Knocking over Wardrobes

It began twenty one years ago:

Signposts of the Irish landscape:

Eamonn Casey 1992. Mick Cleary (Phoenix 1996). Mary Rafferty – ‘States of Fear’ 1999. Diarmuid Martin 2004. Ferns Report 2005. Murphy Report 2009. Ryan Report 1999-2009. Cloyne 2011.

I arrived in Ireland in 1997

The two Marys exchanged jobs. John Bruton and Bertie Ahern exchanged jobs. Dick Spring gave up on leading the Labour Party. Divorce came in. Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for Angela’s Ashes. Maynooth became a National university. Garvaghy Rd. and Drumcree featured. Lowry resigned from Fine Gael. Haughey admitted accepting money from Ben Dunne.


Some time a long time ago:

I was a little fellow living in a Gate Lodge at Curraghmore Estate in Portlaw, Waterford. Lord Waterford returned home for his ‘coming of age.’ He was drawn by carriage up the avenue by the workers! My poor father came down the road (after that great effort) to collect us (the children ). He wanted us to see the fireworks. He was drunk for the only time in his life and nearly knocked over the wardrobe. My grandmother refused to let us out with him. She wanted to mind us. I remember it well. It was ‘the making of memories’ of what a celebration could be. ‘The Coming of Age.’ We have always talked of that evening and my poor father!


The ‘Coming of Age’ in Finglas South:

I am now ‘coming of age.’ What a privilege. Twenty one years of living in Finglas. Among people who boast of a previous parish priest, called Larry Forristal and then of Finbarr Fogarty. Larry sometimes muses that he would have been better off, if he remained PP in Rivermount. Among a people who enjoyed the presence of Michael Cleary and have retained a laughing heart as they recall Michael’s occasional lapses of memory when he might forget to turn up for a funeral or a Mass. Michael and Phyllis are always recalled with a smile. Many never got worked up about such minor amusements. It was an unimportant distraction. Life had more important things to occupy the energy of people worn down by the struggle to cope with daily life. Some didn’t feel as accepting when Mick’s dog might have taken the bottle of milk from outside their doors.


Abandoning the UK:

I arrived from the UK after a stint as Provincial of eight years. I got out of the way and settled in Finglas South. A great people. A wonderful community. A place with a reputation. I look back now and wonder how on earth we coped. With murders almost accepted as normal. When we knew the murdered and the murderers. When suicides devastated so many homes. Times when robbed cars were a nightly din. Where drugs destroyed so many. Where chaos reigned supreme in homes and families – due to lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of ambition. Where Formal Religion wasn’t too important then or now. Where Schools were havens of cheer and care. We were a Religious presence but more a companionable presence of being one with the Community, in all its needs.


A baby’s nappy:

We learn daily. To be resolute. To have stamina. To be above all musicians of banter. I remember a woman saying to me one day – ‘did you ever change a baby’s nappy?’ (I have). That was meant to tell me how little I know. But I replied that I have dealt with more excrement than would ever be found in a baby’s nappy. And somehow, we are all still here and still dealing with life as it comes.


Local culture:

Culture has changed in Ireland. Church hardly features generally. God is a minor player in life. But our place here in Finglas is full of people who are honest and upfront. They haven’t been damaged by the narrow constraints of education. They are free. Their experience of life is riddled with the reality of surprise and failure and neighbourliness. While some (in Official Church) quibble about marriage, contraception, or divorce or ‘admittance to communion’ – such problems are of little significance among us. The travails of everyday life are too big and troublesome to be messed up by minor details. God is incarnated in the ordinary. The clay of life is full of green shoots. The ability to laugh and talk and be spontaneous is the gift of those who can be careless in the best sense. The manure of life is very fertile.



Every home is welcoming. Our God-language is created by each day. Our Liturgy is adapted totally to the experience of those around us. Every funeral is a challenge to incarnate the story of each person. Every word has to be written. No two people are the same. It takes many visits. But the openness of everyone is extraordinary and privileged. Much of our life is taken up with social issues. Social workers, counselors, psychologists and bereavement-counselling is very far away. The church in this area has to provide the lot and is always there. There is no need for formal times or waiting times – we are there. It is a wonderful place to be and very humbling. We listen. We laugh. We cry. We joke. We even pray. Some who come to Church, might wonder if they were at Mass; but the honesty of sharing and the rich experience of life, is powerful and overpowering. We are always learning.


