Outsiders and Insiders
Lord Waterford died last week. His estate was my playground as a youngster. I got nostalgic. My head was busy with memories. My mother worked there; my father worked there; my uncle worked there; I worked there. I lived there. The 2500+ acres was a beautiful backyard.
Our Irish literature is full of stories of the Big House; the fading relevance of the Gentry in our society; how they now live on the periphery – neither part of the society they live in or belonging to the English society where they came from historically. (William Trevor sums this up very well as do many others).
I am ambivalent. My father found work on Curraghmore Estate when he lost his job in the local Tannery. Our family found the Waterfords always very caring, warm and helpful. I recall when my sister (as a baby) needed a radium shot; it was Lady Waterford who took her to Temple Street. We always had timber for the fire and a big world to explore. However, it still nags at my innards that Lords and Ladies are such a strange anomaly in a Republic. It also strikes me as wrong that the gentry still have leasehold ownership of so much land and housing throughout the country; that they have fishing rights and shooting rights and hunting rights. After all these years as a Republic, we are left with such a residue of our colonial past. Our politicians surely must be asleep.
As the writers might put it – the gentry now belong no where. They are outsiders. Often times, their Big Houses don’t have the cosiness or comfort that the rest of the ordinary people have. There is something almost sad at how dreary some of these forlorn houses have become. The ‘doffing’ hats culture is gone. The ‘curtsying’ culture is gone. The gentry have become the ‘poor relations.’
It is a strange comparison but the Church at times seems somewhat similar. The Church (gentry) ruled the lives of all. The hats were doffed. The titles were used (many are still used…… Father; Your Lordship; Your excellency!!! ) The uniform was worn. ‘They’ held the key to the sacred. But somehow, so much of this is now outside mainstream Irish culture. The ‘church’ hardly matters. Church people have almost become figures of fun. A caricature has taken over. Sometimes the clergy have become irrelevant and are almost vestiges of a long lost past – best forgotten. Yes, we are less important which is just as well. We hardly matter. Life has moved on. It is such a pity that the trappings of the past might get in the way of the Christ of the Gospels. The challenge for all, is that the Gospel and Jesus Christ and therefore the ministers become immersed in the places, people, clay of the day (Sounds incarnational). So much needs to be discarded and many of us are too old to let go. Many of us aren’t creative enough to rethink the message.
I am amazed that I should be linking the gentry with the Church ministers in Ireland. This may be coming from a deranged mind. And now as I begin to recover; I have begun to read again and think a little. I glance at ‘Treasured and Transformed’ (Vision for the heart) Daniel O Leary. I like his musings. His understanding of the incarnation is similar to my own. I look again at Mary Oliver’s ‘I Happened to be standing.’I sauntered through Rachel Joyce’s ‘The Unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry.’ I found Paul Philibert ‘s Opening talk on a Synod (Limerick) too much for me but interesting. I couldn’t begin Jose Pagola (Fresh eyes). Padraig Daly’s new book – ‘God in winter’ is very real and it is winter in Church life.
I watched the interview with Enda Kenny which was poor. He was robotic and lifeless. Miriam (she annoys me most times anyway) also was crude in her demand for ‘yes or no ‘ answers to questions which cannot be summed up so succinctly. I saw Paul Murphy being sliced and diced by Ryan Turbridy and was rather impressed (and not by Paul!) We can be critical of our politicians or critical of our colonial past but we need to be more critical of our own presentation of Jesus Christ. Some of our leaders who play along with the media are not impressive either.
It is good to be sick for a while. Life has a different perspective. I’m hopeless at idleness. It is frightening to be helpless. It is humbling to be out of control and to lose independence. It is shocking not to be able to think or read or write or do anything. But the God of the ‘outsider’ has to speak to the heart of someone who is totally at home in the ‘church ‘ outside the Temple. I am used to being up to my oxters in the muck of everyday life. The detached outsider’s view is very foreign. Belonging no where and adrift, sounds like the life of the gentry – It is not where I want to be or where the Church we must create, can remain. But as (Gospel ministers) we are now very much outsiders; so we can be more aware of how so many felt ‘outsiders’ in the world of Church in our past. We now feel in present day Ireland (outsiders) as we made so many feel in the past (outsiders). The empathy of understanding can help us along.
Seamus Ahearne osa
Welcome back, Séamus! Our place is at the outside, on the periphery.
I also watched Enda Kenny on the Prime Time interview. He was somewhat wooden, as you say.
But he said something which concerns me. On the same-sex marriage referendum, he said it’s “about tolerance and respect” and about a “very tolerant and inclusive Ireland.” Good on the surface, but the implications are serious. It implies that anyone who dares to vote No wants an intolerant Ireland, and is himself or herself intolerant. It implies that anyone who disagrees with Enda has no rational basis for it, and that there is no other possible way to deal with the situation. The impression conveyed is that the Taoiseach of all the people is intolerant of disagreement on this.
It wasn’t accidental. He spoke in a similar vein in Castlebar on Saturday: “… a Yes vote would, I believe, send out a powerful signal internationally that Ireland has evolved into a fair, compassionate and tolerant nation.”
Is he trying to terrify us into voting Yes, for fear of what the rest of the world will say about us if we don’t? We’re by no means perfect, nor is any other nation; but is he telling us that he thinks we are not a fair and compassionate and tolerant nation unless we take his solution?
Not a good impression.
I’m not trying to get you down, Séamus!
Is it not always the empathy of understanding that only ever carries us along – in the right direction that is.
Oh Seamus, this is a very frightening mirror that you are holding up to us as church and in particular to us clergy; that we are sadly like the gentry holding on to a ‘charmed’ way of life that is long gone. You are not deranged! I know in my bones you are speaking the truth.
So many people are walking away in their droves; they already see what you speak of. A parishioner said to me yesterday that he is shocked at some of the people who are no longer walking with us and cannot understand why this is happening. Of course, I and we, will deny that we are like the gentry facing extinction.
The reality of extinction beckons. To use a phrase from sport – “We are sadly on a long loosing run”! I don’t know of any Church diocese in the ‘developed’ world that has been able to turn things around. Obviously, Francis in Rome, is offering so much hope that things can be turned around.
Yet, I cannot understand why this Synod is on the family. Why are we talking about family when most families are leaving the Church? Ultimately, come October, it is all men, mostly white ones (gentry!), talking about family. A few parishioners and myself have started to read the Lineamenta. We are exasperated! How are we going to get enough heart to make a response even with the help of Padraig McCarthy’s rephrased version? If anybody out there has found a way, I welcome your help. We cannot see how we are going to get more local parishioners to get excited about this.
As I have already stated so many families have left the Church, so why do we persist in thinking they are going to be interested in what we have to say about family.
Should not this Synod have been on the demise of the Church, as Francis says, which could fall like a deck of cards? Should not this Synod be about the need to let go of a ‘gentry’ mode of Church and attempt a radically new way of being Church.
Seamus, it is always great to read your deliberations. They are so real and life-giving.
Wishing you blessings for a full recovery.
I wrote this a few weeks back after finding a sheep on the wrong side of the fence as I drove by.
It had strayed beyond the fence, head down,
to graze the grass verge by the roadside.
Careless of traffic, a single sheep,
carrying a rust-red stain of identity,
had walked away from the field flock.
Slowly it cropped the road edge,
unhurried, waiting to be found.
We have to find people where they are, and not be too fussy about the clothes they wear.
They can be recognised as pilgrims in their poverty, both material and spiritual.
Ministry for all of us is about caring for each other, day by day.
Seamus does just that and we are all better for his voice. Thank you