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Can this low moment in church life become an opportunity?

Remembering The Holocaust – Defiant Requiem
It was Monday night, 27th January. The money-counters had finished. The lodgements had been noted. We had the tea and cake. I went home. I pressed the remote – having no idea what was on, or even if I was interested. I came upon BBC 4. The fortress town of Terezin was featured (some 80,000 Czech Jews were sent from there to the death camps).
It was a remarkable story told by many of the survivors from Terezin. The story of that town, was weaved together through music,  led by Rafael Schachter. Even more incredible was the fact that  people in that town could lift their spirits each night — despite work, hunger and hopelessness — through lectures in Science, Art history, Theatre (comedy & satire), and Song. The more hopeless the situation became, the more urgent their commitment was.
Schachter then decided to put on a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Terezin. The Elders (in the camp) were shocked at Jews singing a Catholic Mass! Schachter insisted on the Liberation theme and so 150 Jews put on 16 performances with utter conviction in an appalling place. This indeed was ‘Liberation theology.’ The Nazis scoffed at the irony of these Jews singing their own Requiem. The film ended with a new performance of Verdi’s in the same space; in the remains of that fortified town – where all of this happened. This was a triumph of the human spirit.
I quietly wondered and was almost afraid to draw inspiration from this programme. Nothing can compare with what happened in Terezin.. Nonetheless, I asked myself: What might lift our spirits? What might move us beyond the ‘death knell’ of the Church as we know it? Is Francis outrageous or even deluded to talk of the ‘Joy of the Gospel’? I know it seems wrong to allow my mind wander from the depths of suffering, in such a story, towards the weariness in our Church. But my spirit was touched and did go wandering.
Can music do something for us? I saw it happen in our parish here last year when a group decided to put on a “show”. It took months of preparation. It involved many people who would be on the fringes of church life. It was delightful. It started as a fund-raiser but ended up being a Community builder.
And I wondered and wandered – Francis wanted us to drop the funereal look. He suggested that the papacy needed conversion; that bishops needed to be refreshed; that the model of management needed to learn the principle of subsidiary (much talked about years ago); that all those who know little of God or Gospel must find a welcome in the Eucharist of our lives; that Christ is for everyone everywhere. This too is music and sounds rather Gospel-like!
Who will be our Rafael Schachter? Can we create a Defiant Requiem in a hostile society or more so, in an apathetic culture? How do we escape into music from our deep embarrassment of what we did or didn’t do as a church? Where will our music come from? The low point (in a summary way) has been the stupidity in our collective imagination with the New Missal. The poetry of Liturgy was clobbered. ‘Sursum Corda’ – how are you? The ‘miracle’ of Benedict’s resignation and the Election of Francis were indicators of an explosion of the Spirit and a high point. ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ and its imaginative approach to life was indeed new music for our spirits. The loud and very clear challenge in Rome (by Francis) is important but the new way of ‘making music’ has to happen locally. This is the crunch factor.
Can we now emerge as characters of hope; with a fresh imagination; with a low moment in church life becoming an opportunity? Is this crisis, an opportunity? We can create a new language; dump the baggage of pedantry; move beyond the time-wasting discussion around contraception/abortion/second relationships/same sex marriage/limited versions of priesthood. We can escape the sexual disaster created by a ridiculous theology. We need new music. We can find it.
My last word then concerns that story from some thirty years ago: ‘What is the difference between a Liturgist and a Terrorist? ‘ ‘You can negotiate with a Terrorist!’ We all know the story but the truth in there has damaged our Church badly where the rigorists ran the business and the fundamentalists protected their fears and literalism used the Scripture for apologetics. All those who led us astray and all of us who followed such directions now need to know the need for new music. The Honduran Rodriguez Maradiga who talked about Gerhard Muller seemed to begin a new song! We need to move on from a static view of Church and life.
Terezin was very moving. We pray too in song that we can be ‘liberated’ in our Requiem from all that freezes and destroys the Joy of the Gospel in our lives.
Seamus Ahearne OSA is a member of the ACP Leadership Team. He ministers at St Oliver Plunkett Church, Rivermount, Dublin 11.

