation for the Sacraments, part of the school curriculum?
Should parents not have a more active role in the faith journey of their own children?
Would Confirmation be more meaningful at say sixteen years of age when candidates are more mature and have a greater understanding of what they are undertaking?
I sense a fear for such drastic change, but what have we got to lose? Is it not better to have a smaller church of committed people rather than an illusionary bigger congregation (on the odd day) of lukewarm believers?
Thankfully some things have changed for the better in my parish. We celebrate the Word in a very special way. Following the Readings (daily and at weekends) the congregation are invited to share a word or a phrase that has particular meaning for them. This practice had a slow start but now people understand and appreciate the value of it and share willingly. The fruits are many. We actively listen and seek out the thread running through the Readings, we discuss, question, agree, disagree, ponder but we never leave with a confused mind or an unanswered question on our lips. The Magnificat (booklet) is a great tool to assist in this. Mass is always – ‘a raising of the mind and heart to God.’ We are inspired by the Word and by each other.
Our recent SOTW (Students of the Word) series with Kieran O’Mahony (Biblical coordinator for Dublin Archdiocese) was a great success. Here was an opportunity for those who wanted to mature in their faith; to learn about Jesus including the history and geography surrounding him; to immerse ourselves into the depths of the Bible and to find our place in the middle of it all. Learning about God does not have to end at the school gates. It has been amazing over three six week sessions how c60 people turned up for those 18 weeks for a two hour session, and got totally involved in such deep and serious material. It was wonderful – full of wonder for us all.
Lastly – the question of women Priests.
Most of those involved in ministry in church today are women. Are we riddled with angst at not being ordained? No. Most of us have our own vocation, wife, mother, career etc. However, given that the majority of our congregation are women, would it be such a terrible thing?
After all God created us all equally. Most of the arguments against are cultural and not theological. We have spent years playing around with unimportant issues and ridiculous arguments. Let’s get on with it. Christ is too important to be wasted on nonsense. The Gospel is more needed than ever. Our God is awesome. We are at home with our God. Our community is a place of miracles. We don’t want distractions from the beauty of faith.   We need to get out there everywhere and make great noise as counter-cultural ministers of the world of Jesus Christ.
Rita Fernandez (Rivermount).

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  1. Here is the US, the same issues somewhat come up.
    What works best and its a real challenge is good creative liturgies, really good music and having the kids involved.Sacramental occasions like First Communion by themselves cannot only carry the mantle of evangelization, so it is here that youth clubs, youth retreats etc can and do play a big part. Having groups such as parish councils can inspire interest in parents and having a youth member also on the council to give the youth a voice and make them feel a part of the community. Lay people need to be involved and explore with the priest ways to create a vibrant community. Parish council members need to be selected where the people have say and not just by the priest. They are advisory and this would need to be spelt out. Priests need to listen to the young people, have informal get togethers to find out their ideas. Sometimes we think they are not interested. Once we reach out, the interest will grow. Change is a real for all of us priests but we do out best and people will respond

  2. Thanks for your very moving reflection, Rita. I can sense your frustration and pain at the state of the Church in Ireland. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to invest to much energy and effort and most being able to see the tangible fruits of your hard work.
    Keep up your spirits!

  3. Children are quick at picking up what their parents real attitude is towards our institutional church:
    * where women are regarded as less than second class
    * where lay people are excluded from decision making
    * where artificial contraception is banned
    * where gay people are regarded as intrinsically disordered
    Christ’s message of love, compassion and inclusiveness is at odds with this institutional church. The institutional church is many decades behind the people of god. The institutional church needs major reforms to bring it back in line with Christ’s message and the people of god. Until then more and more generations will continue to walk away from the institution.

