Why priests are slow to contribute to our website

It’s only words and words are all I have
Eddie’s (Finnegan) analysis (of the contributors to the Website), confirmed what we all know- that the priests in ACP and elsewhere, are a very shy, reticent, deferential group. They possibly are more used to being led rather than leading. We come from a pyramidic system despite the language of Church being one of communion, sharing, listening. This does affect how we think and write or don’t!
Eddie, however, our resident critic and analyst, is a challenge to any scribbler. Can anyone be brazen enough to let ‘the effluent from a keyboard’ reach this Website and face the onslaught of a tornado? However he does us a great service. His analysis was informative. But does it really mean that our clerical squad has little to say or is incapable of saying anything? Or does it mean that this Forum is not the place where they wish to have their spake? Tony wrote and it was powerful. Jo wrote and her commentary was impressive. Brendan wrote and it was amusing re the new recruits to the Episcopate. I had wondered what the thoughts among the Diocesan men might be. Did any of those ‘new men’ ever appear on the Website and might such an appearance enhance their chance of avoiding the job. (And Iggy – just be that good Catholic of the older times and say No! The job might take the edge off your tongue!)
Speaking out and speaking up is never easy. Tom Murphy has said that he never knows what he is going to write until he writes. It is hard for most people to trust what their fingers might say. We aren’t all full of confidence. The public arena is a challenging place to show face. I see today that Sean O Malley has spoken and I don’t like what he has to say. (I have met Sean and found him homely and warm in conversation but making this stand around Enda Kenny is quite inappropriate). I felt really unimpressed at how many of the Bishops in the USA spoke out against Barack Obama. They failed to make that necessary distinction between fighting for principles and expecting the Legislature to fall in line. I was taken aback also to hear of Eamon Martin’s comments on Politicians and Communion. That seems most unhelpful and can never be the right way to argue an issue in a new Ireland. Legislators have to legislate. We cannot dare suggest a Theocracy; the world has and is suffering enough from that notion. We have something to say on ‘the protection of life’ but Sean and Eamon are not saying it in the right way.
Speaking up and speaking out – that is the definition of our role as Ministers. We are essentially Communicators. In the distant past when young men sometimes showed an interest in priesthood; I would make a simple statement and ask a question. ‘Do you think you can lead people in prayer through Mass around 500 times a year and still ensure it is alive and prayerful for others and for yourself? I didn’t ask the second question but I have often mentioned it: ‘Can you write?’ Writing is almost essential to the life of a priest! There are Letters; References; Homilies; Talks; Funerals; Weddings; Bulletins; multiple events where words are demanded; various Services… . In fact, the priest/minister has to be very careful not to be taken over by the computer. The need and the addiction can become friends.
What do we say? What do we write? How do we say it? How do we write? A visit to any Church tells a story: What is on display in the porch? Does the ‘message’ seem attractive? Is there a sense of life around the place? It is always enlightening to read the local Bulletin which is often very telling in its dullness! However, I believe the greater indicator of life in a Parish, happens at daily Mass; at the weekend Masses. (Is it passive, or real? Is there Communion, Communication and Community?) It is quite a revelation to attend Mass rather than be the priest leading Mass! It is often striking to visit Churches for special occasions like Funerals, Weddings, Baptisms, Confirmation, First Communion.
The Funerals really tell the Story. For most of us now – the Funeral is when people go to Church and see the local Community in action. Does it (the funeral) respect the person and the moment or is it perfunctory? The Reception sometimes is clinical and cold. What is said and how it is said, really matters. The fact that (most) many don’t attend Church means that Funerals demand much research. The words/homily/Service simply can’t be just taken off the Book (official) with a name change. If the life of anyone means something; then their ‘story’ has to feature. It has to be real and true and personal. All the present talk around the Songs used or the Gifts brought or the Music or the Eulogy or the Policy in the Diocese avoids the opportunity and sidesteps the real need. (Some local parishes have between 120-150 p.a. which makes it a huge challenge for the community and priest; but this is at the heart of what we are about). The Weddings too cry out for effort, energy and attention. These couples will not be attending (mostly). They won’t know much about Church or Mass but if we can’t make this occasion personal and real and allow the Smile of God touch them (Schillebeeckx- ‘a Sacrament is a smile on the face of God!’ ) – we are not the ‘ambassadors of the Good News.’ Pro forma Services are not adequate or appropriate.
Writing and speaking are the daily demands of this job which we try to do. Many of us find those demands difficult. Sometimes we may not have the time to put in the effort but it has to be done. And talking about such matters – writing and speaking: The Missal is a metaphor for bad practice, bad theology and hob-nail boots, destroying the wonder of words. Those of us who are familiar with Church, struggle to make some sense, of the badly written sentences. The lumpy, clumsy and wooden word in the Missal confirms the worse presumptions of many visitors who are distant from Church: We are out of touch with real life and disconnected. Why did we allow this utter nonsense destroy the beauty of Liturgy? It does show how faraway our Bishops were from the reality of life – when they said YES to such rubbish. I know their busy lives probably didn’t give them the chance to stop the process early on. But the Word has to become Flesh. This is central in Christianity and it is neglected in this Missal disaster. It adds to our difficulty.
I return to Eddie. He is right. And it is sad that so few contribute to the Website other than the ‘usual suspects.’ However, I wouldn’t worry too much if the local ‘writing’ was happening; If the ‘Literature’ around Churches, was alive; if ‘the words’ said at the Special Occasions when people are in Church, speaks into the reality of humanity; if the official Books didn’t become props to avoid the research; If the poet, artist who is the priest,raised minds and hearts, to the awesomeness of the moment and of God.
Keep on Eddie, challenging us. We might even try writing to quieten you. I also agree with you Eddie that the numbers signing up in regard to the Censored and Silenced, were too few. How can a Church which celebrates Communion – shut up the Tony Flannerys of this world and exile the Keith O Briens? Even the prodigal was welcomed home in the Gospels. The very stones should cry out. Are we too tired to say anything or have we lost confidence? A final word, many of us do much of our ‘talking’ outside of the church, in homes; in the shops; in the banter of life around the community. That is probably our most important ‘writing.’
Seamus Ahearne osa (Rivermount) seamus.ahearne@gmail.com
20th May 2013.

