‘I think, therefore I am.’ (Godly and human)

‘I think, therefore I am.’ (Godly and human).
‘Huge Finglas church to close its doors’ was a heading in the journal.ie on Friday. The article mentioned that falling numbers and structural problems as the reason for the demolition. It is true. It is happening. A new and smaller church will be built. It is a great act of faith to build a church today. There is also symbolism in the gesture. The church of the past is collapsing. It is unfit for purpose. A new church needs to be born. The church of our past is falling apart and a new church needs to be created. The building is not the issue but rather the challenge of building a new edifice of faith.
William Trevor died recently. Molly Keane’s story was told by her daughter (Sally Phipps) in the past week or so. William and Molly’s writings gave an insight into the Big Houses as part of the cultural life of Ireland. The ‘inmates’ were losing their prestige. Their homes were falling into decay. Their world was evaporating.   Fading grandeur. Relics of old decency.
The Church in Ireland can be seen in a similar way. The Church fabric in life is fading away. The grandeur is dilapidated. Church people are not needed in education. Patronage is seen not as a service but rather as control. The Religious and priests are mainly ready for nursing homes. They have no children and no replacements. The bishops are much less newsworthy and irrelevant.
The decorative religious past is dying off. The public portrayal of the Church now borders on caricature. The new Vatican and the new Pope is the media. The claim on infallibility is absolute. Even if the media chatter is rather superficial and useless. Where will our inspiring leaders come from? Who will help us to think? Who will pose the bigger questions? It may be that the whole edifice of education needs revamping. Do students learn to think or to feed back pre-packaged answers?
If the world of the church, as we know it, goes: Will that Church be missed?
What happens in the local community when the church people who were always around and could be called on at any moment, and were involved in the real life of a community, when they are gone? Is there any replacement? Where will the wider questions find a home? When they are gone; is God gone too? Is God missed these days?
One of our younger teachers is shocked as she prepares her sixth class for Confirmation. She can’t understand at all how they know so little. ‘They know nothing’ is what she says. We try to reassure her that she shouldn’t expect much since their parents have little or no connection with God or church either. We suggest gentleness and quietness. For most people here, God doesn’t intrude on their days. In that oft used phrase: God is missing but not missed. Our religion in the past was very much a cultural thing and now that is no more. The ‘fears’ too have gone.   The ‘taboo’ is dead. What now?
And here then is the problem: What thinking do people do?   I wonder about the whole education project. Do people really learn to think? In Primary School; in Secondary School or in Third Level? In some ways, the appearance of a Reality- show- President is probably a fair comment on all of us. The superficial and the crude, which the hall mark of all Reality Shows, can sum up the flimsy nature of life. Trump’s twittering is the symbol of the moment. Kellyanne Conway and Co with her ‘alternative facts’ is a banner over much that goes on.
But it is isn’t only life outside of us that is worrying – it is life among us. We too can ask how did we, put up with such nonsense in Church life over the years. We were immersed in the accretions of our living Catholicism. Is it any wonder people have drifted away? They didn’t walk away but slipped away. Too much of what passed as faith, was ridiculous. Why? We didn’t think. We didn’t ask the questions. We didn’t dare to challenge.
I am not talking about awkward cussed characters who want to be rebels; I am talking of everyday chat. I am talking about Ritual, Liturgy, language, Scripture. I am talking about the awesomeness of nature. I am talking about the wonder of wild life. I am talking about the marvel and miracle of human relationship. I am talking about sexuality. I am talking about the struggle to make sense of what grace is; what sacrament is; what ministry is; what love is; who God is; what prayer is.
