Come Dancing with Grand Designs
No country for old men:
A week away. A week back. The Algarve was most refreshing. Back at base, meant much catching up. Why was I so tired? Surely, I should be bursting with energy. The warmth of the Algarve ensured that I couldn’t cope with the cold of Finglas. The only solution is that I can Summer in Ireland only. I need warmth.
I found myself doing something in a week that I wouldn’t normally do in months. I watched three TV programmes. Grand Designs. Celebrity Master Chef. Strictly Come Dancing.
It could be called the great escape. I wanted to wrap myself up in nonsense. It did help. I even recommend it. But not too often.
The written word:
Our occasional Parish Newsletter (dropped into every house) went out this weekend. Our usual Bulletin was published. I was even accused of fake news in some of those papers which is surely impossible. I only added a little colour and availed of poetic licence for a drop of amusement. I haven’t consulted with my fingers on what they did, but I do not take any responsibility for whatever they have written. They have a mind of their own. And they are free to do what they like.
I wonder now. Do people read at all? Is everything reduced to texting or twittering like Trump? Are we foolish writing a Newsletter or even a Bulletin? Is it a waste of time, paper and effort? Putting a Newsletter through every door amuses me especially when many letter boxes state NO JUNK MAIL!
Is it a bit of luxury on our part to publish a Bulletin each week? Does it make us feel that we are actually doing something? I look across the published press and ask how does The Irish Catholic keep going? It clearly writes for its specific readership. It does try to expand its contents. Does it really feed the hungry at present and deal with the new Ireland of faith?
I look at The Furrow and Doctrine and Life and am unsure about many of the articles. Some are much too long and even turgid. I then read The Tablet. It maintains a consistently high standard. The quality of writing as well as the content is quite incredible. How I wish that we could produce something similar in Ireland. Are the Catholic population reading or do they really believe that there is any need to read? Is God/Faith expected to be as easy as breathing with no necessity of doing anything more?
I reflect on my changing self. I love the music of language. But increasingly, I find it difficult to spend time reading. The discipline and concentration is gone. I don’t believe Francis’ suggestion that snappy little Homilies will help to reach the depths necessary towards an adult faith at present. His own words in Ireland were somewhat bland.
How do we go about facing today’s reality? Robust, rigorous, faith-discovery is essential. We can’t go on as we are. Most of us grew up in a Catholic Culture. In some ways that didn’t need much attention or didn’t demand critical questioning. That Culture has carried us through. Many of us as priests have lived off the scraps from our past and our daily reflections with people (if we are alive and learning). Reading isn’t part of our daily diet. Priests together aren’t too good at deep exploration. (Augustine saw Communities of Religious as places where everyone searches for God together – I don’t think we have been great at that). The educated ones (among the whole body of professionals in Religion) have done very little in this regard for the faith of our country. So what now?
We (priests and everyone else) have been intellectually lazy. It has been too much a cultural /tribal religion where we didn’t have to step out and think. It was passive. The priests lived off an investment from the past whose dividends has now dried up. Serious reading wasn’t (isn’t) done. Upgrading wasn’t normal or understood to be needed. The ‘intellectuals’ among us haven’t been too obvious in their productivity. Or else they have just lingered in their ivory towers and flirted with pedantry.
If only the practitioners put their minds together and began to share on the Faith that they live and meet; how much better we might all be. Now that we are living in a different Culture which finds Religion unnecessary and irrelevant; we have a real opportunity to rebuild a collapsing structure. Our Faith has to be intelligent; critical and bold. We cannot rest on the easy assumptions of our past. It is a new era and an exciting challenge. God doesn’t have to be protected. We have to be fearless. It is definitely a challenging time for ‘fides quaerens intellectum.‘
I dreamed a dream:
I return to my TV. Grand Designs shows people with a dream; a vision; an ability to follow through on the dream. (Reminds me of Suenans – ‘dream dreams and be willing to pay the price to make those dreams come true.) If only we too could build a new future and a new Church with something akin to the Grand Designs.
Celebrity Master Chef is contrived, edited, and too neat. However even Martin Bayfield (former rugby player) who is a formidable mountain of a man, carefully and colourfully prepares the food. It is impressive. I always enthuse over people who have a go. At Food. At Building. At Dreaming. At Trying out something new. At Surprising themselves.
I then come to Strictly Come Dancing. I know nothing about dancing. But I love watching the incredible movements of the dancers. The learning. The humility to be foolish. The artistry. The Judges too are part of the drama. (They perform from their seats!) I wonder if we had a Panel (in our business) who scrutinized what we do or don’t do! It is the wonder of what the ‘amateur’ dancers do, that really delights me. The subtle details and all the ‘darling stuff’ I find offputting. They all ‘love everyone.’ They are all ‘amazing.’ It is ‘the best experience of my life.’ All that is hyperbole.
In my frivolous mood, I wish that we as Church people might learn from the three Shows and be motivated to do something very new. We need a Grand Design. We need creativity and imagination to produce new Churches (not the buildings), new Parishes and new ways of being Dioceses. We need experiments. We need a new structure. We need to think outside the box. We need dreamers. We need visionaries. If only all were prophets! If only. In regard to Master Chef– we put on a Meal. (Our Mass). We cook daily and weekly. It has become stylised. We forget the food as we are caught up in words and Rituals.
The Eucharist. Is a Table of Food where the best ability in all of us, is ‘exploited’ to prepare the Feast. And then we have Strictly. If we aren’t distracted by the extremes of Dancing perfection; our Liturgy should be a Dance Floor where we bring each other to the limits of our abilities; where we find new ways of expressing ourselves; of celebrating who we are; where we make music in the most outrageous and exciting way.
Liturgy has to reach the very depths and the very heights of humanity. The stylized version imposed by the Roman plodders is sacrilegious. We cry out for poets and dancers and cooks and musicians and dreamers to create a new world of faith among us. I presume you can understand. I have suffered a total brain-freeze since I came back. I will emigrate.
Seamus Ahearne osa
I thoroughly enjoy every one of your articles, they brighten my day.
Please don’t emigrate, Seamus, expect, perhaps, to Scotland. Now that would please a lot of people in your previous parishes in Dundee and Edinburgh.
I sense, as I read at least some of your articles, that you must wonder what does the future hold for our church and the Christian faith in general in Ireland as, I suppose, most of us do. Perhaps we may soon have to accept that religious Ireland is, nearly, dead and, almost, gone and may soon be with O’Leary in the grave.