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  1. Towards the end of this excellenmt piece Seamus notes that “Writing and speaking are the daily demands of this job which we try to do”
    It is all about real communication. As a teacher over many years,I came to realise the obvious, that children won’t write well if they can’t speak well. Most of our lives we talk to each other; only in a small number of instances do we communicate by the written word.
    Being at ease in a social context is therefore crucial to the life of a priest. For some, it is much easier to talk to other priests and so they slip into a social clericalism and lose touch with real people. Seamus started with the line “its only words and words are all I have” But that is more than enough if those words are spoken out love and concern and are in response to a real world, imperfect though it is.

  2. Words : There are indeed a lot of words. It would be an interesting research exercise if a researcher stationed outside venues posed questions to emerging members of congregations aimed at revealing their reaction to what they had heard : whether it was a spiritual experience, whether it was a life changing experience, whether it was relevant to their lives, whether it was important enough to discuss with family and friends, whether they could remember anthing of what they had heard. It would be interesting to know whether congregation members could ever be seen discussing what they had heard.
    The Irish economy has been close to ruin by a venal political class and their supporters. It would be interesting to know whether such an opportunistic culture developed because of the way the church is or because exponents of this culture were outside of church influence.

  3. In his criticism of Cardinal Sean O Malley and Bishop Eamon Martin, Seamas says that “we have something to say about the protection of life but Sean and Eamon are not saying it the right way”. What is the right way of saying it? I do not see the ACP saying it in any shape or form. No wonder so many of the lay faithful see the deliberate taking of the life of the unborn for no other reason that it is unwanted to an extreme degree as something they can allow happen in their name.

  4. Mary O Vallely says:

    “…if we can’t make this occasion personal and real and allow the Smile of God touch them (Schillebeeckx- ‘a Sacrament is a smile on the face of God!’ ) – we are not the ‘ambassadors of the Good News.’ Pro forma Services are not adequate or appropriate.”
    Just re-reading Seamus Ahearne’s words here and nodding my head in affirmation. (and hasn’t he the gift for words with heart behind them) 🙂
    This quote from Gandhi tumbled into my Facebook Home page this morning.
    “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
    Not every priest has the gift for choosing the most apt and beautiful words and weaving them together but remember it is the heart that speaks and it speaks a language all its own which is heard by all and resonates long after sounding words have disappeared into the ether.

  5. Mary, Gandhi might have been echoing Polonius in Hamlet:
    “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
    Words without thoughts never to Heaven go.”
    Alas, As Pope Francis said a while back, we may tire of asking for forgiveness from God, though He never tires of forgiving.

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