The Team:

The work is relentless. There is never an issue of relevance. We are needed and we are part of the place and Community. We are at home. What keeps us going? It is the nonsense of life. It is the fun. It is the togetherness. It is the camaraderie of the priest team and the Salesian/Brigidine sisters. We also see only one way of doing things: A Parish Team. This meets every week. All planning happens there. All decisions are made there.
There is never any question of the PP making decisions. It is a team. It is an eight-person team. (Our Team is created from graduates of Pathways).
The PPC is a monthly meeting and their issues are on wider pastoral direction of the parish. They cannot have all the information of daily life. I don’t understand how Parishes can continue without such Team Work or Dioceses either. There remains remnants of the model of the chief gaffer (quite destructive in Dioceses and in Parishes) where everything has to go through the chief/the boss. Is this priesthood? I this being a bishop? I don’t think so. That model is defective. The Messiah came once. We aren’t the new Messiah. The grace of Ordination doesn’t confer infallibility. If there is some sense of history around we can learn, with humility, the mistakes made by that model. The immediate and obvious ones – is the whole messed up theological concept of priesthood; the nonsense in regard to sexuality (contraception, celibacy, the maleness of the church; the cult of virginity); the ridiculous misunderstanding of Liturgy evidenced by the New Missal; the static formality of the Eucharist; the place of women; the ex opera operato idea; the literal understanding of Scripture.



What have been the successes? We have created space for Voices. We have given confidence to people. We watch people grow and speak out of their own lives. The Breaking of the Word, which is the Sharing at Church where Liturgy is seen to be a living expression of Godliness. The Pathways courses. Where people learn to believe in themselves. The Scripture Courses with Kieran O Mahony where a serious understanding of the Bible is revealed and loved.



What are the failures? The inability to grab the opportunity of fewer priests to be creative in building a different and newer church in the wider Finglas area.
The impossibility of contributing something from our experience to the greater church of the diocese.


The Great Scrum of the ACP:

Achievements across the Irish Church: I would hail the arrival of the ACP as a mighty contribution to Reflection, on the present day Church, in Ireland. Is it a nuisance? Of course it is. Why is it there? It is not a stick to attack the Church or the Hierarchy. It is there to support the Church and to support priests. I got involved because I wanted to support fellow priests at a very difficult time, especially diocesan men. I also wanted to share something of my life and my love of priesthood with others.
I compare the ACP to a scrum of faith as in rugby. Unless we push together/pull together – we will get nowhere. We are in desert days. We can manage it only if we are together. The bishops and ourselves, need to work together. It isn’t a battle. It isn’t an argument. It is Jacob’s wrestling together. It is Paul and Peter trying to better understand the way forward.
I think the Forum of the website too provides a space for exchanging words and thoughts. I hope it is encouraging. We are missing out on serious reflection in the Irish Church. We are probably too tired and too fearful to have our spake. But it can be done on the website. If only the accumulated wisdom of our priests, our religious, our laity could be sifted for the nuggets. There is nothing similar available. There is The Furrow. there is Doctrine and Life. There is The Tablet. Why haven’t been able to produce an equivalent of an Irish Tablet? Scotland at least tried with Open House. For a newspaper – we have The Irish Catholic. Judge that as you will. The ACP website is alive. It can be controversial. It can be overloaded by the views of a few. However it is dynamic. We are alive. Join the scrum. Be very bold.


A way forward:

The culture of Ireland has evolved. It is no longer shaped by the Church. The Divorce Referendum. The Same Sex marriage. The Eighth Amendment. These all tell us something. Some see it as the the death of the Church and as if the funeral, is being prepared, for us all (and good riddance to us). We can feel aggrieved. We can feel a great sense of failure. We can feel hurt and not appreciated. We can moan the dying God in our Culture. We can see the strides made by the Government to eliminate faith from life (schools). We can see empty churches and old priests and very few young people. We can see the disdain that the media has for us as Church and we may want to hide.
But Faith is gift. Grace continues. God is around us. Be bold. Be confident. Be humorous. Let God be God. It is all invitational. Let’s not worry about those who don’t come – that is their decision. We make Faith and God and Liturgy and our lives a celebration of wonder and poetry and music and dance and artistry. Let’s enjoy it. Have no worries. It is all happening in a very new way. We don’t have to feel so responsible. Walk tall. Look the world right in the eye. We have something to say. We speak for ourselves. We speak of God. No one can stop us.
If we in Finglas South can claim any success, it is in regard to people being able to speak. Give them their voice. Then that too is our challenge and our target for the wider Church in Ireland. Use our voices. Speak up. Speak out. Speak of God. Be totally fearless. Have a go. Dump the sad faces. Be alive. Have fun. It is Good News.


