An emotional swamp:
Amber Barrett from Milford, spoke eloquently after the Ireland V Scotland match. Her goal mattered. But it was her connection with Creeslough that was special. The gutsy familial link with the community was powerful. It was very real. How different it was to the glut of reporting which basked in the morass of grief. I cannot cope with reporters who kept on asking their interviewees in Donegal: “How did you feel when…?” It is intrusive. It is obscene. It is dredging the emotional depths for the sound bite. It is exploitive. The consistent summary around the tragedy was that this was beyond words. If that was so; then why not let it be? The general reporting was excellent but not the ‘persistent dig’ for feelings. I have a horror with gush. With emotional effluent. With provocative efforts to unleash ‘feelings.’ That could be my problem alone. I found the same outpouring of guts, with the death of the Queen. It seemed to offer a tap for turning on public emotion. The volcano erupted. This collective emoting or excuse for wallowing in shared grief is dangerous. (I think). It happened also when Diana died. However, young Amber was different and thoughtful and real.
A theological conundrum: (1)
There is a crisis. The Church (as we knew it) in Ireland is dying. God of course, is not dead and faith will never die. Covid gave many the excuse to give up on attending church. The God-culture is vanishing anyway. The priests are now scarce. Their average age is somewhere in the early 70s. There are no replacements. Does it matter? What will we do? Masses have to be reduced. A little panic arises: Who will do the Funerals? Who will look after Baptisms? How can we fix the dates for First Communions and Confirmations? What about the sick? What about the nursing homes? Who is there to visit homes or to be a listening ear or to ramble into the schools? What is happening here happened in France many years ago. ‘The Diary of a country priest’ (Bernados) creates a fine profile. ‘The Power and the Glory’ (Graham Greene) isn’t too bad an indicator either (Mexico). Those who know ‘mission land’ have dealt with such management questions for years. Sometimes, (in the mission world) we tried to graft on an Irish Church or even a Roman Church, and then it was realised that this couldn’t work (and shouldn’t work). Inculturation became a priority and the mantra. The ‘Word had to become flesh’ in the culture of the people. We really have a First World problem Church-wise here. So what now?
A continuing conundrum: (2)
Some mini-solutions have appeared. The laity will ‘help.’ The diaconate has been introduced. (Again so restricted – in age and in gender). The diaconate is an obvious idea and good. However, we must be careful. Sometimes, the Deacon becomes a further ornament in the sanctuary. This has meant that betimes the deacon has been relegated there due to the priests not being capable of working with, and together, in a properly shared ministry. The Pastoral Ministers have been introduced. Again many work well and some find it hard to break through with the reluctance or inability of priests to work with them. But these are only observations on present practice. The major issue is how we understand Ministry. We have a very static view of priesthood. Those ‘oils’ apparently confer all kinds of gifts on every priest which is balderdash. We need a total evolution of ministry. Of priesthood. The ministry of Baptism. The ministry of Liturgy. The ministry of the homily. The ministry of the laity.
The theological issue of ministry: (3)
Volunteerism too is collapsing. All the Safeguarding business is a deterrent. But the major problem is that the age of the potential volunteers has risen dramatically. There are very few of the younger ones available to ‘carry’ the church into the future. Lives are too busy. Again, the big issue is our understanding of Ministry. Do we want Baptismal Teams and Funeral Teams and Chaplaincy Teams, Catechetical Teams plus plus because there are no priests or do we need them ‘to help the priest’? Or do these Ministries exist properly in their own right? There is a major fault line in the mind-set of the establishment.
Possible exits from the Conundrum: (4)
There is a further serious question to be addressed. The old concept of the priest being the pope in ‘his’ own parish is interesting. But now with the explosion of bureaucracy in every administration (diocese and parish) there is a huge demand on the local ‘gaffer.’ In the amalgamation of parishes (clustering/groupings), there is avalanche of meetings. But fewer are attending church; fewer are available to help; older priests haven’t the energy to ‘waste’ or ‘use’ on administration. Care of the many buildings; maintenance; accounting; contracts and contacts for sale or for building, leaves little time and energy for imaginative issues of a new faith and a new world of God. It is madness to expect that every local ‘man’ is capable of doing all this administrative work. It is time for a Diocese to look at all such work being done on a Deanery level or a Diocesan level. To have an architect; an engineer; an overseer of jobs; a maintenance person for the fabric; an accountant plus to look after everything. Whatever about replacing priests; whatever about the pastoral ministry – surely these other jobs can be done (must be done) by those who are more expert in them. The scarce resource that is a pastoral talent – has to be fully explored and exploited. It cannot be wasted.
Theological creativity: (5)
The same applies to the leadership of Bishops. Many are overwhelmed and consumed by all the administration work; by meetings; by being careful and covering their backsides (understandably). But what is needed is ‘heart’ and connection to the people on the ground. To the priests. Towards listening and learning. The Synodal pathway applies. I think it was Avis rent-a-car company many years ago had a policy. The team met each morning. The meeting was always time-limited. They met standing up to ensure it didn’t go on for too long. I think we need a new Minister in the Government of the Church to strip away all the deadwood; to cut back on all unnecessary structures; to reduce bureaucracy; to reform and get back to the essentials of faith; to remove the accretions of a historical construct. To have the imagination to dump the unnecessary. We need artists and poets of the Gospel. All the above is a real cliché. We know the reality. It glares at us. But we get stuck in the mud of the everyday and don’t move on. All the new documents in the world still don’t look at the obvious issues.
Young Indi could be called Sophie!
She is full of wisdom. She had a look at what I had written. “That is gibberish,” she said. ‘It is much ado about nothing.’ That was very dismissive. She tells me that life is simple. She wakes up. She gets up. She eats. She washes. She is changed. She goes out. She plays. She sees something and everything and everyone anew every day. She is loved. She loves. Life is rich. Life is lovely. The colours of Autumn intrigue her. The people she meets brighten her days. She has all the certainty of youth. She cannot accept that anyone could be so stupid as not to know God. Her God plays, dances, sings to her. She is a friend of Dag Hammarskjold. “For all that has been: Thank you. For all that will be: Yes.” And she gets to the core of the Mass: Thank you in wonder. Oh to know as much as she does! She can’t accept at all that people don’t celebrate Mass together and pack the churches.
Seamus Ahearne osa
13th October 2022.