Séamus Ahearne: “SOMETIMES I NEED ONLY TO STAND WHEREVER I AM TO BE BLESSED.” (Mary Oliver)
What’s the Story? (1)
Mary greets me on a Sunday morning in Oliver Plunkett’s on my occasional visit, with the words: “What’s the story?” On Saturday night last (4th February), The Tommy Tiernan Show, had Martin Shaw as a guest. He was introduced as a Storyteller. In fact Tommy said – he was the best. Martin was good. The mountains spoke to him. He took us walking with wonderment in our hearts. He listened to the bones of the ancestors at the graveside. He evoked the spirit of the Seanachaí. Another artist – Cahal Flynn with his play ‘Pure Medicine’, explored the stories of his childhood around the fire. (Directed by our own Betty Duffy of this community). Martin reminded me of our own journey with ‘Myth’ through our Biblical studies and how any fundamental interpretation missed completely the message. Tommy was stirred into a speech on Saturday. He somewhat lamented how the cultural story of faith had lost its way with Church failings, and that the present day consumerist attitude missed out on the Story. The Church had carried people with the Story previously, but that now, that had evaporated. The wonder. The history. The ‘more-ness.’ We need something new to provoke us. To lift our spirits. To catch the mystery.
What’s the Story? (2)
We are losing the language of Story. The immediate and the obvious of the moment stifles and obscures the bigger picture. We need the Story. We need the crocuses and the snowdrop and the daffodils to speak. We need the mountains and the air and the birds and the family history and the faith community to speak. The ‘bigness’ of life has to take us into the depths and the heights. That too is the challenge now for the Faith Community. The language and Rubrics of yesteryear don’t draw many into the Story. The easy and superficial.
Scotland and Keith O’Brien (1)
The Sunday Times had an article on the 5th February. It reflected on the ten years since Keith Patrick O’Brien (Archbishop of Edinburgh) had stepped down. The view in the article was that the Scottish Church hasn’t recovered. It is divided. It has lost heart. It is intimidated by the past. It feels weak. The moral authority is shattered. It is more than embarrassed by the shame of it all. Scotland had fought so hard to have a voice and now it is humiliated and not just humbled. I recall Bernadette Devlin saying that someone was like ‘a Larne Catholic.’ That meant (in her view) – a person who almost apologised for their existence. Some of this could describe the Catholicism of Scotland (implied by the article).
Scotland and Keith O’Brien (2)
I lived in Scotland. I remember when the Church was very much alive. I also knew Keith O’Brien. He brought humanity and humour to his role. He was a very fine pastoral man. I knew him too when he was exiled from Scotland and we corresponded every few weeks. I felt very sad at what had happened. It is easy to lob the word – hypocrite, at him. His behaviour was wrong. He did a lot of damage. It was a pity that those who knew of his propensities didn’t speak much earlier. (Some did very quietly). But we know from experience that this doesn’t happen very often. My own point is this (From Robbie Burns):
“Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho’ they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark,
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.
Who made the heart, ’tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let’s be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What’s done we partly may compute,
But know not what’s resisted.”
Failure is part of living. For a Church who made Confession so central; why do we let anyone who fails, drag us down? We should cling to the essentials and face the world with Confidence. Our Story is too good. We need a bold face and courage. Get on with it. Focusing on failure and the negative is not the way of faith.
The dying Church and the ageing priests: (1)
Obviously, I meet many priests. Some now question their whole ministry. The words pour out like this. The Church is dying. There are no children or young people at Church. We have no replacements. Does our work mean anything, anymore, to anyone? We go to a Baptism or a Wedding or a Funeral; hardly anyone knows the responses. There is a certain nostalgia for the old days with a few. Latin Mass. Benediction. Holy Smoke. Novenas. Devotions. Dressing up. But really is that the answer? Clinging to the past, is a pathetic luxury. God is alive today. Faith is a gift. We don’t have to be responsible for everyone. Every day is a mystery. Every person is. There is the bigger Story.
The dying Church and the ageing priests: (2)
Tommy Tiernan and Martin Shaw are right. We are all searching for the Holy Grail. We are on a treasure hunt. And the treasure exists. These are actually exciting times. We want a new Language and a new Liturgy. This is Mission Land. We live our faith. We enjoy the discovery. We are happy in the privileged wonder of every day. We reach out. We are on hand. Let the future emerge as it will. A dull and dreary priest is not a minister. We don’t have to carry the burden of responsibility for the shape of the Church in the future. Let it emerge. As long as we don’t get in the way of Christ and the Gospel; we aren’t doing a bad thing! I think everyone – that means every human being, has to find a way into the Bigger Story. Such a reflection is essential. Every priest too has to humbly reflect too, on a new expression of faith. First of all this has to happen for each of us. Ministry can only follow our personal reflection. So a recipe for ministry: Be outrageous. Confuse people. Don’t live up or down to the caricature. Be un-churchy. Get rid of holy language and holy carry on. Surprise everyone. Be carefree and careless. Dump the hangdog expression. Have a look at Holy Willie’s Prayer by Robbie Burn!
Seamus Ahearne osa
6th February 2023.