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Has Faith any chance in a tabloid culture?

Candice was the winner.
You must be rather pleased to know that. The Bake Off provoked outrage. It was migrating to Channel 4. How could the BBC survive without it? Millions watched the final, I believe.
Am I totally out of touch? I can’t understand the fuss. Baking and cooking is important but if that important – what hope have I with enfleshing the Gospel if I am out of kilter with the culture?
I frequently have visitors on a Sunday to the house. They use the house as a half-way drop-in- centre for long term prisoners to meet up with their families. I become homeless for the day or almost. I do call in for a chat and then go wandering. I smile afterwards when the papers of the day are left behind. There is enough Sunday reading to keep me going for a week. If the Tabloids can be called that. Once more I am lost. It is sex, crime and football. The diet sounds like fast food. It can’t be great as a healthy diet. Am I a snob or is that mainstream culture now? If it is; how could the demands of religion with their deep questions and challenges enter the mind-set of today?
We had the three- weekend- count at Masses recently. The numbers were shocking if that is possible for me. If I analysed the attendance – I would conclude that Mass or Religion is irrelevant in our parish area. We are very old and dying out. The only crowds that turn up are for a Month’s mind; or a first anniversary. We put on a good show for these occasions because that is when people come. And we do well for Funerals. As the refrain goes from the attendees: ’if it was like that every week, we would be always here.’ (But it is and you aren’t). Come November 2nd – every space in the Church will be filled and the sense of memory and sense of support is tangible. Otherwise. It is the Funeral of the parish, church and priesthood, we are planning.
Kieran O Mahoney osa (Scripture man in Dublin) has been coming to us for some years and taking us into the hidden secrets of Scripture. We have c60 coming along (each week) to drink in the delights. He is a wonderful presenter, totally relaxed and so respectful in dealing with every query. It is a rich diet and we are surprised that so many are capable of adjusting their mental palates to taste the delicacies.
However, I am too sensitive to throw a spanner into the feast. I want to say that the Big Meal diet of three Readings at Mass is overfeed. Much as I love the Scriptures, I think our Liturgy is distorted. It can’t carry the weight – of words, words, words. The New Missal is and was stupid. No one had the gumption to shout out about the emperor! The pompous and ponderous language is without grace. However, as Irish people we need to leave our passive past (in Religion) to integrate quietness, movement, song and dance. None of our little minds can breathe if we are battered by words, collections and nonsense. The psychological aspect of Liturgy is neglected. The Sacred Space of the Burning Bush or Jacob waking up and realising that ‘God is in this place and I never knew it’ matters. The outside culture and the God- world has to marry. Some kind of artistry and poetry has to touch the soul for us to catch the ‘transcendence’ and the ‘immanence.’ If our culture is light or even superficial – then how can the spark plug work?
I was reading Paddy Sweeney’s article in The Furrow (October) and I was thinking. Paddy does an excellent job in his work and he describes it well in the article. He emphasises frequently that the business of looking out for our priests is a serious need. He notes that the focus cannot be on the people with ‘problems’ but rather with the ordinary ‘wear and tear’ of priestly work and life.
It is a lonely profession, an ageing profession, an overworked profession. It is often caricatured in our present day culture. How do we look out for each other?
The world around us hardly ever stops to think of the major contribution the Church has made in creating a world of care for generations. Even if some will say that the State institutions can never do what the personal caring Church did in the past. It is true still but it often not noticed or acknowledged. In a culture of entitlement; ‘thank you’ is not too often heard.
If that’ thank you’ is not felt or said how is it possible for people to bother with God or with Eucharist? In the new world too, we are overwhelmed with bureaucracy. Even in the Safeguarding; anyone would wonder if the ‘safeguarding of a child’ gets lost in the paper work with standards and protocols. Our poor bishops need to work with their priests and listen to the experiences of their priests but most times they are so busy with administration that they miss out on the connection with the priests. On the Council of priests – it is probably true that bishops speak more than listen.   How can they learn if they don’t listen?
I was thinking more of priesthood and myself (after speaking at the Ruby celebrations for colleagues). I will be 70 in a few weeks time. The hinges of the body scream a little. But what I am aware of more clearly are some indicators of that age in myself. The house has become more cluttered- it doesn’t get tidied as much as it should. I never seem to get around to all that needs doing in the parish. I see what isn’t done and what should be done. My reading is much less, I don’t do it. My fingers won’t think or write. Sometimes I can’t even concentrate on a newspaper. The danger is that the rollercoaster of everyday demands can create a runaway superficiality which is akin to the culture of our age. Even at night, I feel too tired to deal with phone calls or the demands of e-mails. I am blessed in having a Religious community around me which means that we rotate between our Churches every day. I think of the poor man who is faced by the same people day after day and the community who looks at the same man every day. It is easier for us but still not easy!
In our profession we are forever giving. We are presenting. We are preparing. We are talking. We are listening. We are writing. We are phoning or answering. How can we deal with the next crisis? The next death? The next family disaster? The next school issue? The next letter from the diocese to fill in something? The next knock at the door? The next meeting? How do we manage not to overload the volunteers? But the coordinator of everything – What happens to him? Who minds the giver? Who feeds the hungry one? Where is our own prayer as we lead others in Prayer? Paddy Sweeney is deeply concerned about the overload on our priests and even the weight of knowing that the world we love and look after is fading away. What is our Eucharist? Indeed who heals the healer? Who cares for the carer?   As John Healy said: No One Shouted Stop!
Last weekend we had 9 anniversaries at one Mass; two were First anniversaries. We had our Harvest Thanksgiving. We were due to have Mission weekend. How can we juggle all of that together without killing the Liturgy? And yet somehow in the midst of all of this – people shared magnificently.
I conclude with this thought. Eucharist invites people into wonder. Harvest is a magnificent time to be Eucharistic. ‘For what and to whom are we are grateful?’ How can we coax, cajole, invite all of us into gratitude – into the Magnificat? In this world today – how can our Religion/our Liturgy/handle the questions that matter? Have people got the time or the energy or can they (or we) be bothered to move beyond the superficial to become aware of Godliness and grace? How can a tiring priesthood be pioneers of a new way of sensitising hearts, minds and imaginations? In a world devoted to celebrity culture and to tabloids and to Bake offs and to cheap politics – what hope is there for faith?   Brexit and Trump are extremes of the crudity of our culture but they do infect us. Give me poetry. Give me art. Give me music. Give me the privileged half-door into the hearts of people. Give me God. May the colours of autumn stir our souls.