The summary definition of theology: ‘Faith seeking understanding’ got lost. When were priests or bishops listening or learning or reading or struggling with a language and with a fresh understanding?
I believe that the church-caste have done a brilliant job in community life. There is probably an absence of appreciation for that. The church hasn’t been in the building; it has been out in the community. Church people are there. They have created community. They have been the educational system; the welfare system; the health system; the therapeutic system. They are there.
But now the main body are dying off. So we need to focus on what can be done; what Church can we build. The bricks and cement structure is the easy bit. The peopled- structure is different. Who will ask the questions? Who will help people to find their voice; to find the ability to respect their own experience; to delve into their own questions.
We have Scripture Sessions on the Mass (Kieran O Mahony) at present with some 60 people each week. Kieran’s material is highly intellectual and deeply researched. It is also quite revolutionary. Nonetheless our 60 people are comfortable asking questions and entering into discussion on all the issues. It is an amazing sight. Somehow it seems that the ‘uneducated’ (not damaged by college and inhibitions) are much more alert in thinking and more confident and open. Many have found their voice in discussions at our usual Masses. But it is most impressive.
However, what is going on generally in society and at large? The God that is forgotten is often a God that was unreal. The Church that is ignored is not the church that Francis celebrates and lives. The simplicity of faith has to be presented. How embarrassing it is that our church leaders could have allowed the rubbish of a missal to become the norm? How could our church allow Sean Fagan be isolated? How could anyone with a thinking-head or a heart that is faithful, come to the conclusion that what Tony Flannery has written or said could be dangerous commentary?
Sebastian Barry won the Costa for a second time. His story carried very much the magic of love in his gay son’s life. There is love; there is a volcanic eruption of the guts; there is Godliness. Our writers catch something of the depths and the breadth of God. Our praying and thinking people among us catch more of it.
I watched Gabriel Daly at 89 reviewing a book on the Eucharist during the week as he wrote with his two fingers (I have nine and I can’t think because one won’t function).
I read some of Padraig Daly’s words in ‘God in winter’ & ‘Clinging to the myth’ and saw how he caught so succinctly the zeitgeist of the moment.
The poets can do it. I watched Gina Miller have the guts and the stamina to fight the whole establishment and win re Brexit on the sovereignty of parliament. She received death threats. She was Godly.
Sr Lucia Caram (Spanish nun) received death threats too for daring to suggest that Mary (our Lady) was not a virgin. She was asking questions.
I saw Ken Clarke lambast the Government and the Tory party and be the only rebel on the Brexit vote. He was called ‘an enemy of the people.’ He was alive to himself.
We saw the Knights of Malta get all in tizzy over some condoms with Boeselager being dismissed by Festing and Cardinal Burke hovering around when he wasn’t writing letters to Francis. I had hoped we had moved on from such concerns.
I met Michael last week. He joined the Order with me back in ’64. He left a few years later. He asked me – how was Gabriel Daly. He went on to say that when Gabriel came to Ballyboden in 1966, he taught us to think. He felt that this was revolutionary at the time when we were supposedly studying philosophy! He said that the focus on thinking was Gabriel’s greatest gift and Michael hoped that we all lived up to the gift he gave us.
That then is my conclusion. The new church for building in Finglas to replace the old has to be one where thinking happens; where the breadth of God is celebrated; where God is not protected from questions but where we take off our shoes and bow our heads in praise, gratitude and humility. We are forever learning. We are forever questioning. We are forever thinking. The God of our Church is praised if we are thinking. A passive church; a passive liturgy; a passive people does not respect God. I think therefore I am!
Seamus Ahearne osa