My father was a gentleman:

My father came down from Curraghmore Courtyard to the Gate Lodge, to collect us as children for ‘The coming of age.’ He wanted us to see the fun, the celebration and the novelty of fireworks. He may have been drunk. But he was right. In some ways, we have to be like my father, be drunk in Godliness and want to share the fun and beauty of life. What does it matter if we knock over a few wardrobes here or there. We shouldn’t care. It doesn’t matter if the media like us or not. It is a great life. Finglas has been a wonderful grace. God is here. (Jacob’s ladder again). And I am blessed. Thank God for those 21 years agrowing and learning and enjoying and celebrating and being such a part of so many lives.
I had to celebrate my ‘Coming of Age’ in Rivermount.



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  1. Con Devree says:

    “The impossibility of contributing something from our experience to the greater church of the diocese.” This sentence implies that there is something for the diocese as a whole to learn from Rivermount.

    Based on my own working life (I have taught the siblings and children of the murderers) together with recent experience which I outlined in the thread dated June 1 (Corpus Christi) I know that disadvantaged communities have useful insights to display to and share with the middle class. Father’s depiction of God as a “minor player” in community reflects a global reality.

    My early working experience of people in disadvantaged Dublin led me to conclude that it’s “hard to beat” a good “Dub,” defined at the time by one of same as anyone born south of Balbriggan or north of Crumlin! I have seen the high qualities of leadership that can exist in disadvantaged areas.

    I have attended Holy Masses in poor African communities who sang Latin hymns. Socio-economic status does not determine aesthetic appreciation in liturgical orientation in any sphere. Current weakness in school experience in this regard lies in the impoverishment of exposure afforded to the students. The parish doesn’t have to follow suit.

    One of the more basic insights to remember is that people made as they are in the image and likeness of God, have goodness as part of their basic design, which reveals itself in the absence of religious practice.

    In terms of offering insights on Catholic evangelisation then, the question becomes: “what is the difference God makes?” Which quickly transforms into the question: “what difference does worship (liturgy and observance of the commandments) of God a la the Catholic Church make?” What does God desire in terms of worship, as distinct from the type of thinking we might prefer to project on to Him? Does the connect between grace and nature have to be any less in disadvantaged people than in those of the middle class?

    I find Fr Aherns’s description of the hard, constant work of the clergy, religious and lay people convincing. His outline of the challenge is totally persuasive. They have forgotten more than many of us have learned. But perhaps he could be a bit more depictive and specific on the questions above, for the purposes say, of one considering (thinking about) their suitability for participation in the evangelisation efforts in a disadvantaged or indeed any community.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    “The culture of Ireland has evolved. It is no longer shaped by the Church. The Divorce Referendum. The Same Sex marriage. The Eighth Amendment. These all tell us something.”

    But it seems that people’s thinking on all these issues WAS in many cases shaped by the Church and by Catholic education. That so many took issue with an artificially maintained clerical consensus, cemented by a culture of silence and taboo, could in fact be a sign of Catholic maturity.

    It began in 1992?? No, long before that. Even the 1979 papal visit was felt by many as a retro-event papering over the already palpable cracks. Only half of those present in the Phoenix Park received communion.

  3. Con Devree says:

    #2 “Only half of those present in the Phoenix Park received communion.”

    There was a simple reason for this.

    The system for distributing Holy Communion broke down. The logistics failed.

    The exercise started according to plan but turned into a shambles the story of which has never been revealed.

    If half of those present received Holy Communion, it was a miracle.

    Anyway, Holy Communion services at mass gatherings of hundreds of thousands of people tend to be extremely distracted affairs.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    Yes, you are right; the communion stats are immaterial (the extra consecrated hosts were put in shoeboxes and distributed to convents).

    Some claim that the 20 minutes applause at Ballybrit when the Pope said “Young people of Ireland, I bless you, I love you” was degenerating into farce when Fr Cleary brought it to a halt.

    The point is that sensitive observers already knew they were assisting at the “Last Hurrah” of classic Irish Catholicism (though it delivered two last counterproductive kicks with the 1983 and 1986 referenda).

    Now church leaders must digest the 2015 and 2018 referenda, indicative of a new and not necessarily worse moral climate, and above all a new readiness for free thought and open discussion. Should we say that the lay tail is wagging the clerical dog? I say we must read the signs of the times sensitively and intelligently.

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