An eccentric in the Algarve

Rumours of my demise have indeed been greatly exaggerated (or something similar). I am suffering out here in the Algarve. The rhythm of the waves never even mentions the Referendum. The noisy birds chattering in the very early mornings have no idea of the trauma in the Irish Church. In Denis O Brien’s territory, all is well and the smells, air, sounds and winds shout gently of the wonder of God in the Bible of nature. There is no crisis of faith. In fact, God is very busy talking to us.
I listen to the memories as the sea waves at me. Stories come back. Bill O Herlihy has died. I am remembering the chats here with Oliver Maloney (former DG RTE). Oliver & his wife Connie set out purposefully to rescue me from myself and steal me away from the workplace in Finglas to this little place by the sea! Oliver talked of his very early days  (and much more of faith, God, politics, economics) as Secretary to the Authority (RTE); of his time at the Enquiry for over 60 days following the 7 Days programme on Money Lenders; of Bill’s role in that; of Bill moving then quietly into Sports when Oliver was DG. Oliver spoke with such warmth of the goodness and dignity and humanity of Bill. When Oliver died, Bill and myself exchanged letters. That letter (from Bill) was very gracious. I recall too Bill being at the Launch of Tony Flannery’s book. Bill spoke of his hurt at how Tony was treated. He also said that he himself was an ordinary Catholic (whatever that means); that he wasn’t very philosophical; that he loved his faith and that he dropped into Mass daily whenever he could. He mentioned too how good God had been to him in family, friends, and work.
At such a distance from Ireland, I cannot even begin to grasp the eruption of anxiety at the Referendum result. It sounds like a crisis to some. The church has lost touch supposedly. The bishops are out of sync with the population. The hyperbole of Diarmuid Martin, in the aftermath, sounds to me almost laughable. Was this a moment of enlightenment for him? Some of us have been there for many years.
The contributors to the website seem overwhelmed by the total collapse of the Church and its authority (oh yes?). I find all of this excessive. The bishops spoke. They had every right to speak. People could listen or reject what they had to say and all of that was fine. I don’t think they made fools of themselves. I don’t think ending up on the wrong side of the result hardly shows their stupidity.  A few made outlandish statements but generally it was all measured and appropriate. What is the problem?
At one stage, Bishops were know-alls (sounds much better in Latin!)  Now they know nothing! Maybe I live on the periphery of church life or am an eccentric (on the outskirts of mainstream) but I have never felt that the populace should hang on the words of any prelate. I think they can speak and must speak and should be respected. I wasn’t hovering around waiting for Diarmuid to tell me how to vote. The people in Finglas weren’t shouting at me to demand answers from the Oracle or Guru in Drumcondra, nor did they expect me to be the authority voice in the community.
By Sunday morning, the church wasn’t packed with people crying at the latest disaster in Church life. It simply wasn’t packed anyway and hasn’t been for the past thirty years. But there was no sense of crisis or trauma.  Let’s get some balance here. It was only a vote. I am never impressed by the euphoria in the media and the tears of joy shown by some on Radio didn’t reach my innards. Neither did Mary McAleese’s words re Justin and the hoover do much for me. But I respect and understand why she would talk as she did. I know many mothers and fathers whose hearts break with hurt around their children being ‘different.’ That still doesn’t tell me that YES was the right way to vote.
I don’t know what Church the commentators belong to. My church has never been anything approximating the portrait of the one that is being featured. I have lived and worked away from Ireland, which may explain why. Wherever I have worked, the church and the culture were not synonymous.  We were never that important in the scheme of things and that was and is much better. I don’t think that the coincidence of culture and religion was ever good or right as it has been in Ireland. But the world of God is not shattered when people vote against the view of the Bishops. God and Faith goes on.