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  1. Teresa Mee says:

    Some big questions there, Seamus, including
    ‘Is it any wonder people have drifted away? They didn’t walk away but slipped away’.
    Yes, they slipped away – but why, and whereto?
    If you feel like calling a meeting to explore answers to that question, I’d like to participate.

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    I think if anyone hasn’t been inspired by Pope Francis up to now, there might not be any room for inspiration left in your schedule. He’s inspired me and many within my midst and we can be a sceptic bunch of poets and musicians – our amygdalas are in over-drive these days.
    In just 4 years, he first placed the Church in the middle of a scientific and political debate (Laudato si’) and essentially made it mandatory for Catholics to become green in any way shape or form they can. Second, he’s affirmed that he believes our leadership is going to come from down below, flipping the hierarchical structure on itself. That was an open call for ideas. “Those who have them, come forward, our priests and bishops are at your service” proclaims our Pope.
    These two acts give us a lot to think about if we are truly looking for things to think about – we think about it so much in this corner of the world that we lose sleep over it. I don’t think you can ask a bigger question right now than “Is there any way for the world to seek a more balanced state without the help from the members of the Roman Catholic Church?” What is our responsibility?
    Education doesn’t need revamping, it simply has to use the communication tools available to students – it needs teachers who are less clerical and more imaginative in sharing their message which is knowledge. This age group is sharp and if anyone can help us to think, it is them. If we had been listening to them all along, I don’t think the Church would be in the state it is in, nor the world. They want to be included in a system that doesn’t judge needlessly. When are they ever consulted? They don’t want to hear another “you are the future” speech from people who are in control. I think you reach youth by way of relevance and most things coming out of our Church these days do not meet the test. They are looking for truth, beauty and goodness in actions, just like us with a relevance to our current age.
    Example : one of the world’s most popular “pop” acts right now is “twenty one pilots”. Their music is anthemic and speaks a language kids relate to – so they are now educators of the youth infecting them with culture. “Guns For Hands” is a great example of music that speaks to the youth of our nations. I’ll warn you in advance – it is not very complimentary of adults.
    “I know what you think in the morning
    When the sun shines on the ground
    And shows what you have done
    It shows where your mind has gone
    And you swearing to your parents
    That it will never happen again
    I know, I know, what that means, I know
    That you all have guns
    And you never put the safety on
    And you all have plans,
    To take it, to take it, don’t take it, take it, take it
    I’m trying, I’m trying to sleep
    I’m trying, I’m trying to sleep
    But I can’t, but I can’t when you all have
    Guns for hands
    We’ve turned our hands to guns, trade in our thumbs for ammunition
    I must forewarn you, of my disorder, or my condition
    ‘Cause when the sun sets, it upsets what’s left of my invested interest
    Interested in putting my fingers to my head
    The solution is, I see a whole room of these mutant kids
    Fused at the wrist, I simply tell them they should shoot at this
    Simply suggest my chest and this confused music, it’s
    Obviously best for them to turn their guns to a fist”
    So all us adults have our fingers on the trigger of this thing called humanity – we all play a special part in its recovery. Kids are starting
    to think we are the mindless zombies with which their culture has been so heavily influenced. Kids don’t care what you know until they know you care and setting things straight for them, once and for all should be on everyone’s mind. Invite them to the party, they’ll come. I guarantee it.
    Sometimes quiet is violence.

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    Lloyd Allan MacPherson@2
    “I think you reach youth by way of relevance and most things coming out of our Church these days do not meet the test. They are looking for truth, beauty and goodness in actions, just like us with a relevance to our current age”.
    I agree with this statement Lloyd but what is more beautiful than an honest acknowledgement one’s own failings this is beauty and goodness in action and it is called humility, it is immediately recognized by young and old as it is the basis of mercy/love. Can the Church under Pope Francis and his Bishops embrace Humility (see my Post @ 2 ink below)
    and recapture this basic instinct within the hearts of all mankind given by God to all and reclaim the laity/faithful giving the Church relevance that is based on Truth in the world to-day.
    Then Lloyd we could fully embrace “Laudato si” with Unity of Purpose
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Martin Murray says:

    “(A Church) where God is not protected from questions..” Well said!

  5. Christine Lynch says:

    The Church is not collapsing but the Church of Vatican II is collapsing. All over the world, arising from the ashes like a Phoenix, the pre-Vatican church is growing and flowering with new vocations. It is a great wonder and joy to see young men committing themselves totally to Christ as priests and brothers. Intelligent, committed men and women find no difficulty in accepting dogma. This does not make them unthinking automatons but people of faith who know that “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in Heaven”. Francois Mitterand once said that a person who does not believe in dogma is simply a Freemason without an apron. Any intelligent human being that accepts God as God knows that God will never be intelligible to our limited human minds. To say “I think, therefore I am” is to make reason God and where is that in scripture? “I am the Lord your God and thou shalt have NO other Gods before me”, not even reason.

  6. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Kevin @ 3 – what one “action” would you deem appropriate to show that the Church under the Pope has embraced humility. I’m not looking for a mental conversion or an acknowledgement, just one concrete action. No words.

  7. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    @5 Christine Lynch, not even reason, really? I think there is an orthodoxy present there that just has no place alongside human rights.
    How should we come to the conclusion that there are no other Gods before him if not for reason? “Unthinking automatons” certainly have no reason. Without faith, there is no reason and vice-versa. The two are completely compatible and without each other, both fail. Laws of logic are not observed by the senses so we need a certain faith in them.
    It seems fascism is on the rise too – could there be a correlation?
    Back when people embraced Christianity to the fullest extent, wasn’t there an Inquisition? Was this because there was a lack of faith or reason?

  8. The problem that I see in our parish is that people just don’t think. They don’t think they are allowed to.Or they really can’t be bothered to. I have recently been told quite seriously that Catholics are not allowed to read or meditate (by a lay person). They are incredibly naive and believe that all bishops are saints. They don’t seem to notice how bad the new mass is. Anyone who speaks out is seen as a very bad person. I don’t bother with them any more. They seems to have the spiritual age of a 7 year old. This cannot be good for the future of the Church.