  4. Pascal O'Dea says:

    your piece is both inspirational and challenging, the congregational involvement in the liturgy, your example of adult faith development and sensible words in favour of women priests speak for themselves,separating the sacraments out of the school cycle however would be a challenge and true reality check for us all
    well done,
    pascal O’Dea

  5. “There is an absence of honesty in all of this.”
    So there is, and a dishonesty also in the failure of the Irish Catholic educational establishment to study what happens to pre-pubertal ‘faith’ in adolescence. We simply pretend that our schools are vital to ‘passing on the tradition’ – and protect this pretence by refusing to take the most elementary steps to test it. We lever teenagers into a pretence of commitment (via e.g. CV-ready ‘John Paul II Awards’) but won’t check to see how deep this commitment runs – while knowing well the problem of the missing generations and the loss of all sense of the relevance to teenagers of the ‘vocations’ we pray for.
    Three sacraments of initiation pre-adolescence? No adult sacrament of affirmation of faith for those not ordained? And we then complain about clericalism, as though our sacramental and organisational systems did not copper-fasten that? More dishonesty!
    Meanwhile ‘faith’ is recommended to us by Archbishops who never seem to study the literature on the typical progress of faith through life – as something that must outgrow naive trust in human institutions if it is to become a deeper faith in God. Following the most serious church scandals in centuries, where are Irish Catholic adults to find opportunities for discussion of faith crisis with their clergy?
    Instead, the absence of an Irish Catholic lay intelligentsia is lamented, from a pinnacle way above frank adult dialogue on that issue – as though magisterial authoritarianism and structural inertia was not the sterilising source of the desert complained of.
    “Looking back, there was an inexplicable delay in the emergence of a leadership ready to accept and grapple with the collapse of Irish Catholic Christendom – the position of unprecedented eminence acquired by the Catholic episcopacy in the 20th century.'”
    Something like this will be agreed by Church historians, c. 2100 CE. Rita Fernandez has put her finger on the root cause – abject flight from the truth that stares at us, a collapse of honesty.

  6. The two things that I found most difficult to cope with when I came back to the church after 20 years was…the laity don’t think or read but just knew all bishops were saints…and you could never get a straight answer to a question from the the priests. I have never known people so expert at deflecting a question. It is a very odd way of doing things.

  7. Charade! On target….
    For a long time I have witnessed this problem, so well expressed in the article above!
    – Benedict XVI expressed that many religious Education programs are a failure.
    – Read the book the “Benedict Option” and see the big picture
    – Do not count out the fact that the present day culture is so massively infusing Sport, porn, fun, enjoyment….. church for most kids and young parents is simply ‘out of touch’ and seen as ‘irrelevant’.
    – Sadly, many parents ‘use’ the church for the glorious presentation of their little darlings dressed up for a piece of “bread”. I say ‘bread’ sadly but think of it: if most parents really ‘believed’ in the Real Presence, they would not be absent from their parishes. Show me I’m wrong on this: most young kids see their parents pick them up in church parking lots and not ‘go to mass’… as small as they are, they get it, Mommy and Daddy are not interested! Poor teachers, trying to tell the children – ‘this is truly the body of Christ and He loves you”…
    – We live in an age of massive ‘distraction’ and trying to reach into the ‘contemplate’ side given us is all the more difficult today.
    – People have to be called out on simply ‘using’ the Church scandals as their justification to avoid Church and go it alone on the path to God.
    Your article is very good and I would hope that the Church, would face up to the reality and stop accommodating to the demands of the Culture. I would tighten the demands and like the young man in the Gospel, let them ‘walk away sad’ …. let’s stop watering down the whole beauty of Jesus, to such a point that it means so little.

  8. Kevin Walters says:

    Paul @7
    “Charade! On target….” ——————————
    The true Charade
    Sadly they do not walk away sad, rather they cover their faces/Hearts to the reality of their own situation, this reality is reflected within the culture of denial in the upper echelons of the Church as the elite cover the lamp of Truth with a blanket, so the blind lead the blind and cultural Catholics as insignificant as they are get it, we all can live in the darkness (Pit) together.
    Leaders have to be called out for simply ‘using’ a self-made Image of Goodness (Blasphemous) to cover-up scandals as their justification to avoid their responsibilities to the laity and by default directing them to go it alone on the path to God.
    I hope too that the Church will face up to the reality of itself and stop accommodating the demands of the Culture it has helped to form.
    Yes let’s stop watering down the whole beauty of Jesus, the bright lamp of Truth, to such a point that now the lamp holder (Church) has become so dirty in living in the lie of self-deception that the Light/Truth has now almost been extinguished.
    “their little darlings (INNOCENTS) dressed up for a piece of “bread”.
    Witnessed 1950s
    Not a normal Sunday first communicants on display
    Boys all dress the same but this is no game
    No scuffed shoe all black and new
    White shirt and sock no black polish did mock
    Grey trousers clean leg and knee for all to see
    White shirt no speck of dirt
    Spotless hand, stay together Sisters command
    Red tie symbol of valour white face pallor
    No noise all good boys nor runny nose angelic pose
    Swirls a clutch of girls
    From head to toe only white must show
    Frill and lace dresses of taste
    Silk and satin a perfect happening
    White rose display a perfect array
    Show stopping a white veil topping
    Mother’s pride none did hide
    A venial sin but no smile or grin
    The essence of this tale can now begin
    Arriving remnants of a party game
    Mother’s heads bow in shame
    Mothers love but misunderstood
    Perhaps “Old Joe” but we will never know
    White stiletto shoe lose fit, misfit
    Nylon stocking mocking not white or tight
    Back comb of hair I cannot swear
    Powder and rouge but I think not a stooge
    Veil no tale full curtain of this I am certain
    Down the aisle traveling in style front row all must go
    Stiletto heel we all could feel
    Curtain call occupant small
    Our Fathers gift is given
    Reflection of thought not shop bought
    Innocence protects, head held high as the rest
    Radiant smile as her spirit did shine
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  9. Phil Greene says:

