The Best and Worst of Times
‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’
‘It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the season of darkness. It was the Spring of hope.’ Dickens says it well in ‘The Tale of Two Cities.’
I used the same words writing for the Parish Newsletter (Seasonal drop to every house in the Parish.) I told the Community that Francis called into the Parish. He was very much at home among us. The ordinary was extraordinary. He was away from the fuss and the noise. He saw a place and a people who were way beyond the usual fuss that distracts many in Religious discussions. He was very jealous too. He found ourselves very much at home here and delighting every day in the mess of life and the camaraderie of care, fun, caffling, teasing and spontaneity.
The great sense of the ridiculous and the sheer wonder of God that is expressed from the academy of experience, left him wanting to stay with us and run away from the futile battles that take over so much of his life. Something else was also being spoken.
The 7th October: The Last Mass in the West (Finglas thatis)
It is a sad day. It is day rich in history. It is a day full of messages. The Mass will be celebrated. The Church will be knocked down. A new and smaller one will take its place. It was an easy and cheap headline (media) saying that it was being demolished because of falling numbers. It is being demolished because it is not fit for purpose. It leaks. It is cold. The fabric is perishing. It is also too big and unsuitable for Liturgy. Some see the demolition squad as a symbol of life among us. The Church of our history is gone or going. The Funeral Rites have commenced. The same sex marriage; the Amendment of the 8th; the clerical abuse; the negative commentary during the Pope’s visit, all were indicators that the Church building (in our lives) was no longer fit for purpose.
The sea, oh the sea, is grá geal my chroí:
I won’t get involved in the rest of the song but will talk of the sea.
Each morning for the past week I spent two hours at the water’s edge.
I am alone.
The birds talk to me. The waves smile at me. They flick some froth at me. They dance to the rhythms of the ocean. It is awesome. I am there before God wakes up. Whenever, I am watching my steps and ignoring the talking waves; they playfully splash me with great glee.
During the last few mornings, a man appeared. He walks purposefully to the water. He gently and reverently goes in. He shows respect and awe as he begins to swim. He goes out a long distance. But it is obviously a holy moment. There is no arrogance. There is no power struggle. The sea is in charge. He listens and learns. I watch and think. In the midst of great negativity around Church; how can we help regain a sense of wonder and awe and mystery? The sea spoke to me.
That World Meeting of families:
Some of us were afraid. We had wanted that kind of Church to be knocked down. We were unsure that it (the meeting) could capture what we know to be our own experience in parish life. We worried lest it would be only a celebration of the beautiful families way beyond our own daily experience.
We feared the jamboree of having Francis paraded around to various meetings with various people and apologizing for our history.
The celebrity Pope isn’t our version of the papacy. We even doubted if it was the model that Francis has. Now that it is over, we are glad it has ended. Huge effort was put into the organizing of it. It was also a great celebration of faith. Many who took part, were very emotional and very moved by it. Even those who gathered in the Churches for the broadcast were most impressed. But like 7th October in Finglas West; what are we rebuilding?
Diarmuid Martin asks us to begin a Parish Reflection:
He thanked everyone for their mighty work around the WMF. He then went onto to concern himself with the fundamental questions of faith-life. Where is God to be found and what are we doing locally to structure our lives in a new Church of faith. He wrote of how the youth have moved on or walked away. He wrote too of the individualist culture we live in and how that affects life among us too.
In our place, we already had a gathering of some seventy people along those lines. We celebrated our history in the parish. We celebrated our present day reality. We then went onto to dream of what the new Parish and the new Church might look like here. That end section was less easy to create. The dreamers were plentiful. The vision folk were there. The nostalgic folk found it hard to get beyond the departure of the Salesian sisters and the Augustinians soon. They worry how ever this Community could ever fit into another parish. They cannot even imagine going back to a very different model of church.
This individualist culture:
The summary is valid but our own attention should be directed to the individualism in Church life. How much of Church life is directed from on high? The gaffer has to speak before anyone else has a spake.
The very agenda of meetings has to appear to come from the Chieftain.
Eucharist talks community; Communion gathers the gift of everyone; the gifts are shared. That is not how it is in dioceses or in parishes. We haven’t taken seriously at all the idea of communal discernment.
We still have the old hierarchical version or even royalist model. Even as we knock down a church our focus was on the replacement rather than on what type of Church (community of believers) we were building. As Meath Street St Catherine’s (Dublin) went on fire and was rebuilt; the accent didn’t expand to take into account the glut of churches around the area.
Gerry O Hanlon and Donal Dorr write clearly on the Synodal type of Church being created by Francis but the local versions are not in touching distance of aiming at this.
We are damaged goods. We are tired. The day to day, has taken over our lives. We cannot stretch out to the new and obvious demands that are made on us.
