Our need for heroes and the curse of certainty

There is thunder in the air. The noise of emotional indignation shatters the peace. Any decent God-respecting person would run for shelter. Every ‘mea-culpa’ prelate is breast- beating. The mantra now is: ‘I am sorry.’ Everyone has to apologise for the wickedness of the past. As if we have a right and an ability to make such an apology. If we look around, we might find sufficient reason to do our own apologies. Learn from the past and leave it. It had its great moments and its great people. It had its failures and failings.
I am totally irreverent. The more strident the self-righteous outrage is; the more I laugh at how ahistorical it all seems. Some context is essential. In the age of Twitter, alternative facts and fake news – everything is simplistic. At one time it was the tabloids who summed everything up in a headline; now it is commonplace. Life is rather more complex.   If we can’t get the nuances we miss out on too much.
As Religious people, we almost deserve to be dismissed and caricatured. We made everything so simple ourselves. We have accumulated much stupidity. The finding of the child in the temple today for the feast of St Joseph brought much hilarity to our Eucharist. We concluded that they were negligent parents and that he was a teenage brat. The Gospel writer had to put a neat spiritual gloss on the story. My brother Martin (Luther) tried so hard to wake us up as church but we weren’t capable of listening. And then he overdid it. The oratorical flourish took over. The church needs to be humble and light-hearted in any summary of the past.
I was thinking. And smiling. Eamonn Casey died. It was amusing to read the commentary. Annie Murphy had her outing. Peter had his outing. The Gay Byrne slot was rolled out. The larger-than-life character was admired. (He was great fun for a sing-song!) His good works went with him. There was fun in his faith. And our fondness for the rogue came to the fore. Eamonn was a hypocrite (for some) and the foolishness of the Church was hurled around. Well yes and no. Eamonn did much good. But why can’t we remember?   Why do we have to build people up and delight in their failure? We love to put people on a pedestal and then knock them off. Many of our highflyers have clay feet. It is the way of life. Eamonn and Michael were the warm-up act in Galway. They had some colour and life. Keith was a man full of humour and humanity and he fell off the dais. Charlie Haughey was a lovable rogue. Even John Major did some straying with Edwina. JFK needed much exercise every day. Bill Clinton liked some variety. Mitterand was good to his mistress. Even Ryan Giggs took a tumble. Chuck Berry created ‘rock and roll’ and did some rolling himself.
We crave the perfect. It doesn’t happen. Life is very mixed up. Each of us has much good and a few failings. It almost seems that we need to discover humility to appreciate success. I love the character of David in the Bible. He didn’t just have clay feet- he fell on his face. We needed a Peter and a Judas. Humanity and humility have to go together. No time is perfect. No era is perfect. No person is perfect.
I want less perfect people and more colour and character. We have produced a faith that glorifies perfection and is totally unreal. We spun yarns about the so-called saints and made them very unreal. We did the same with Jesus. We had no taste for the poetry and metaphor and story of Scripture and then deadened everything with literalism. Where is the heart and throbbing reality in the midst of all this? Goodness, we were so perfect; we hardly needed God at all. We sent people into priesthood and religious life and called it the ‘way of perfection’, which was a total nonsense. We were full of sin and categorised everything for Confession in number and quantity, which made a farce of the Sacrament. We made marriage for the procreation of children and forgot about intercourse as having something to do with lovemaking.   We even produced a Missal with artificial words and thought it was sacred. But the failures don’t matter one whit, if we learn a little. We will never get it right. We are forever struggling to learn. Pope Francis is helping us to look at the simplicity of faith and the beauty of God among us. Our faith is one of delight and awe. All the misery literature of theology has little to do with the Christ of Gospel.
Charles Brown is off to Albania. I hope he has learned much from us. I hope he has learned that a tidy life is not faithful. I hope he has found that the perfect is not Godly or real. He may have come here to sort us out but I wasn’t convinced that his version of sorting us out was bright, breezy and beautiful. Neatness and tidiness is far from the reality of ordinary life and ordinary faith. I smiled again as I recalled the Devotion to the Mother of Good Counsel (among the Augustinians). We have a beautiful picture in Genazzano of a picture which supposedly miraculously flew from Albania.   I don’t think such fanciful tales are essential in building up devotion. However, may Charles J be touched by the grace of Albania (and any residue from the picture!) and the blessing of God. He is a man of faith to take on such a job. I would prefer to give him a few years in the madness of a crazy parish.
I will return to the beginning. Life is complicated. We get glimpses of insight. Nothing is simple. We need our heroes. We need our colourful characters. We need people who have a go at living. Does it really matter if they fail or fall? Some of our greatest artists have been chaotic in life but yet had a touch of genius. I think the Eamonns of this world are a great gift to us. I call it grace and not disgrace. Fallen heroes are not failures but human. We can admire the good and understand when anything goes wrong. Somehow I think David was a more rounded human being and a more faithful ancestor of Jesus by being real. We need to be gentle in our assessment of times and places and people. The curse of certainty is total failure.  If some of our know-all commentators allowed themselves a little poetry in their souls, they might even catch a whisper of God.   Be-Big rather than Be-Little.
Seamus Ahearne osa

