Mission Impossible – or is it?

It is Mission month and Mission weekend. In all my rambles in Nigeria, Korea, Brazil, Japan, Scotland, England and even Finglas, there has been a God who has danced into my life, full of surprises, full of poetry, full of wonder and full of laughter. I am on a mission to collect more and more such surprises and I need to find that treasure daily.

I’m a believer:
My Mission here may distract me, out to the byways and highways where the Church is forgotten and where the gibberish of sacred language is irrelevant. But I cannot go out there, unless I am enjoying the living God, where I am. I need to be taking off my shoes, seeing the burning bush, hearing the gentle breeze and finding the teasing- God of the caster-oil plant (Jonah.) I need to be telling people and showing people that God and Church, isn’t like the scarcely remembered version, which is a caricature of the Christ-picture from the Gospels. But I shouldn’t tell anyone, anything, if I am not alive myself. Possibly, the only Mission I have now, is to create some kind of oasis, where the refreshment of God, makes a little sense in the desert of our modern world. I have to do this with total humility and must exude some personal serenity, believing that nothing can ever happen, that is beyond the goodness and love of God. Mission now might just mean: Believing and living as if I/we believe.

Kevin Lowry:
Kevin Lowry (priest in Lancaster Diocese and a long time Augustinian and friend) died unexpectedly. His funeral was on Wednesday (18th October) in Lytham St Anne’s. We gathered. It was an extraordinary gathering. I smiled too that there were road works everywhere towards the Church (roads closed) and challenged us to find a way through. We managed to break through (a message and metaphor!) Brian Lawlor osa was the homilist and he spoke powerfully and very affectionately. He said that the funeral of a priest is different. I am hesitant about that thought. But he went on to say that there is something strange about a priest’s funeral which means that the occasion is bigger and wider than the individual or even the family. (Brian did it well). There was a very public Godliness about it all. A history of events, moments, places and people was happening. In some ways, all of us were recalling, the mosaic of Kevin’s life and weaving the tapestries of that story into a God-story in our own lives. Maybe it was very appropriate that his dying was delayed as the family waited for matching recipients to receive his donated organs. That summed up the giving-in-his-life or the mission-of-his-life.

A coffin is blessed:
There was a huge overflowing congregation of people from several countries and many parts of the UK. Something bigger than Kevin and bigger than any of us, was happening. I saw his father Tom (95 years old) bless his son finally in the Crematorium and it was powerful and humbling and tearful. We then did likewise. The blessing and the touch on the coffin somehow reached the depths of ourselves and the guts of faith. Grace, Faith, affection, love, God stirred in us. We were reminded of our own Mission. A very strong presence and absence was Shelagh (Kevin’s mother who died a short time ago). I have described her (previously) as a beautiful woman and a saint. She was all of that.

Christ be our Light:
One moment among many, stayed with me as we processed out of St Joseph’s. The song being sung was ‘Christ Be Our Light.’ It was explosive. Everyone was screaming (tunefully) but powerfully to the heavens, demanding that Light for ourselves/themselves. The conviction was incredible. What did Kevin do, to have evoked such a response? Was it Kevin? Was it Shelagh, Tom and Anne? Was it the various Congregations and Communities that surrounded him and supported him? Or was this occasion, an opportunity for all of us to excavate what is within us and find the deepest ambitions of our hearts? Was Kevin the excuse that we all needed and craved?

Called and sent:
Mission weekend or Mission time, is surely the reminder to Celebrate what we have received and to Hand On what has been our legacy. The faraway Mission continues. The local Mission is profound. Francis tells us of his Mission – it is the simplicity of the Gospel and the immediacy of Jesus Christ. The Mission of the Bishops and Priests surely is to throw around Hope. It is to scatter the beauty and wonder of God. It is to dump the paraphernalia that corrodes the spirit (ancient garbs, titles, false solemnity, fears and ancient language). The Mission in every Church has to be – to Celebrate the experiences of life, and the presence of God. Bread and Wine; food and drink; nourishment; feeding and being fed; humility and gratitude. Listening and hearing God speak; knowing and believing that God still speaks Now and to us and in every situation. The Presentation of Gifts. The Word made flesh. Grace – being touched by God. Thanksgiving. Eucharist.