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10 Comments

  1. Writing in The Furrow, in January 2014, Fr Aidan Ryan gave a very thoughtful reflection on The Last Monk of Clonmacnois.
    I quote two brief extracts from his article
    “…..I think about what it must have been like during those centuries of decline. What it was like at the very end, and the last monks of Clonmacnois lived out their days among the decaying ruins. In particular, I wonder about the last monk of Clonmacnois, the man who said the last Mass there, and blew out the last candle. What would it be like to meet him and speak with him? …”
    and
    “… What was it like for him to live at the very end of an era? How did he feel about the decay and decline all around him? Was it difficult for him to see the very end of Clonmacnois as a living community of faith? Above all I would like to ask him what sustained him in that end-of-an-era time.”
    In the light of this reflection by Seamus, I would urge you to read the whole of Fr Aiden’s article. Both have a story to tell.

  2. Angela Williams says:

    I retired last year and I live in Wales. My parish is much as yours sounds and I am sure my Parish Priest feels as you do. We are all worried about the future, especially as we seem to be less able to influence it.
    I remember well having constant demands on my time, I would say that the only thing worse than being needed too much is not to be needed at all, something many older people experience.
    When I am feeling really out of touch with today’s culture I look at my wonderful, caring, inspiring grandchildren. They go to church, but not every week; they go to a Catholic school, but few of their friends ever go to church. They raise money for good causes, they try to be kind to everyone, and they are always helpful. I have to believe that, “all will be well”, but it may not be in a way I would recognise

  3. hanging in says:

    Yes, yes, yes, three readings …..too heavy a diet. Ever heard of the Plain English body….NALA (Adult Literacy) wonder this body could make sense of the language of the Missal? We need simple English translation…and of course poetry, art and music to nourish our souls.

  4. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Here is a suggestion Seamus : are priests paid via automated payroll system? If so, taking a 7 year pledge would mean a lot. 7 years to collectively create something bigger than what we have seen. If 100,000 priests decided that they were going to become an angel investor in an entity that directed funds towards the 2 largest plights of our time, in 7 years, I believe you could eradicate world hunger issues and usher in an eco-revolution the world has not seen. 300,000 priests redirecting the Vatican’s purse at $50/month over the course of 7 years would create a billion dollar organisation and one that isn’t in such public disarray as the Roman Catholic Church. Show them Godliness and grace and they will move beyond the superficial. This would be enough money to start a “family farm” program in South Africa where 82% of the arable land titles belong to European families.
    “It is estimated that a family of 4 can be made self sufficient for about $300 (USD) -the cost of an Ox, a few hectares of land, and starter seeds. Historically such programs have been few and far between, with much foreign aid being concentrated on the raising of cash crops and large plantations rather than family farms.” from Wikipedia.
    This would require great courage and faith and a dozen or so priests ready to lead the charge and recruit. I know the ACP has assembled to focus on issues mainly within the Roman Catholic Church but wouldn’t it be grand if something larger were to emerge from this association?
    Would something like this bring hope for your faith?