  9. Kevin Walters says:

    Lloyd Allan MacPherson @6
    “Just one concrete action; No words”.
    “Paint a picture according to the vision you see and with the inscription. “Jesus I trust in thee”. I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world “
    Act out these instructions given by Jesus Christ to His Church and venerate the True Divine Mercy Image an Image of Broken Man. Commencing in Rome by recapturing (Staging) the original ceremony with the present self-serving blasphemous Divine Mercy Image an image of Clericalism, then remove (Destroy) it publicly and re-place it with the true image an Image of Broken Man and in humility venerate it in a symbolic way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind (More the shame more the gain for the Church) then re-enact this action with the help of the bishops throughout the whole Church (World). Only a visual true act of Contrition before God and mankind can start to heal the abuse crisis cover up and its historical culture within the Church.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  10. A very apt summing up, Sara, and they are everywhere you know, not just in your parish. And, as far as I can see, the status quo, disastrous as it is,depends, to a large extent,on those people being the way they are.

  11. Mary Vallely says:

    I agree with Sara @8 and Paddy @ 10 that people are afraid to think for themselves, to speak out from the heart but it is not just lay people. The bishops are still “looking over their shoulders to Rome.” They too are part of this awful culture of deference. Fr Gerry O’Hanlon has an excellent summing up of the whole culture of fear and subservience in his video link to the Commission on abuse in Australia yesterday. It’s worth reading. It is that culture we need to challenge and it begins with ourselves.
    WE must ‘be the change we want to see.’
    This is from the link.
    “So there was an overall culture within the Church of lack of freedom of speech, deference to priesthood, bishops, if you like, almost a sense that they were right, and that was a very unhealthy situation, which Ladislas Orsy, the American canon lawyer, has referred to as a lack of a vigorous immune system within the Church, ” Fr O’Hanlon said.
    Citing the Dominican theologian Yves Congar’s reference to “a creeping infallibility” in the Church, he said “everything that came from Rome was taken as gospel, and local bishops didn’t take their own responsibility seriously enough; they looked over their shoulder all the time to Rome.

  12. Mary, your mention of Yves Congar and “creeping infallibility” reminds me of Fr. Edmund Hill OP who was a frequent contributor to the letters’ page of the Tablet when I first had a weekly subscription — probably in the mid 1980s when we were well into the Wojtyla pontificate. Fr. Hill said, on one occasion, that he could not understand all this talk of creeping infallibility. It definitely was not that, he said — but what it really was, was “galloping infallibility”

  13. Seamus, I have just read “I think, therefore I am” for a second time and I have shared it with friends too who might not have visited our ACP site. What an honest and accurate assessment of our present situation and, even in this day and age, courageous too, especially
    “Too much of what passed as faith, was ridiculous. Why? We didn’t think. We didn’t ask the questions. We didn’t dare to challenge.”
    Most of all now we do need to be a church “where God is not protected from questions” .
    I may have mentioned before on this site how Fr. Donald Cozzens in “Notes from the Underground. The Spiritual Journey of a secular priest” made a heartfelt plea that we might be allowed to be adult and also remain part of our Catholic Church. That was written pre Francis. In that book he also wrote how “certitude of faith” taken literally remains an oxymoron” and that “faith is nothing more than a trust in the great mystery of the unseen God.”
    Thank you, Seamus.

  14. Phil Greene says:

    ” From some investigations in central and South America it appears that many catholics found the evangelical churches to be closer to the gospel, had less formality and ritual, better preaching, better community, more participation in decision making, a warmer and more demonstrative spirit in worshipping God, more committment to bible study, more respect for the individual.”
    John M will recognise this section as taken from his comment (no.9) in response to the article “Pope of the Possible” posted on 9th January.
    A different continent, but of course we can relate! Perhaps adopting even one of these characteristics(for now!) would be the change we want to see..
    I am with Theresa Mee, if you wish to call a meeting to discuss further please let us know.

  15. Sandra Mc Sheaffrey says:

    Most people would sooner die than think; in fact they do so. (Bertrand Russell)
    Not in Finglas, seemingly. Thank God.