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  1. Mary O Vallely says:

    Seamus Ahearne’s writing always moves me, sometimes to tears and sometimes to joy, with its wisdom and passion. I have always loved the soul of the man BUT I fear that he will deeply upset many people by his seemingly flippant, dismissive attitude towards those issues which DO affect the lives of many, many people who have been deeply hurt by the lack of compassion shown by the official church and by many of its followers. He didn’t mean to cause any offence, of that I am quite sure, but he could clarify this perhaps.
    ” We can … move beyond the time-wasting discussion around contraception/abortion/second relationships/same sex marriage/limited versions of priesthood.”
    Of course there are other issues but these are not ‘time-wasting’ issues. They are hugely important to many. I do understand the frustration that they seem to be ALL that is important but I would ask him to be more cautious in his words.
    There now.I’m a blunt Northerner and that’s how it seems to me. Others may disagree. That’s ok!

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Music is the key. It always has been and it always will be. People would never have joined together around a book. Nor would they come together to stare at a painting for any amount of time. Now, where there is a rhythm and a chance to tell a story with meter, there you will find your gathering. Was it true that the original gospels rhymed? I write music in my spare time and mentor artists/vocalists. Here is an excerpt from a song titled “The Race” which I’ve yet to record:
    You can’t believe that this is reality
    “Have what is yours” and “I’ve got what’s mine”
    Perception’s hallucinations lack in credibility
    But they make you think second best is being behind
    But don’t and don’t give in to such sinful desire
    And deny the temptation of greed
    Think how much we’d truly aspire
    If we only took what we need
    Hold on heaven. We’ve got more than our share
    And it comes at a precious cost
    Think about showing ways you care
    And the race will be one…and not lost.
    Those defiant requiems in hostility and apathy happen around you daily. There are many artists who are swimming against the so called tide today who inspire others to do so in secret and their lyrics, unknown to so many, tell this tale.

  3. “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal … as gold is tested in the fire, so are the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.” (Ecclesiasticus 2: 1,5)
    Israel’s greatest theology arose out of exile and deprivation. Our Irish Catholic church’s humiliation arose out of its own vanity and chauvinism. We need to pray hard for the wisdom, and deep love, of those Jews who sang Requiem facing the holocaust.
    And we do need to look outward also. Again I ask the ACP and the ACI jointly to call on the ICBC to help establish a permanent forum for discussion of the application of Catholic Social Teaching to the crisis of morale and survival now being endured by so many poor Irish people who never come near this site. We will never resolve the internal problems of the church by focusing on them primarily.
    Thanks for this great piece, Seamus. I have it filed and will remember it.

  4. Con Devree says:

    I agree with Fr Aherne that we listen to, and try to follow the leadership of Pope Francis. Among other things he has moved beyond “the time-wasting discussion around contraception/abortion/second relationships/same sex marriage/limited versions of priesthood. He has declared himself “a son of the Church” and considers these issues as already dealt with. His suggested source of “music” is a call to consider the issue of pastoral approach, the poor, the love of God. I doubt if he would endorse the xenophobia, patronization and ridicule that characterized the recent comments of Rodriguez Maradiga. They do not comprise the “new song” he plans. Neither would he dance on the postulated grave of Pope Benedict.

    Pope Francis does not advocate a “requiem” of any sort, nor does he promote “defiance” save of Satan. He clearly sees Catholic life as lived in the conflict of Good and evil. As Father says “Christ is for everyone everywhere.” As a minority in western culture we are sitting on the rivers of Babylon, and must follow the directive of Jeremiah – “seek the peace and prosperity of the city”, become a creative minority, bringing the Good News, energised by the source and summit of our faith – the Mass. The Holy Spirit’s timetable in this regard is not ours.

    We do well to imitate Pope Francis at Mass. One notices his intense reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, his absorption in prayer all through, his emphasis on thanksgiving after communion, his total reliance on the missal.

    The Mass symbolically gives us the basis for hope, for our “music.” In terms of “the deep embarrassment of what we did or didn’t do as a church” which Father rightly refers to, we begin by repenting and ask the communion of saints to pray for us. Our “Sursum Corda” should not be in terms of our sins but of the faith of the Church which tells us that we are engaged in a redeeming sacrifice which unites heaven and earth, and where we pray for unity (love?)a number of times, without assuming that some Catholics are terrorists.