Free at last:
Our Mission is to strip back the accumulated formality and the dust of the centuries. It is to run away from the corroding rust that has rotted the structure. It is to dump the showy nonsense of outdated practice, dress, title and false protectionism (of God). It is to get away from being problem- centred or overflowing with negativity. It is to realise and accept that priesthood is not stagnated into maleness or into celibacy. It is to learn a little from Martin Luther King (28th August 1963) – ‘I have a dream’: ‘Thank God Almighty. Free at last. We are free at last. ‘ It is to move on and to move out full of Confidence (full of faith) knowing that yesterday is dead and gone but that a new day is dawning and it will be different. We are Believers or nothing. That is our Mission. And only that. As we protested our convictions like an erupting volcano yesterday in Lytham – we have to continue to act as if we believe ‘Christ is our Light. ‘May that volcano erupt from each of us and fire up our world.
Seamus Ahearne osa

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  1. Pascal O'Dea says:

    Seamus this is an inspiring piece in its clear call to live our faith in simplicity.Your advice as I interpret it, to leave behind the unhelpful trappings of a controlling church and instead spread the good news by our hope and spirit resonates with many lay persons dispirited with the inability of our Irish church leaders to follow the flock in their simple wisdom.

  2. I was at the funeral mass and a member of Kevin’s parish. It was a lovely celebration of his life and service to the church. My next door neighbour, who isn’t a Catholic insisted on coming. Kevin visited my friend in prison…even though she was not in his parish. Her own priest didn’t. He allowed one off the inmates fro m the local prison to help around the church a d when he was released arranged for him to have a mobile home. This person is now a much loved member of the parish and as he isz the same height and build as Kevin..he now has a new wardrobe. When someone came to fix our boiler(not a church goer) he said he had seen him about a baptism and declared…. What a lovely man your priest is! What did Kevin do? He did an awful lot. He quite unconsciously loved people to bits. They could be gay, straight Catholic or not, . He carried out all the works of mercy every single day. We had a lesbian couple with a baby who weren’t sure how to approach him. He really didn’t judge anyone. He will be very sadly missed but we had a terrific rôle model for 3years.

  3. John Dwyer Kirwin says:

    Amen, Amen, Amen. Seamus, and thank you so much for taking the time to fire up our mission. Unfortunately it is not only the Irish church leaders who need to hear the simple wisdom of their flock, it might be world-wide, I know many of our North American church leaders need to do the same.

  4. Catherine Holland says:

    Thank you from someone who could not be there,but who now has a more vivid image of the day.
    I was able to be at Kevin’s memorial mass last night in St Augustine’s Carlisle, another special celebration, where many of Fr Kevin’s old school friends, even from primary days were present. A night of fond memories.

  5. Anne Foley says:

    Fr Kevin was a member of ACTA – A Call to Action and when he was made acting administrator at the Cathedral he enabled the newly forming ACTA group to meet in the Library at Cathedral House. His support of ACTA enabled us to get off the ground and although there was some opposition Fr Kevin challenged those who opposed ACTA, as he also challenged those who opposed CAFOD when they met there. He attended all the ACTA meetings before moving to be PP at Freckleton. His was a quiet, affirming presence with an encouraging smile and is a huge loss felt by all members of ACTA. Our condolences go to his Dad and sister, to his parishioners in Freckleton, to all his friends and all in Lancaster Diocese. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

    More comments from ACTA members follow

    We are all devastated

    This is a big loss. While he was at the Cathedral there was a feeling that Spring had come! It felt warmer and easier. I had been in touch with him recently over some work with refugees (he was one of the few clergy to show interest and openness)
    Thank God for his life and service. Peace and blessings to him.

    We prayed for him at Mass this morning. Very sad indeed! A good priest.

    I remember meeting him at our early ACTA meetings and his move from the Cathedral he was indeed a lovely man. May he rest in peace.

    Very sad and a great loss to ACTA.

    Another good one…..RIP

    A very well loved priest

    So, so, sad.

    He will be a great loss to the Diocese – and to his family who will be devastated. May he be blessed with eternal life.

    He was a good priest.

    I have been thinking of Fr Kevin, since his sad demise, and my overwhelming memory is of the day he asked me to take a box of little medals and some CTS books to Fernyhalgh church. He said that they will like them there, they are better suited to them. He then replaced them with more modern, post Vatican 2 items and books. After he left the next parish priest asked why we had not got CTS books and the like at the back of church, and the more up-to-date items were replaced with traditional items quite quickly.
    This seems like a metaphor for our Church and why we have lost our way. We need to speak up more for what is being lost by fear and ignorance and remember that what Fr Kevin did should be done by us, each in our own way and each in our own parishes. This would do him great honour and be a lasting legacy to his bravery.

    May the Lord reward him with His presence forever

    I didn’t know Fr Kevin personally but knew he was well loved.

    A dear friend to ACTA

  6. Jane Ireland says:

    There were 65 priests and 650 people at Fr Kevin’s funeral.

  7. Bridget Murphy says:

    I knew Kevin when he lived in Birmingham and I was really shocked and saddened when I read about his death on ACP website. Thank you Seamus for your words and the memories of a kindly, humourous man who has left heart prints everywhere he served. With fond memories of a truly wholesome human being. Rest In Peace Kevin

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