  16. Kevin Walters says:

    Peter Johnstone, president of the Australian group Catholics for Renewal praised a video Arch-bishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane released about the Australia’s Royal Commission hearings, because “he said it’s not enough to change procedures and protocols – that has to happen – but we have to shift the culture, and that’s a much more difficult thing to do. I would add – to shift the culture, that’s talking about the church globally, worldwide, because the problem is in the total governance of the Catholic Church.”
    Also see Archbishop Anthony Fisher Video in the link below that looks at the reality of the situation.
    The posts I have made @ 3+9 give the Church the means immediately to “shift the culture” globally in a way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind while at the same time creating a genuine atmosphere of sorrow for the culture of cover up within the whole church and this image would remain as a visually reminder to All to serve the Truth (Jesus Christ) first before any institution or man/woman; only an honest church seen to be based on humility can recapture the hearts of mankind especially in the West.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  17. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    “Can the Church under Pope Francis and his Bishops embrace Humility…” I understand that this is an important part of the process for you Kevin but could this not be just a hollow promise if there are no good deeds to follow. Is there another way to embrace humility?
    The requirement should be the action they would take when this humility is truly submitted. The good deeds that follow such a submission are proof of such a submission’s resolve.
    Everywhere in the world priests are being called to action. Pope Francis has gone as far as inverting the pyramid structure in the Church to centre good deeds and push clericalism to the boundaries. It’s all there. So don’t wait for a global act of humility that holds no promise. Wait for the good deeds that guarantee us all that humility is in action.

  18. Kevin Walters says:

    Lloyd Allan MacPherson @17
    Yes it is important to me Lloyd that Pope Francis and his Bishops should embrace Humility, the inviolate Word of God has been broken and used by worldly men to create a blasphemous intellectualized Pharisaical IMAGE of worldly goodness (Beauty) a self-serving image of themselves before God and mankind it is an affront to God, instigated by nationalistic pride and those who would pacify the powerful it has nothing to do with humility. This fundamental teaching that God’s Word (Will) is Inviolate has been breached by those who sit at the top table (Rome) and if it is not corrected it will eventually lead to the dissipation of the establish Church. The proclaiming of good deeds is not enough Lloyd the laity/faithful must see the true intent (that defines the action) within the hearts of those who lead us. While ever the true Divine Mercy Image an image of broken man is kept hidden away we clearly see the truth (Intent) of the present situation that can be summed up in these words
    We lead we do as we please we just appease
    Yes for some it may be a hollow promise but for those who acknowledge the true image an image broken man initially (Bishops, Priesthood) in true humility it will generate spiritual growth and for those who witness their action (for many) it will create a culture of good will, leading to a healing process for many of the abused and their families that is based on honesty, trust will be restored with the faithful/laity as at this present moment in time many hold the leadership of the Church in contempt. This act of humility will go a long way to restore the moral authority of our Shepherds that will enable them to teach (Lead) from the true base of the pyramid a place of humility while drawing any remaining arrogance and hypocrisy downwards from the top.
    From this base the teaching of Humanae Vitae can be reasserted not in a draconian way rather one based on humility that encourages spiritual growth. The sacrament of confession would then be seen to be more in keeping with the general atmosphere of this honest approach to the reception of Holy Communion. Strengthening our faith by sharing with others the sacred mysteries (Sacraments) of Christianity as we hold the bright lamp of Truth high above our own fallen human nature for all mankind to see our humility in action before God our Creator.
    The essence of Love is Truth, and those who serve the Truth, on the spiritual plain feed the hungry “Man hall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”,
    Cloths (Protects) the naked “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me”. Visits those hearts ensnared (Imprisoned) by evil in setting the captive free.
    This serving of the Truth over laps on to the worldly plain as it protects the weak and vulnerable form exploitation in opposing oppression, misery and inhumanity, to serve the Truth is to love ones neighbor as oneself it cannot be faked as it always involves carrying ones cross.
    A church for the poor is not enough (although good in itself) as it side steps the full spectrum of Truth which confronts evil on both the spiritual plain and worldly plain
    And this is what I am advocating Humility (Truth) as the basis for cohesion and inclusivity within the Church
    Creating a Church (Field Hospital) that is truly universal where no one (Baptised Christian) is barred from partaking of the bread of life especially those who cannot receive absolution who by openly (Publicly) acknowledge (Confesses) their need for God’s Divine Mercy just prior to receiving the Bread of Life should not be turned away. This would ensures spiritual growth for all her children no matter in what state, place or time she encounters them at the crossroads (difficulties) of life.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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