    We don’t want distractions from the beauty of faith.
    Thank you Rita for indeed describing an honest view from the pew and articulating so well what many think as they attend Mass. Indeed we have said many of these words amongst ourselves and in private many times. The replies are also worth mentioning as these provide some further insights for discussion.
    Unfortunately , it seems to me, the distractions are first provided by the Church..married v celibate priests, gentlemens’ club, womens place in their society, bishops not talking to their priests, priests not talking to their parishoners ( see Sara above), how can a teenager in the first world understand this world…? My child and many of my friends children went to Mass but they have no interest now and thankfully are honest and articulate in explaining their reasons for no longer wanting to attend Mass.. and their first statement is … its boring… so will a 16 year old even think about his confirmation…I would suggest we add on another 16 years!
    I met a young girl in my Faith Friends group who openly and honestly explained that her family were not religious and did not attend Mass , after our last meeting she came to me and thanked me for our few weeks together and said how she had enjoyed it.. i was delighted of course and told her her Faith would always be there when she wants or needs it – anytime at all .. so like you Rita we get our little moments of joy and we treasure them, and hope that all our spent energy is not a total waste.
    The absence of honesty in the church is used like a whip to mock lay people for being stupid to stay with the Church.. I feel that the absence of honesty is everywhere in society , but in the secular world people try to enact laws, stand together to try to get things done, lobby their leaders, sack their leaders (sometimes mistakenly I admit), etc. , however the Church turns inwards and outlaws dialogue, uses language that creates distance and “change” is a word to be used in the future – the further away the better!Lay people are now used to having a voice and using their voice, redress is an expectation.. how can we be expected then to go backwards, and that is what it appears we are being asked to do , as the Church is not for changing , until it has to…
    Forgive me Rita for using this space but I have a question in relation to this article which I must ask the ACP.
    I think this is a wonderful idea putting Rita’s reflection forward , I am not sure if this was something you did in the past but it seems to me to be a perfect way of hopefully seeing more well written reflections from people from all walks of life.
    I can think of many people who have opened my mind via the confines of the “leave a Reply” section of this site. Without diminishing Rita’s eloquent piece in any way,many have voiced exactly what Rita has said above but used different words (Truth v honesty etc.)..It would be so interesting to see a reflective piece of their choice rather than in a reply in which one can see they have invested a lot of their time and energy. In writing this I am obviously excluding myself 🙂
    So my question is – will we see more of this open-mindness in the future?
    Thank You

  10. Joe Walsh says:

    I had been warned before returning to Ireland that the church here was not the church I had grown up in and left to go abroad half a century ago. There’s a lot of resentment, anger and cynicism expressed towards the church in this country. There’s also a lot of ignorance about religion, especially in the media. Many churchgoers are happy with the fast Mass, short sermon (or no sermon at all!) and the non-challenging ethos of the faith community. Church leaders and planners for the future are up against walls of indifference and hostility. Religion has become so identified with our pragmatic everyday agnostic culture that any attempt to change things is met with annoyance. For many, the church is useful for family christenings, weddings and funerals – hatching, matching and dispatching. I think our leaders will have to let a lot of traditional practices go and start building small intentional communities from the ground up. It’s unfortunate that church controllers in the Vatican seem to be out of touch with what’s happening here in Ireland. Even our bishops appear to be a group unto themselves, who when they talk use an institutional church-speak vocabulary that sounds cold and detached from where people are at. Wake up, your lordships, the ship is almost under water!