    We are members of a Church with unity of doctrine but with plurality of experience in terms of joy in the faith. It’s a mistake to regard this joy solely in “happy go lucky” terms. For instance in the circumstances of the sadnesses of life the joy resides in the way faith explains them and offers hope. Immanentism is not the objective.

  5. “Can music do something for us? … It started as a fund-raiser but ended up being a Community builder.” Protestants understand the value of liturgical music in building community. Nothing brings a community together as easily as singing together. Belting out a great Protestant hymn (or something like On Eagles Wings) does the trick. But in Catholic churches we have to have liturgically and seasonally correct hymns that no one wants to sing.

  6. Seamus Ahearne osa says:

    Blunt Northerner Mary: Thank you. What you say is right. The point I made (even if it is put badly) was this: We have been fixated on such issues. We ridiculed the Gospel and Christ by the energy and time (from Humanae Vitae on) wasted on talking on contraception. We were too limited in our discussion. The reality of sexual life seemed to be sidestepped. On same sex relationship – we (as official Church) distorted the discussion by being so dismissive in our certainties that such relationships ‘were intrinsically evil.’ How could we; how dare we do that. In a broader sense of Church, Faith, Gospel, Christ – all these issues will find their rightful place and be talked about with gentleness. The Church became a place and a body that was against everything. That simply is wrong. We need to move on. Francis is helping us to look around and see the scenery – the hinterland of Christ. I agree these questions don’t go away but they find a proper context. And the warmth, care, love of Christ dictates how we approach them. Seamus

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Two Sundays ago a Filipino choir here in Tokyo sang lustily words that would have graced a Eucharistic Procession in Cork 50 years ago:
    Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all,
    How can I love Thee as I ought?
    And how revere this wond’rous gift,
    So far surpassing hope or thought.
    Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore.
    O make us love Thee more and more!
    O make us love Thee more and more!
    Had I but Mary’s sinless heart,
    To love Thee with, my dearest King;
    O with what bursts of fervent praise,
    Thy goodness, Jesus, would I sing!
    Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore.
    O make us love Thee more and more!
    O make us love Thee more and more!
    Of course Faber was an Anglican, and they have a treasury of the most beautiful hymns — “Come down, O love divine”, “My song is love unknown” “Christ is made the sure foundation”, for example.

  8. Seamus, once a person has committed to following Jesus totally, such arguments about contraception and other sexual issues become, in a sense, irrelevant, because the person has no desire for such things; their one desire is Christ. Until then, the Church has to point out to Her children the right path, to guide and lead them. The doctrine illuminates the way. The markers about homosexual acts, about stealing, about adultery, lying, these are warning signs, markers that say, ”Don’t go there!” or ”Shipwreck ahead!” Once we are on the true path of love, we are free from these directives because they point at thing for which we have no desire. This is the path of mystical Catholicism.

  9. Seamus, thank you for a great article. I know that neither you or any other subscriber was trying in any way to demean or put down any catholic teaching. It is just a case of finding the right balance and we have not had that in recent times . Pope Francis has helped us to begin to have hope again. We have become in so many ways a hope-less people. Jesus always gave people hope no matter how serious their fall from grace might have been. Again thank you for giving us renewed hope

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    I would advise any husband who would say to his wife, “my one desire is Christ”, to remember Augustine, who said we should enjoy or take delight in God alone (frui) but who was careful to add that we should enjoy and take delight in our neighbour in God. Actually one of the cruelties of church teaching on contraception is that women were bullied in the confessional about not refusing their marital duty while men were simultaneously bullied about coitus interruptus (in pre-pill and pre-condom Ireland). The resultant unhappiness was to be “offered up” to the Lord. Remember John Paul II’s speechwriter, Caarlo Caffarra, now Archbishop of Bologna, who urged women married to HIV-positive men that they should not refuse their marital duty, nor should they have recourse to prophylactics, but rather they should trust in Providence. Intransigence gives great moral satisfaction to clerical pharisees, but takes its toll on the defenceless.

