The Surprises in life:
The exciting shocks of the World Cup in Qatar got our attention: Saudi beat Argentina; Japan beat Germany; Iran beat Wales; Costa Rica beat Japan; Morocco beat Belgium. England hammered Iran but could only draw with USA. Australia beat Tunisia. The unexpected and the unusual is tantalising. We always need the teaser of the unlikely. It applies in life too.
I saw some of the little ones in St Finian’s School (Finglas) walking around in Pyjamas on Friday, and was then immediately informed that Ryan Tubridy had been, with his bundles of gifts. Apparently this is the required uniform for the Toy Show. His unexpected visit was a thrilling moment for the School Community. He later praised the school as the loveliest school he had met in twenty years – full of spirit and quite delightful. The children were so polite. (The Finglas we know!) Everyone was glowing with such an appraisal. The unexpected once more wakes us up and catches our attention. Nonetheless, I didn’t manage to watch The Toy Show. Nor could I cope with much of the football. I tried a little of the Spain v Germany game. Now I did see some of the Strictly Results Programme. How could the voters put Fleur East in the Dance Off? What was in their minds to do such a dastardly deed? The unexpected sometimes is disturbing. The gentleman Hamza did get through. Surprises are tossed around daily – to keep us alive and talking. And even thinking. The God of Surprises (G Hughes) happens.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (England and Wales) published its final Report in October. It was chaired by Professor Alexis Jay. It had a very uncertain beginning. It found it difficult to appoint a Chairperson and to retain staff. The Report makes for very sad reading. It is beyond most of us to believe that abuse is so widespread. It is almost an epidemic. (Report). It is in every corner of society. It doesn’t matter how many ferrets are sent into the burrows of life; more and more abuse remains to be revealed. I suppose many still can’t deal with the addictive nature of the abuser or deal with the deviousness involved. I think most can’t believe that this even could happen. How could anyone ever damage a child? But it goes on. All the policies in the world won’t stop it. But everyone has to be alert to the possibilities. We are all on guard and all are guardians.
For those of us in the business of religion; it does contradict everything we hold dear, that such behaviour could occur. But it does. It has. It continues. The privileged access to the intimate life of families and children, provides an ideal entry. We have ‘trust.’ We have ‘power.’ It is dangerous and explosive and very sad. Those of us who have dealt with families – where children have been abused; dealt with abusers; dealt with the fall-out and the impossibility in families, of understanding or believing what has gone on; know how utterly layered and corrosive is the working of the deviant. In Church life at present; as we meet with the collapsing life of faith and church; we push a huge boulder (of faith) up the hill. It does keep falling back and overwhelming us. But then there are more revelations. The French – bishops. The Irish Church. The schools. It is wearying. But nothing matters on how we feel, or how contaminated we seem to be, by what has been done; compared to a child’s life being damaged. The major issue which is a societal problem and a church problem, concerns the whole area of sexuality. The chaotic jungle and the utter wilderness which our young people face at present is frightening. The church failed badly in its treatment of sexuality. But all of society plus media needs to re-examine its outlook. The mad world of social media especially threatens children daily. The Report is hard to read but it does need to be read.
‘The death of certainty.’
Thomas Aquinas supposedly stopped writing after seeing ‘the light.’ He saw his writing and the writings of most others, as utter ‘chaff.’ I had some of the same feeling when I read ‘The Death of Certainty’ by Sophie Olszowski in The Tablet 26th November 2022. She writes about her husband Simon – ‘my lapsed, faith-filled Catholic husband.’ She writes beautifully and thoughtfully. Their love. His faith. Her own atheism or possibly agnosticism. Her struggle. Her wish to believe. His battle with many aspects of Church and his enduring belief. She dabbles in hints and whispers of his continuing presence despite the obvious absence. She finishes her article “beloved atheist and agnostic family and friends, without whom I couldn’t weather this storm, will spot in this, only my thumping need, to believe in something, the predictability of my quest. But I’m on a gentler tide. No certainty, no dogma, just a strong sense of ‘otherness.’ Catholicism may or may not tame or explain it, but I love a man of faith, that much is sure. I may never find God, but I’ll always have Simon.” Like Aquinas – how can any of us dare to write after Sophie has summed up what surely is the life of faith for all of us. I rather think that her words could frame our programme of living humbly in the mystery of God.
Two ads come to mind for Advent. The man with the ball-point pen and the spare pair of socks who is writing the speech for his daughter’s wedding. She is four! But the message of the ad is – he hasn’t got insurance. We do so much foostering around, all of us – we get lost in the details of life and forget to look at the bigger issues. God has gone missing. And definitely isn’t missed. The second ad – tells the story of the children in the car: “Are we there yet. Are we there yet?” It is the impatience of life. Rushing and stressing. The oasis (of God today) which is the neglected moment. In Church life we are busy. And the whole world is collapsing. The priests are ageing. There are no replacements. Parishes are amalgamating. It is impossible to carry on as we did. Savour the moment. Enjoy the opportunity. So much of the accumulated accoutrements only get in the way of God!
Have a look at the Mass we have created. It is unwieldly. It staggers under the weight of words. The congregations are often passive. The homilies are too holy. There is no real connection with the life experience of the people present. They don’t take part. Or have their say. The whole Sacramental system set up – is too tidy. Is it ever a Sacrament? I prefer Augustine’s 100s of sacraments. Or the clutter of virgins and celibacy and only men as ordained priests – all of them needs to be pruned and changed. We need to dismantle much of what we have done and let God dance in the ordinary. So we are writing speeches for that wedding (or something similar) ….. Or asking- are we there yet? …. Advent is the Sacred Space of the present. Gratitude for God in our history. Awareness of God now. Humility is essential in looking into the future.
She is a problem. She has got a whiff of Christmas merriment. It isn’t the doors of the Advent Calendar that excites her. Rather it is the paraphernalia of Christmas. She hears of this time as colourful, glamorous, and exciting. She wants lights everywhere. She wants a tree. She wants a crib. She wants presents. She isn’t sure where this baby comes in, whose name is Jesus. She can’t grasp this Christ person who is now only a baby. She doesn’t tolerate competition. She wants to be the baby and this coming young fellow could take attention away from her. That doesn’t sound right to her. She sounds like a local child who met her new born sister and asked the ma to send her back. I think young Indi is of that ilk. Somehow, I think Indi will be more interested in the straw, the cow, the donkey, the shepherds. Poor baby might be ignored for a while.
Seamus Ahearne osa 28th November 2022.