Charles Davis. I can’t believe it. 1966 and then the cant flourished: ‘It wasn’t the Council of (Trent or whatever) but the Counsel of Florence’! It was easier to dismiss Florence than to listen to the basic issues of holiness, Church and Ministry which Charles highlighted. Clergy Review (he edited). Another world. It seems forever ago. Many of us were bursting with energy- those days. We were the ‘flower people’ of the Church. The Council was exploding with vitality. There was political revolution. Hope was splashed everywhere. A new world was being birthed. And then Charles Davis left us. There was almost a sense of abandonment. ‘You picked a fine time to leave me…’ Indeed. (Article in The Furrow – Owen F Cummings January issue woke up the memories.)
The saints of those times:
Names from the past, rush back. Hubert Richards. Peter de Rosa. Jim Mackey. Nicholas Lash. Eamon Duffy. Hans Kung. Schillebeeckx. Peter Hebblethwaite and John FX Harriot. There was an excitement those days and it was lapping all over us. The madness, wildness and vivaciousness of the Spirit was everywhere. Rahner was good but dense. Suenans was light and hopeful. Moltmann and Bultmann and Metz attracted us, de Lubac. Von Balthasar. Boff. Sobrino. De Chardin made such sense. Ratzinger too was full of life but became rather dismayed at the Student Revolutions. ‘Those were the days my friend. We thought they would never end. We’d sing and dance forever.’ Nostalgia is chewing the cud for ancients.
Launch out into the deep:
In those faraway days, everything was possible. It was the best of times. And then we were let loose. We were ready for anything. We were armed with hope. The spirit of the Council was our Mission Statement. We arrived. Some of the senior priests were frightened of our enthusiasm. They shuddered at our new ideas and new ways of doing things. We knew that if a John 23rdcould happen – anything was possible. There was an excitement lurking everywhere. We respected Paul 6thand saw him as fearful and dour. But we could understand that. He was tidying up. Open windows let in the dust. Humanae Vitae(1968) then dampened or cooled our ardour. It was probably the pivotal point where we saw the weakness and stupidity in the Institution. John Paul and Benedict have disappointed many. JP was charismatic but lost in the past even if he could dress up his words through his charismatic presence. Benedict is best known and most admired by the fact and language of his retirement. Francis has arrived. He talks the language that we know to be Christ-like. And some of us have got young again. Peter Pan (Barrie) is alive and well. Faith, Liturgy and Pastoral life, is full of mischief, fun and youthfulness once more. We are back to the sixties! Our joints tell a different story. Our forgetfulness is obvious. But what we recall; we rather like. Our minds, hearts and imaginations can fly and be forever young.
A finger in the dyke!
The abuse has diseased the Church more recently. The Church and Church people have stumbled into embarrassment and incredulity. The all-mighty and infallible Institution broke into smithereens with Humanae Vitae. The Church got its comeuppance completely on clerical abuse. It was the sex really. We had made such a mess of talking about sexuality. Our play with contraception; with virginity; with celibacy; with rules was so unreal and had lacked the incarnational touch. Everything had been so clinical and so clear in what we had to say, which was very foolish. It would be very wrong to link HV and the New Missal. However, the ridiculous and impossible English and Theology in there, shouts aloud that leadership didn’t have a clue what it was doing or was lost. The idea that Latin- incantations of mumbo jumbo supposedly was a way into the Holy is laughable and farcical. If falling on our faces has helped us to become more human, more humble and more humorous – it is all to the good. Who could take Worship seriously if there was even a cursory glance at the Prayers in the Mass and at the Eucharistic Prayers? It is complete balderdash. There is a question of what leadership is for all of us. How did we let such things happen? Or not see them?
Despite everything…. It is a wonderful world.
