‘Don’t let life get you down’
On Health and Safety ground; don’t come here (Rivermount, Finglas) for Mass in the mornings. This was my greeting on Friday morning: ‘I’ll break your neck. I will kill you stone dead.’ She also called another poor lady: ‘An old cow.’ The antagonist was 85. She is as tough as old leather and has a rapier tongue. This woman is always in good humour which is just as well. At Mass, she doused all of us, in holiness and shared the most edifying thoughts after this onslaught! I went later to a lady who is almost house-bound. I happened to praise her saintly husband and was attacked with a barrage of words. I can’t repeat them (I would be censored!) She swung several sledge- hammers of swears at me. This was the same woman who said to me that she had given up swearing for Lent and within days of Ash Wednesday, spewed out swears all over me. She was adamant that I was the cause of her lapse. Life is difficult. I was remembering Don Camilo and Peppone. Did the Don ever have to put up with what is my lot?
Touched by death:
Killing me stone dead, was rather apt. We were swamped in dying last week. Three funerals in the Parish. Two more went to other parishes. One went direct to the Crematorium without any need for a Religious Service. Those who came here – included Maggie who was 101, Mickaela who was 42 and Rose who was 77. While this was happening, Kevin Lowry was dying in Blackpool. (Friend/fellow priest and my fan base among Augustinian-related-priests, is halved on the website!). Young Mickaela left three children who were being reared by grandmother Ann. It was a tragedy and drugs had done their damage. There was almost relief in Mickaela’s death. (I had also buried her partner Joe some years ago. That poor mother Ann has put up with so much.
I don’t know how homes and families can ever cope. Sloppy, simplistic and soulful words from a Ritual wouldn’t reach the depths. Maggie carried her own story. We had orders about everything over the years and her history coincided with the happenings from 1916 in the country here. Rose had spent the last 27 years in a wheelchair and had reached the stage when she couldn’t even put a cup to her lips; brush her hair; or rub her face. The welcome into the heart of the families was humbling.
The rawness and wonder of life:
Kevin was an Augustinian priest for years and then joined the Diocese of Lancaster. He left us and was then followed by an Augustinian Bishop Greg Campbell osa. I spoke at his 40th anniversary of priesthood in Hoxton (east end of London). Kevin’s father Tom (95) and sister Anne sat his bedside thinking of his funeral and waiting for matching recipients for organ donation. His mother Shelagh died a short time ago. She was a beautiful woman and a saint. We are well touched by death. We are still lost for words. We also know that we are privileged and graced in the intimacy of such moments. Those who are suffocated by certainties (Dubia/filial corrections) must never have been thrown into the chaos of life, death, especially with the unchurched. And now Eileen has died. She too was a wonderful lady with such a smile. She had dreamt that she was dead some weeks ago and I even featured in that dream. Somehow death and ourselves is often associated.
Is the Church moribund?
The church (as we know it) may be moribund – as Mark Patrick suggests and Joe McDonald. But there is more to our life that dying. I want the fun of a Don Camillo. If we can’t make noise, nonsense and laughter; we aren’t ministering. There is too much gloom and doom. I liked this summary for the weekend (Me oul’ segosha, surely is what God says as s(h)e sings to us. And then asks – what have you done with my world? Is there anything else s(h) could have done for us? ) Let’s make mischief and fun. If Religion is dour and dull; it can’t be Christ-like. We have to be bigger than the dreariness of the media. We however can be drained by our daily involvement in death and being with the bereaved. There has to be a serious commitment to searching for the treasures of liveliness and humour and laughter. Otherwise ministry will become too sombre.
The Local Schools:
In the midst of this, we called together our Primary School teachers (annual service). We prayed and sang. We then had the handing- over- the- keys from the Retiring Principals to the New Principals. Members of the Parish Team anointed the New Principals. We were so blessed in gathering all the founding Principals of our schools to then speak of their lives among us. They were inspirational. They anointed the New Teachers to our schools. It was quite overwhelming to get Jim O Shaughnessy, Conor McCarthy, Mary Conroy and Helen Burns back among us. We waved goodbye in gratitude to Helen Coleman and Fergus Hamill. We welcomed Maria O Connell and Eoin Dolan (New Principals). The chat, the banter and the teasing was so good. Lots of slagging went on. The commitment to the children and the care of some very deprived children, was touching and special. I am sure that the New Teachers now know what the Culture in our Schools, has to be and is.