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  1. I enjoyed the line ‘fallen heroes are not failures but human.’ Many times I have fallen and often seen myself as a failure. After reading this piece I feel more accepting of myself as human.
    It’s a sad society that labels people as ‘fallen’- ‘fallen women’, ‘fallen priests’ or ‘fallen wrong-doers’ (never ‘fallen men’).
    I am grateful for this honest and open space to express my views. There are plenty of blogs and web-sites on the right and on the left for people to character assassinate but at least on this site we can hold respect for each other.

  2. Phil Greene says:

    Amazing !
    How delightful – all these men were a gift of Grace – can we ask the women involved if they would agree?? I am sure they could find some wonderfully colourful language to describe these men’s behaviour towards them and treatment of them..!
    I guess these same women would then be accused of belittling these “heroes”, unless of course they could write their grievances as poetry , then it just might be worthy of some thought!

  3. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Like a friend of mine says, Jesus had a glint in his eye when he met that independent lady at Jacob’s well in Samaria. They had great craic! And look what came of it!
    And remember Jacob himself: certainly not an Israelite in whom there was no guile.

  4. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    You know what – I’m starting to think that the Pope is out there signalling a very important message for a group of Catholics. For those of us seeking change, there exists a new way forward. What a guy.
    Starts his tenure with a progressive rock album, institutes Laudato si’, inverts the pyramid then says “let those of you who have found a way find a voice”. Prayers answered.
    So what now? Where is this Church that he is talking about? Imagine if the key to salvation was to figure out where the key was – a map to unlock the door. In the pages of Laudato si’ we are witnessing the embodiment of Hopi prophecy that called for Benedict and Francis to assemble and be welcomed to the fray by some group headed by a source from the east of Turtle Island and a whole lot of Irish – but I might be reading into the prophecy too far. It is what the Hopi believe in unwritten form and if you got to know them at all, you’d know there exists a perfect example of your “curse of certainty”. They have told us how this plays out. The rock drawing is explicit and the spoken account is equally as impressive. The scary thing is that there is a dual-account.
    Pope Francis has it figured out. Some of us have been marketing about it specifically for years – these exact steps – codified in tight rhythms and prayers – “Future so confiscated, we need an answer from the Throne.” It took me years to find my heroes – they are currently a group of children from Eugene, OR who are suing the current US governments for trampling on their constitutional rights. Actually the claim could go against the whole of American people. Another “curse of certainty” is if you have a human rights agenda and think that it should remain on the outside of courts, good luck to you.
    I think Wijngaards could be instrumental in providing the basis for your claim. Dr. Henry bestowed us with that little juicy nugget on a different post. Francis is ready for you. Let the Canons ring clear and true and with Wijngaards conducting the samples to allow them to stand the test of Natural Law, your jobs get no harder. So if I read Dr. Henry correctly, if it is considered Catholic tradition and not doctrine, it should stand the test of Natural Law. Or is this just my wishful thinking.
    Please state in message your intentions of relaying this message to the whole of ACP/ACI – an expanding group of Northern Ireland’s Catholic artists (and honorary Irelandais) who believe in the idea of a carbon-free fundraiser would like to get involved. However you play into this, you are fulfilling prophecy. There are two lines – one where the kingdom is not established and things fall into disrepair again – long-term exposure to infected oceans is upon us and we are still looking for heroes to rise to the occasion. Trump’s here and Catholics elected him so it’s about time. Trump and Tillerson are going to court. How does getting sued by a teenage group who are fighting for their future well-being sound?
    Is this why I’m nervous? Am I going to witness justice in action in my lifetime? Oh by all means, take your time gentlemen – the show is just starting – lines in the sand are continually being drawn. Where’s that Church the Pope promised?

  5. Sandra Mc Sheaffrey says:

    Yourself and Pat the Hat let me catch “the whisper of God”. Tanx, Seamus.

  6. Richard O'Donnell says:

    As I read Seamus’ piece, I was in agreement with him until I read Phil @ 2 above.

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