  11. Mgr. Caffarra, who was referred to as Pope John Paul II’s personal theologian, initially thought and stated that where one partner in a marriage was HIV-positive, they should live as brother and sister. Then he had a wee think to himself and decided that this could lead to infidelity and so he then settled on the position that Joe explains @10. For a long while he disappeared off my radar and I thought we were all safe. Then, to my horror, he reappeared as the Archbishop of Bologna. I wonder what does he think of Francis.

  12. Patrick Conway says:

    Con Devree@4
    Óscar Maradiaga’s reference to Gerhard Mueller bears no resemblance to any of the disparaging epithets you select. It’s a reflection of the openness and transparency promoted by our Holy Father Francis that the assertion of a different point of view from that of the head of the CDF is not only possible but desirable if consensus is to be achieved. The language of defiance is inappropriate when speaking about an adult conversation.
    The meme of preferring to become a minority is also jaded and not in keeping with Francis’ push towards the margins.

  13. Con Devree says:

    We have been fixated on such issues.”
    One assumes that the “we” in this instance refers to those members of the Church who most often make reference to “such issues.

    “In a broader sense of Church, Faith, Gospel, Christ – all these issues will find their rightful place and be talked about with gentleness.” Father’s reminder of gentleness is important.

    This “talking about” has been up and going in sections of the Catholic Community seeking to be faithful to Catholic teaching (not always with gentleness!) for some time. This has included “reality of sexual life.” It has given rise to some lay ministries. Examples can be found on the internet.

    Pope Francis is not going to change Church teaching and faces the same problem as his predecessors in communicating the teaching. Take the following from Laurie Penny in New Statesman:

    “The Pope’s beliefs about abortion will become relevant the day the Pope becomes pregnant.”

    And again: “He once said that gay people might not be so bad, and the whole internet went wild, despite the fact that he does not support equal marriage and finds the notion of gay adoption “shocking”. Pope Francis hugs the sick. Pope Francis takes selfies with schoolchildren and manages not to look at all creepy.”

    And again: “Oh, Pope Francis. He was doing so well. For almost a year, liberals all over the world allowed themselves to believe that this Pope was different, that this Pope was more interested in the loving-each-other aspects of Christianity than in stigmatising contraception and shaming homosexuals.”

    And again: “Say what you like about the last guy, but at least he didn’t pretend to be progressive. Right now, I find myself actually missing Benedict XVI, with his snazzy red shoes and squinty evil grin. If you’re going to be Pope, you might as well do it properly. If you’ve waited your whole life to be despotic commander with millions of followers, you should at least enjoy yourself.”

    And finally: “...whatever else the Pope is, he is still the head of the Catholic Church. In other news, bears – despite a massive global rebranding effort – still shit in the woods.”

    Pope Francis needs our help in getting his essential message across. It is not wise rely on the secular media in this regard or as our source; their adulation to date has often been more concerned with shafting his predecessor. We have to focus on what his essential message is to be of any help to him.

  14. Peter Shore says:

    Con Devree @13, well said. One can only smile at the misinterpretations of Francis that abound in the media. Unfortunately, it turns to nervous laughter when confronted with similar misinterpretations within our own Church. Pope Francis has not changed, and will not change, an iota of the “ridiculous theology” that Seamus Ahearne blithely refers to. How could he? He’s the Pope! And as much as bears still sh*t in the woods, the Pope is still a Catholic.
    As for the “time wasting discussion” … it’s odd — after twenty years of being a “relapsed Catholic”, I have never, not one single time, heard a priest give a sermon on those topics, or try to acquaint a congregation with the relevant teaching of the Church. It’s been an exercise in self-education and going around the clergy to get to the truth and beauty of Catholic teaching. It shouldn’t have been that way. It seems to me the so-called pedantry has been reserved for those perennial dissenters who need constant reminding that these matters have been decided for once and for all.
    Francis, thank God, has decided he has better things to do than continue to scold the hard of hearing, and has moved on. Hopefully we all agree that his focus on the joys of the gospel is indeed welcome (although I saw no lack of that in his predecessors).

  15. Con Devree says:

    My apologies for occupying space here again.
    To Patrick Conway, 12
    Prior to making his comments, Cardinal Maradiaga had no conversation with Archbishop Meuller.

    Cardinal Maradiaga’s reply to the question asked is a personal criticism of Archbishop Meuller and is almost totally ad hominem – Meuller is a “German”, above all “a German theologian,” “so in his mentality there’s only truth and falsehood.”

