‘If we only have love…….’ (Jacques Brel).
Armistice 100 recalled the awfulness of war and it drew attention to the cost of freedom. We recalled the youngsters who altered their ages (so many went at 16!) to get away and then provided fodder for gunfire or gas. (Some 20m died). They come to mind. I attended earlier services at Glasnevin over the years to recall our own people who served with the UK army. How often they were shunned when they returned to Ireland and never could talk about their experiences.
So many joined for economic reasons when there was nothing at home. I recall as a youngster finding a treasure trove in the loft of the house next door at home. Some helmets and other accoutrements of past wars – seemed very exciting to me at that time but not now. Sebastian Barry wrote well in ‘A long, long way’ on the reality of the Great War. It almost felt as if the smell of fear can be caught by reading it.
Wildred Owen expressed it savagely:
If you could hear, at ever jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs; Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud, of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues;
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest;
To children, ardent for some desperate glory; the old lie;
Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria mori.
The Green Fields of France:
Doton Adabayo on Five Live (through the night) asked for songs to evoke the memories of war as the Centenary was being remembered. His winner was Finbarr Furey – with ‘Young Willie McBride.’ (Green Fields of France) I prefer – ‘And the band played Walzing Matilda.’ It was mentioned. Liam Clancy sang this song well. It is sore and very sad. ‘All quiet on the Western Front’ (Remarque) evoked the story on the German side.
Leicester FC and Vichai:
Leicester City FC was the surprise winners of the Premier League in 2016 with Claudio Ranieri as manager. Their chairman/owner Vichai died in the helicopter crash outside King Power Stadium after the drawn match with West Ham. The rich description of the man and the grief around him was extraordinary. All the better qualities of humanity were spoken of, and displayed, by many close to the man. Sometimes the reporting appeared to neglect the fact, that four others died too. The collective sadness hinted to a need in many to emote. It was as if some people rode piggy-back on this opportunity to delve into the depths of loss. After the match with Cardiff, the team flew out to Thailand for the funeral. I rather liked Harry Maguire’s expression of sadness. He blessed himself in the Buddhist Temple. There must be some residue of a catholic instinct in this player.
The journalist Khashoggi died/was killed in Istanbul. Recep Erdogan was rightly shocked and called loudly for a full investigation of all the facts around this murder. Saudi Arabia hasn’t as yet come up with the details. The Play – ‘Wanted one Body’, is the main argument of the authorities in Turkey. It is at least ironic that Turkey should be making such a fuss about the journalist Khashoggi when they throw journalists and teachers and every sort of professional into prison. Even children. This episode won’t reduce the economic reality of trade and arms between Saudi and the West.
Remember the dead:
We packed our Church on the 2ndNovember. We pack the church always for the Feast of All Souls. We pack the church always for funerals. Otherwise the church is less well used.
At the Mass on 2ndNovember, we remembered all the dead. The names of those who died during the past year were called out. Photos were on display. Candles were lit. Music and song gathered everything and everyone together. The PowerPoint kept everyone focused.
The bereaved families were visited and then participated fully in the Service. Most of those present only attend for funerals. The young people came in droves into this foreign land! Many children were present. There was a Guided Meditation, with the background music and miming. As the miming lady stepped on the autumn leaves (symbol for the meditation) the crunch of the leaves could be heard all over the church. Why? The silence was so profound. It was a very special moment. God does reach our innards at such moments.
Guns and Fire:
Thousand Oaks rang out with gunshot. 12 people were killed. Will America ever learn that guns are not toys and should not be freely available? I believe the fires have also reached Thousand Oaks. As Shakespeare put it in Hamlet about trouble – ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.’ And then we hear of Paradise (California). So many have lost their lives in the raging fire. The name is very inappropriate or too apt. What a very sad story. One lady after the shoot- out in pub said – ‘we didn’t want prayer.’ She wanted Congress to do something about guns. Her language was vehement.
During recent late nights, I listened to Radio 4 where excepts were read from ‘In Extremis – the Life and death of the war correspondent Marie Colvin. ‘ (By Hitsum.) Colvin was a wild lady who expressed vividly the cost of war. Normal life was hard living for her because she was immersed in the dangerous and adrenalin -soaked life in war zones. Homs was her final place of rest. She was but one of too many. As the song said (Walzing Matilda) ‘I never knew there were worse things than dying.’ (The Hell-hole of Homs).
The shadow side:
The print journals are finding life tough. Many are dying. I get my news now from my tablet. I read Saturday and Sunday’s papers. I abscond to the UK papers. I don’t watch RTE. My TV doesn’t work. I listen to the Radio. But the news is rotten with criminality; with stabbings; with shootings; with gangland outrages. What is happening in our culture? Another man has been found guilty this week of a rather gruesome murder. He comes from our community. There are many spin-off victims – in his own family and others. I think we need more of Christianity not less. I think the culture of faith has to be rediscovered. My continuous refrain is this one: If we cannot be grateful; we cannot be human. If we cannot catch the wonder of giving and caring and loving; we cannot celebrate Eucharist. We have to accept the challenge to be missioners of something bigger and better and more. We need to share the laughter of God in life or else we only celebrate a culture of death. Our world is noisy and rough at present. And very sad. We have to be counter-cultural.
The Wake of the Church:
November calls us to remember our dead. The funerals are now the main diet in our Churches. The Church as we know it, is also dying. Our nearest neighbouring church has been closed. The depth of grief in the guts of many as they watch the stripping away of their family history, is severe. Our work (as ministers) is now in a Hospice. A Hospice of faith. A Hospice of the faithful. A Hospice of palliative care. A Hospice of adjustment to the acceptance of dying. But those of us who know the work of the Hospices, are forever loud in praise. These places are oases of welcome. They are warm. They are full of caring people. The very atmosphere is aglow with love. We have to learn from them. Now if we are becoming Hospice workers as Church; we can take on the spirit of those places and make our Church warm, hospitable, cheerful, content and full of love – all will be well. As another birthday appears around the corner, it teases me. It may be only 72 but there is more to do and less energy to do it. However, every day is a privileged day. Every day is full of life, despite the dying. Every day is full of surprises. Every day throws around those ‘rumours of angels.’ (Berger). Every day tells me how blessed I am in this wonderful mad world that is the Church. The Hospice calls out the best in us all. There are no problems when it is a matter of life or death. And it is. We have to live until we die.
Seamus Ahearne osa