Despite everything. Despite the bureaucracy that often overwhelms leadership. Despite the kicked- away- pedestal, on which we supposedly proclaimed. Despite the caricatured version of God, on the roundabout of the Media. Despite the fact that we have no children as priests (no successors!). Despite the many failures in the Church of some of our colleagues. Despite the sometimes pomposity of leadership. Despite the wooden nature of Liturgy as given by the New Missal. Despite conventional wisdom wanting Church people out of hospitals and schools. Despite the glut of apologies given for institutional abuse. Despite the scandals that provide the excuse for dumping faith. Despite the absence of young people and the emptying Churches. Despite the inadequate language we use, to express the deeper truths. Despite the disappearance of bigger confident voices, that speak up and point to the God of life. Despite the apparent foolishness of all we try to do. It is still a wonderful world.
This is your life:
From the 60s to now, many of us have been immersed in the great big fields of God. We have been labourers in the farm of nature and life. Many of us can say – Rome has never got in our way (even if we have often been embarrassed and frustrated by it). If only some of the Romans rambled into our homes and our schools and met the problems there and the struggle to cope with living; then they may not be fighting over minor preoccupations. Ecclesiastical bosses haven’t limited us or hindered us. What we haven’t done, has been due to our own sluggish minds, feeble imaginations and lack of creativity. Our business never closes down. There are no holidays. There are no office hours. The dying die. The funerals have to occur. It is an avalanche at present. The homes are open to us. The craic of faith rattles through the rafters. People come and go. We are inspired by the mystery of life and the graciousness of people. We are privileged. We are still around.
The excitement of daily ministry:
God hasn’t deserted us. God challenges us every day. We lift up our eyes and look around. We are joyful messengers. We shout aloud. The valleys are filled in. Mystery dances among us. Hope abounds. We are in the best work of all. There can hardly been a more fulfilling vocation. We are amazed that somehow God wants to do something though us. There is never enough time. We cannot catch up on what we would like to do. The rubbish of GDPR arrives. The administration gets more complicated. We resent time spent on filling out papers and reports. Everything seems to be about job-creation rather than actually doing the job that is needed. I like to revisit Robert Townsend – ‘Up the Organisation’ (Once CEO of Avis) from my college days. It is a rather useful book on how to minimise administration. If only it was allowed to become the Bible of management!
We live in strange times. I hear of the millennials and the snowflakes. I can understand the derogatory remarks that arise about them. I hear of the rugby players (trial) and the cricket players (trial) and many more who notch up achievements on their whatsapp and then compare. I hear of the idiocy and superficiality of our present day culture and know that the long term agenda of faith, of grace, of Godliness and gratitude, is far away from those minds who want everything now. Michael McDowell wasn’t all wrong when he summed up what was considered a good weekend! But all the saints aren’t dead. All leadership isn’t gone missing. There are some misfits. Trump is alive and tweeting. Brexit is mission impossible. The craziness is there. Building walls isn’t just the preserve of Trump or the Tories. We did it as Church. We see Mary Lou and Michelle betray the great work of their predecessors. Gerry and Martin managed to negotiate their way through the IRA and emerge. Mary Lou and Michelle have betrayed the past and betrayed the sisterhood. They have been rather useless. If Sinn Fein had backbone, they would be in Westminster for the Brexit debate and would postpone their convenient principles. Their principles didn’t seem to matter in Venezuela (Maduro). But. But. But. We all can make excuses. Everyday and everywhere – God is alive and well in the ordinary homes and lives of people and we are party to it. We catch the grace. And are inspired.
Charles Davis felt that the Church no longer was a credible embodiment of grace. People who come to us, he said ‘ask us to lead them to God, are, though they do not know it, demanding holiness in us. I fear they may find everything else but that…’ That holiness is there and has to be. The wholeness is there and has to be. That wholesomeness is there and has to be. The questions that Charles asked, are still demanding answers. We can never escape the challenge. Faith is always seeking understanding. Ministry will always be demanding prophetic action. The Church and its ministers has to reclaim its humour, its humanity, its humility. We can never give up. We cannot be dragged into hopelessness or fear. We should leave Walls to Trump and the Brexiteers. The 60s were rather exciting. All of us old codgers are still enjoying the freedom of those faraway days. They were good. In spite of everything, we know that we were blessed and that we have lived what we saw to be our calling. 1966 and all that. Indeed. ‘I remember it well.’ (Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold)
Seamus Ahearne osa