    Cardinal Maradiaga then makes what would be a reasonable comment on openness if it had not been couched in a patronising fashion. His subsequent comment includes “I believe he will get there, to understand other views” and “now he is just at the beginning.”

    The statement “Until now we have not spoken to each other” is a truly astonishing admission. It would be one thing to offer such a highly critical commentary on another person’s thought after long interaction and discussion with that person, giving one the opportunity to thoroughly understand how the other person thinks and where he is coming from. But Archbishop Meuller in his article was merely setting out the Church’s teaching on marriage, not decreeing the outcome of the upcoming Synod.

    It’s even questionable how much of a difference there is between his view on marriage and that outlined by Archbishop Muller. Cardinal Maradiaga goes on to say that:

    “The Church is bound by the commandments of God.” That Christ says about marriage: What God has joined together, man must not divide.” That “This word is clear.”

    Cardinal Maradiaga then addressed the question from a pastoral point of view, a view not unlike that expressed once by Pope Benedict. “But there are many approaches to interpret it.” “After the failure of a marriage, for example, we can ask: Were the spouses really connected to God? [i.e., in a valid marriage?]” “Well, there is still much room for a deeper insight.”

    He then reverts to doctrine: “But it will not go in the direction that [says] what is black today will tomorrow be white.”
    It is quite possible that Archbishop Meuller shares the Cardinal’s pastoral views.

    In the secular world Cardinal Maradiaga’s approach would be termed “megaphone diolomacy.” Pope Francis would hardly approve.

    In terms the issue of minority, I do not “prefer becoming a minority.” We already are one. In the western world Catholicism is in a well advanced stage of marginalisation. Far from being jaded I believe that God always gives us the grace to engage in vigorous evangelisation under the guidance of the Church. Pope Francis is telling us this in no uncertain fashion.

  16. Con Devree says:

    Patrick Conway 16
    Patrick, I am interested in what part(s) of “An Essay in the Development of Christian Doctrine” bears out the point you are making. The essay is but one theory of development among others (Aquinas, Suarez) and he was looking over his shoulder at Anglicanism. (All the quotations below are from The Essay)

    Blessed John Henry states that “after the Ascension it is impossible “to fix an historical point at which the growth of doctrine ceased, and the rule of faith was once for all settled”, or to find “one doctrine … which starts complete at first, and gains nothing afterwards from the investigations of faith and the attacks of heresy.”

    This distinguishes between the development of Church teaching in general, and the formulation of a particular teaching such as that on matrimony. The Essay emphasises, among other things, that the development of any doctrine must be in line with the overall teaching of the Church.

    In terms of any one doctrine I think that it is possible to apply Newman’s “process of development” to prophetic Revelation in the Bible to the development of one doctrine. “It is not that first one truth is told at once, then another [different truth]; but the whole truth or large portions of it are told at once, yet only in rudiments, or in miniature, and they are expanded or finished in their parts, and the course of revelation (development) proceeds.”

    Over history, this development has been “wrought and carried through under the fiercest controversies and amid the most fearful perils.” But “Doctrine was where it was … there may be changes, but they are consolidations or adaptations; all is unequivocal and determinate, with an identity which there is no disputing.”

    In relation to the “gains” in doctrine in a particular teaching, Blessed John Henry states (I think) that “a revelation is not given, if there is no authority to decide what it is that is given; ”that “a supreme authority” is necessary. “Without an infallible chair” the only possible unity is “a comprehension of opinions” such as the “hollow uniformity” of a [church I will not mention].

    I suggest that the above is a basis for saying that Pope Francis is not going to change Church teaching on marriage. I think that throughout the Essay, Blessed John Henry opposes the view that Christianity is ever in flux and accommodates itself to the times. My guess is that the synod will address the concerns of divorces couples in second marriages with a view to appropriate pastoral care provision.

  17. Peter Shore says:

    @17… Fr. Masia’s topics of family, marriage, abortion, and homosexual practise don’t strike one as “minutiae of sex”. They are the grand sweep of ethical issues in human relationships that face us today. It’s also no small matter that Fr. Masia seems to want to turn much of Church teaching on these issues on its head.

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