  11. darlene starrs says:

    Honesty is in fact…integrity…..and the Integrity of the Church…is with the people/clergy who are truly rooted in Christ and behaving accordingly…..Needless to say….the Integrity of the Church is akin to the Narrow Door. I am delighted that Rita’s parish is actively engaged in returning to the scriptures and sharing thoughts during the liturgy. I would take the sharing a step further and have individuals/families talk about their life with God at the liturgies, perhaps, after the homily or before dismissal. The way to create a Church of Integrity, is only through our rootedness in Christ…which comes largely from allowing the “Word” to find a home in us.

  12. Kevin Walters says:

    Joe Walsh@ 10
    “I think our leaders will have to let a lot of traditional practices go and start building small intentional communities from the ground up”——————————————
    Small communities or one community, which incorporates the family of mankind?
    A Universal Church that has small committed communities within it, with a simplified Sunday Mass that embraces all Baptized Catholics no matter what their state, which in their Humility will permit them to partake of the bread of life and live.
    From this base new communities can be enlarged or/and new ones formed.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ.

  13. Joe Walsh says:

    Kevin Walters @12
    When Jesus had meals with tax collectors and sinners (to the annoyance of strict Jews), was he setting the groundwork for a eucharist which would be an experience of inclusion in a society that was characterized by injustice, exclusion, exploitation and religious hypocrisy? Was he creating a living symbol of the common good which had been lost sight of in favour of structures that made the rich richer and the poor poorer? Paul and the Acts seem to say that the vision Jesus had was replicated in some early communities? Perhaps we need to take another look at how the eucharist is designed to create Christian community and vice versa.

  14. Kevin Walters says:

    Joe Walsh@13 Thank you for your comment
    In answer to your question Joe, I would agree that He was creating a living symbol of one that incorporated the common good in that of one of self-sacrifice in obedience to His Divine Word (Will)
    “Perhaps we need to take another look at how the Eucharist is designed to create Christian community and vice versa” yes I agree as they could become (Communities) power houses for spiritual growth for those who are involved and those who witness them.
    This can only come about by serving the Truth in humility and if it is not, it will eventually become (Remain) a replica of that we have at the moment, one without the lamp of Truth held high above it
    There are many good men and women within the Church if they cannot confront the hypocrisy within the church at this present moment in time, how will they do so when evil is manifest within smaller communities?
    How will they serve the Truth then?
    Here is the problem as I see it, at the reformation the Protestants did exactly what progressives (I am not implying that you are a progressive) are doing today with the result that there are now around 40,000 different Protestant sects throughout the world It could be said that they ran off in different directions similar to a headless chicken without a unifying head, many have lost their way, as many now dwell in relativism. I realize that these have followed worldly structures, where you appear to be saying communities sharing in the fullest sense, as the early Christians did and yes this would be a wonderful model to create and then to build.
    This helps to exemplify the problem facing all communities large or small
    Taken from post@11Darlene Starrs an excellent post.
    “The way to create a Church of Integrity is only through our rootedness in Christ…which comes largely from allowing the “Word” to find a home in us”.
    This is true, but if you cannot bear witness to His “Word” (Will) by incorporating It into your own will, you will be lead down the broad highway of Spiritual destruction (Relativism) or at least be compromised.
    Are we to believe that all the bishops of Ireland and the priesthood are so lacking in His “Word” (Will) that they are/ totally devoid of moral leadership or so compromised that they cannot confront the reality of the situation, one of ongoing hypocrisy?
    This can be extended to all religious groups within Ireland, so who will hold the bright lamp of Truth above the present situation and confront it?
    From my post see the link below
    “How do you change the present Church model that only works upwards, into a culture of discipleship based on equality?”
    “If this were to happen a new dawn would break for the Church, from this base, one of serving the Truth in humility, new leaders (Teachers) male and female would emerge to take their rightful place within the church. Then Table Fellowship may possible find its place as an extension of the Mass”.
    Also see link with posts on Table fellowship
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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