What do ask of our Bishops? Most are chosen for the wrong reasons and haven’t the qualities that are now necessary in the world of today. The pool of available people is very small. And who would want it? Very few realise the sheer demands of the job and the impossibility of doing the job; speaking; planning, visioning, meetings. The administrative load now carried is almost unendurable. Many dread the post; dread the e-mails; dread the phone calls. These men deserve our support. I know they need to start listening and to stop talking. The messiah doesn’t reappear every time a Bishop is ordained nor does he become that Messiah. But we ask too much from them and they then assume an ‘authority’ which they haven’t got.  They are challenged to cope with a rapidly changing world. Many haven’t got the flexibility in their personality to learn a new language. We can see how they failed in regard to the New Missal. But it wasn’t out of badness or foolishness – but out of deference, sheer overwork, and an inability to cope with the daily grind. God help them. It is a cruel role.
I don’t think that this is the time to have a go at the Bishops. They didn’t do everything wrong. The Referendum isn’t a Humanae Vitae moment. Ireland hasn’t finally thrown off the shackles of the church!  (Shackles? Really). The rest of the world are amazed that the dominant role of the Church has now ceased.  (Really….) The church has lost credibility because of the clerical abuse or so the mantra goes. It is all too simplistic and too dismissive. The church and church people didn’t do everything wrong historically.  We don’t have to apologise for everything. It is time that someone and somehow people begin to appreciate what Church people do and how good they are. I would dare to suggest that there is no service of any kind in the country is as much ‘there for people’ or ‘with people’ as the Church institution. And it isn’t the few but is the norm. Yes, appreciate it or it will be gone.
But God won’t disappear whatever about the Referendum. I wrote the following words on the Parish  Bulletin last weekend,  even when some thought the whole world of Church was falling all around us:
The Night of the Big Wind!
We need poets.
We need artists.
We need storytellers.
We need people with imaginations.
Otherwise the Feast (Pentecost) cannot be grasped, understood or celebrated.
Christ has left us to get on with life.
He believes in us. We can do it.
He wants us to have ‘fire in our bellies.’
He wants us to build up confidence.
He wants us to believe in ourselves.
This is the drama of the Feast.
We do have the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
We are strong.
We are courageous.
We have much to say.
We have lots of gifts.
God works differently in each of us. The world is coloured by the gift of our lives.
Mary Oliver has a beautiful poem. She says: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” And then when life is over, ‘I want to say’: “I was a bride married to amazement. I was a bridegroom taking the world into my arms.”
Anyone who is shy knows what it means to stay silent. Anyone who lacks confidence knows what it means to feel inadequate. Anyone who hasn’t had a certified education knows what it is like to feel unsure. But if the ‘image of God’ is alive in us then each of us can shape the world of faith. Anyone who has love has God. Anyone who can say ‘this is awesome’ has God. Anyone who is grateful has God. Anyone who has graciousness has God.
So may the breath of God give each of us life. May the kiss of life stir in this Community and make it aglow with a sense of wonder, beauty and miracle. May each of us lift our hearts, lift our heads, lift our minds and be fully ourselves. Never apologise for who you are. Never belittle yourself. Never stifle the Spirit of God in you. Call out the gift of each other. Spread the news and make it Good. We are very disadvantaged if we haven’t God among us.
That is the Church I meet everyday and everywhere. They inspirit me. We have fun. Our faith is very rich.  Bill O Herlihy thanked his God. Oliver Maloney was an inspiration. I am blessed. My church is a happy, noisy, argumentative place. No Referendum changes that one. Maybe I am the one “who doesn’t get it.”
Seamus Ahearne osa  (at sea in the Algarve).

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  1. Michael Boyle says:

    Interesting and thoughtful, interlaced with a touch of spirited and humoured wisdom.

  2. kay mcginty says:

    Seamus, it does my heart good to read your articles, you’re amazing and your parishioners in Finglas are so lucky to have you there! Rest up in the Algarve, you surely deserve the break. Keep strong and continue writing. Kay McGinty.

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