  5. It’s all sensory and information overload. They are incapable of sitting still and hearing the still quiet voice. Mental health is poor. Anxiety reaches record levels. They are thrown from pillar to post, chase every shallow dream, constantly try to out do the person next to them. It is the day of the extreme extrovert, the monstrous ego imposing their noise and chaos on their quieter neighbours. Even in a church if you want to just listen during the service- you are anti-social. I have been told by a church goer that “Catholics are not allowed to meditate or read theology”…I am weird. They constantly harrass the priest with problems that could easily be solved by themselves if they just sat still in silence for a few minutes.

  6. John Dwyer KIrwin says:

    AMEN Seamus, AMEN. Every once in a while we need to say NO! No to 3 readings, no to that translation, no to all the extras which have crept into the Eucharist. Sometimes we can’t even find the Bread and the Wine, no one is being nourished.
    Thanks for taking the time to say it so well and pleadingly.

  7. Mary Vallely says:

    Once again Seamus has given us a feast of nourishment for our souls. ‘Wonder’ and ‘gratitude.’ So much on which to ponder, to reflect. He paints a picture of the life of an ageing priest and I am reminded of one of those old Dutch interior paintings, not pretty, but bustling and grubby and quirky with unexpected humour and sadness but amazingly ALIVE! There is a sadness in the portrait that he paints, a melancholy, a yearning for things to be better but the exercise of penning this portrait of a priest’s life is a starting point in getting the rest of us to move from lethargy to a greater awareness of that wonder and gratitude which permeate his description. Thank you, Seamus.

  8. Sandra Mc Sheaffrey says:

    Well, Seamus, serves me right. I had typed out the following and then clicked return without putting in my details, and lost it, so here goes again.
    You want poetry? music? art? How does this fit the bill?
    Written by Pat Ingoldsby circa 1999
    A Message of Hope to the Northside.
    Please try not to be disillusioned by the ongoing plethora of tribunals, pitiful corruption in high places, tax evasions, dodgy financial practices, flagrant abuses of our trust… we are turning the corner… something significant and positive is happening…
    You can now walk all the way from Connolly Station up Talbot Street and on through North Earl Street secure in the knowledge that you are safe from the threat of tin whistles, banjos and poems. Without fear or favour the good gardai of Store Street have cleansed the area of buskers, poets and anyone who might creatively threaten the peace and stability of the area.
    With tireless commitment and systematic thoroughness they took on the prams of North Earl Street… the prams which openly sold life threatening mandarin oranges, grapes and pears. It was a long campaign and a difficult one during which prams were confiscated… some of the women saw the inside of holding cells, appeared in court and were treated like criminals instead of being honoured for living within the same tradition which is now paid lip service by the Molly Malone Statue.
    Law and Order has triumphed. North Earl Street is a mandarin-orange-free area, totally cleansed of banjos and guitars. Talbot Street has been cleansed of poets. My goodness me haven’t we got our priorities right… aren’t we going after the right people. Yes indeed we are. Law and order has been restored to the Northside. The poets and the tin-whistles have been run off the streets. You can sleep safe in your beds again. Thanks be to God. Glory be to Store Street.

  9. Only yesterday I returned from a gatheriing of the priests of our diocese in the USA.
    Reading this article really poured into my heart for its ability to express what indeed many of us priests feel and experience.
    My sincere thanks

  10. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    “Holding a standard that’s getting in deep – is everything made to be broken. We’re falling all over the words that we say and the truth is the farthest from spoken. Created diversions so we see no wrong; swept from under our noses. As true as the words that you hear in our song. Wake up and smell the roses : our stare down won’t look away. And if change is unspoken, we’ll never speak. Reborn in this wilderness, the top of our peak. From the bottom to the top, we all are going to go and our stare down won’t look away. Our level of commitment is deeper than most. We’re working together but all we do is fake. If we were the insects, the earth would be our host; a force of reality we can’t break. Eat from my hand now and I’ll do the same – it’s time to pay it forward. Live your life but look up from this game – get up, stand up – don’t be a coward. Our stare down won’t look away.”
    Your harvest is there and it is bountiful, I believe. There are so many people like me looking for something with meaning but if you are not able to translate scripture into modern medicine for the meek, then there is no hope. The above quotation is from a song I collaborated on in March of 2015. It is a prayer for us meek to rise from the bottom to the top with the help from the Throne.
    These conditions you speak of give hope to faith. “Who heals the healer and cares for the carer.” The meek if you are truly healing and caring for them. How do you do it in today’s world is the question? Are you asking if you can compete? Yes, but only if you join in within the same arena. You are asking them to come join you in God’s house. They are in God’s house; the invitation is for you to leave the confines of yours to enter theirs.
    It has come down to “comfort zone”. Priests have to plug in to this coming generation and compete in a media driven world with substance and character. The message is “do good and you will be rewarded”. It remains to be seen whether you can communicate this message clearly among the noise and can it cut through. I have faith in you but not you alone.

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