Fr Enda Lyons, like so many of his generation, has watched (for many years and with great sadness) the darkness at the heart of Catholic Ireland being gradually and painfully opened up to the light.
Part of the sadness is that the divinely-inspired antidote to that darkness and the tyranny that accompanied it was the light and promise offered by the Second Vatican Council.
At the close of the Vatican Council the Irish Catholic was in pole position to put flesh on the great insights of the Council and to build at local parish level a new church that would engage with a changing world.
But it was not to be.
There was a failure of imagination on a grand scale; there was a failure to trust the divinely-inspired wisdom of the Council; and there was a failure to facilitate the development of other voices which would bring a freshness, an open-ness and a richness to a new Church.
We’ve paid a huge price for the failures of bishops and to trust the spirit and the impetus of the Second Vatican Council.
It might have been so very different.
If, instead of shuffling people like Enda Lyons to the sidelines of church life, we had trusted in his ability to translate the truths of Vatican Two into meaningful programmes for bringing our Church into the twentieth century and beyond,
if we had noted his ability to articulate the possibilities of a changing parish in a changing world,
if we had appreciated his insight and intelligence and his facility for engaging with issues outside the narrow focus of confessional Catholicism,
if, instead of all that, if Enda’s theology and the spirit of Vatican Two had been at the heart of the Church for the last 50-plus years, how different things might have been.
How we might have learned to name so many uncomfortable truths! And how our church might have been better served if we had spoken the truth and faced down the demons of the past, if like Enda we had the strength and the courage to speak truth to power.
Enda had that strength and that courage. He wasn’t worried if he found himself banished to the margins because he believed, because he was convinced of what seemed the central and compelling resonance of his life, a sense of God’s presence with him in the beauty of nature, in the vulnerable and the fragile, in the broken and the wounded, in those to whom Jesus was especially attentive and those whom Pope Francis tells us should be our special care.
How Enda must have enjoyed the unexpected gift of the warmth and humanity that Pope Francis is to our Church.
In Enda’s book, Partnership in Parish, he proposed what could have become a template for empowering our people in the kind of synodal Church that, decades later, Pope Francis is now proposing. In that book Enda famously carried the flag of a different kind of church and kept that flag flying to the end of his life.
When the history of the last 50 years is written and when a question is posed about what loyalty to Gospel and Church actually meant during the last half century, the verdict of history will place it all in due perspective. One honest voice, as with Enda Lyons, calling out an unpalatable truth may serve the Church a thousand times better than the silent many who accept the status quo in a spirit of unquestioning loyalty.
In the desert of the last half century, there were exceptional voices, like that of Enda Lyons, prophets in their own land who were prepared to name the truth as they saw it, individuals who had the personal freedom not to be dissuaded from speaking the truth even when ecclesiastical preference might have been dangled before them.
Many subjected themselves to a kind of self-imposed exile from the centre of their own Church and Enda Lyons is but one of a long and honourable tradition of honourable people who were prepared to pay that price.
A quiet, gracious, respectful and dignified presence in Tuam diocese and in the wider Irish Church, Enda Lyons gave his life working for the Church he loved, gaining strength and courage from his conviction that the way forward was in implementing the vision of the Second Vatican Council, not least in using the gifts of all the baptized to build a new partnership in parishes.
What he may not have realized is that, in the many courses over the years that opened up the richness of the Council, he helped so many others to find a voice too.
On this day of his burial among the baptised in the people’s cemetery in his native parish of Ballyhaunis, so many of us have reason to be grateful for the prophetic voice of Fr Enda Lyons.
May his gentle soul rest in peace.
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