Are our Schools, Catholic? They are in name. Do the children or their parents attend church? No. But the caring, loving, hilarity and sheer vocational aspect of school life, is wonderful. The Parish Community and ourselves and the Teaching Communities thrive together. Is this ‘control’? Is this what ‘patronage’ means? We know that what we have here, is very precious. We don’t have to get too uptight on the definition of Catholic. God does happen in a very broad church.
The Augustinian Pope:
Throughout this routine of life in which there is always more to do, than can ever be done; our Boss man from Rome arrived. Alejandro Moral came with his German assistant Franz Klein. Ordinary life was already too packed to give him time. The Parish Team came to the rescue. Rita Fernandez was able to splatter Spanish all over him and he was very happy. She had asked me before she came – what was the dress code. I had to tell her that dress was optional! Ann, Mick and Dominic appeared. They ran to the neighbours for some Guinness! There was a slice of bread and a little cheese available. We had eventually to hunt the lot of them home. We had work to do. The General was described by Rita as a ‘dote.’ I doubt if he was ever described like that before. It was important for us to hear of the world wide experience of the Church elsewhere and the Augustinians. The West can often think and behave as if the world only exists among us. Alejandro then went to Limerick to celebrate the 500 anniversary of our most illustrious member – Martin Luther.
The beauty of Autumn:
Much as the cold and the dark (of this time of year) gets to my old body; the last dance of nature (autumn) creates a music of beauty that enthrals. It shouts at me and my soul wakes up. It is as if, the world of nature says: ‘Don’t take me for granted. Look at me. Admire me. Enjoy me. I am now going for a sleep. Don’t forget how lovely I am. I too am gift and grace.’ We need to feast the eyes of our hearts, on the beautiful grand finale of nature. The colours are outrageous. The nakedness of winter is stark. We will miss the peacock-preening of nature. I was reading last week too of Renoir. He was accused of being an aesthetic terrorist. The word ‘Impressionists’ was an insult. His painting and their painting (Impressionists) were scorned as being unfinished. It was as if they were incapable of completing the brush strokes properly. The brush strokes of nature are also hints and whispers of life. They scatter the colours carelessly. They ask us to notice them and not to forget them. But maybe like nature and autumn, we need to throw around the unruly and incomplete brush strokes in our ministry. The unfinished days; the little celebrations; the Godliness of daily life; the laugher among us; the colours that we cannot take for granted. Possibly nature is talking to us. We too can be so serious (so immersed in the quicksand of problems). What are we doing to God’s world? Is that love song wasted on us? What else could God do for us? Don’t we notice anything or do we just shuffle along feeling sorry for ourselves? Some commentaries would almost drive anyone to look for coffins/undertakers for our ministry. The Church-world is not like the one we think we remember from the past. Today is today and the incarnation goes on.
Flourishing at 90:
Gabriel Daly (osa theologian) will be 90 on 18th November. He was asked to write an article for The Tablet around that birthday. I have seen three drafts of that article. He amazes me with his continuing enthusiasm and optimism. He makes his points. He has his criticism but there is such joy in his work; such attention to detail and such a willingness to listen to comments. Like nature at Autumn – he too splashes his colours around. Despite the effort to write every word, on his keyboard, with rather unresponsive fingers; he chisels out every word and every sentence like a poetic artist. I am sure God is dancing with delight and singing about him. But he definitely doesn’t want up there yet; he would be too argumentative. God is still singing to us in Gabriel; in the daily visits around a parish; in the nonsense as Mass is shared; in our schools; in the chatter of nature; in the wonderful honesty and privileged welcome into homes. We are very blessed. Me oul’ segosha. God can still say to us.
Seamus Ahearne osa
‘Don’t let life get you down’