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