The one-man parish is everywhere. And in a sense that is what we know and that is what we are better at managing. But life screams out for a different way of doing things.
We are thinking, ‘not another Mass; not another funeral; not another problem’. The screaming headlines shatter us. The anti-atmosphere kills our spirit. We know too well, that abuse happened. We know too well that some of the attitudes of the past were stupid and wrong. We know too much. But we believe. We believe in the privileged story of our lives. We believe in the wonder of God among us. We touch the sacred and are fearful that our very weariness will kill the joy of the Gospel (and more especially Jesus Christ). We know too that the desert of life produced in our age in regard to sexuality is not just chaotic but inhuman. Abuse is still rampant.
But the sexual abuse especially with clerics is beyond our understanding. Those of us who have dealt with the abused, with the abusers, with the families of both – know the complexity. We also know that the issue of cover-up is not as simple as it is presented. The very idea of such abuse happening, remains incredible to many. It is almost beyond imagining. The deviousness. The cunning. The addictive elements. Is too much. That anyone would ‘use’ a child is almost beyond the elastics of our minds to grasp. Therefore trying to deal with the protagonists in this circle of hell is almost impossible. This needs noting.
Simple minds; simple solutions:
Answers aren’t easy. But simple things can be done.
WMF has happened. Like it or lump it; we must move on. Have we learned anything? We can move into the mode of the ‘poor-me’ syndrome. We can indulge ourselves. There is a swamp of negative thinking. Any meeting of priests can become a whinger’s paradise. We have to move on.
A humble hierarchy needs to abandon much of its administrative duty and simply visit the priests and listen to them.
Every diocese needs a synod.
Every diocese needs a bishop who will go away with his priests (shut up) and listen to them.
Every priest in every parish needs to have a parish team where all the affairs of the parish are decided each week collectively (ignore Canon Law).Same is badly needed at Councils of priests. Every parish has to have a listening forum.
All priests including bishops should retire at 70. (Many of us wouldn’t want to). This would immediately help us see the reality.
The collective of bishops should throw out the New Missal. But more importantly, they should begin to strenuously face the question of abandoning celibacy; ordaining married men; female ordination. Parishes should begin to look at Funerals being done together once a week or as necessary. No bishop should be allowed waste his time on the nonsense of Confirmation. ….. Those are only a few starter issues.
The best of times: God is not dead. The beauty of our gift as faith-people is magnificent. We cannot tolerate the dark, the dull, the dreary, the deluge of overwhelming sadness.
We have to sensitize our minds, hearts and imaginations to the world of God. We are ministers of the Gospel. We have the ‘joy of love.’ That enthusiasm has to burst out from us. Whatever gets in the way of this; has to be pushed aside.
Mary Oliver wrote a poem called Gratitude: She sprinkles questions throughout her poem. Here are her questions: What did you notice? What did you hear? When did you admire? What astonished you? What would you like to see again? What was most tender? What was mostwonderful? What did you thinkwas happening?
Into those questions, she scattered such gems as – the low flying sparrow; the tin music of the cricket’s body; big chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance; the thrush greeting the morning; the salty talk of the wren; the oaks letting down their dark and hairy fruit; her dog- her recklessness, loyalty; the sea and its wide shoulders; the wet face of the lily. She concludes – so the gods wake us from our sleep.
May our God wake us from sleep too. We are privileged. God is in this place and sometimes, we don’t even notice it.
Seamus Ahearne OSA
I liked all that, Seamus but “the nonsense of confirmation” jarred a bit.
We used have confirmation over here when the children were a couple of years into secondary school. We had First Communion at 7 and then Confirmation at 12 or 13, I think. It is a while now since our children were confirmed.
Then it all changed in our diocese. Children were confirmed just before First Communion, the day before or, perhaps, even on the same day. This all happened in our friend, Keith’s time. Anyway, the order had to be changed, we were told. Pius X had put the cart before the horse and that had to be corrected.
Fiona, my wife, was part of the sacramental preparation at the time and I remembered there being much debate in our parish about the sense or otherwise of the change.
I always thought it was a mistake. Whatever about the correct order of things, Confirmation was a lovely occasion for older children, now at secondary school, to enjoy one more big church occasion in their life. And, I thought that increased the chances of holding onto them for a bit longer.
And, the parish had a visit from the bishop. All positive things in the life of a parish.
God be with the days !!
Seamus Ahearne, that’s the most wonderful, thought provoking, uplifting article.. you say it as it is.. and how we are on the road we’re traveling.. each time I read it I get more from it.. it’s all about faith, hope and love and you certainly have that in abundance.. it cannot be easy for you at times.. of that, there’s no doubt.. keep strong and may God continue to bless you each and every day.. Kay McGinty.