The Chorus line in Church Life

Sr Rita Lee was described as ‘Attila the nun.’ She was profiled as ‘tough, direct and uncompromising.’ She runs a Drop-In-Centre in Manchester. There was a programme on BBC (St Rita To The Rescue) which enthused about her work. She was also interviewed on BBC5Live. This comment was made – “Who will do the work that Sisters (and the church people) across the UK are doing, when the Religious die out?” The ‘experts’ (professionals) will never replace her/them. She also said herself that there was nothing in the world that could be more fulfilling than the life she has led and is living.
Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Muller, Robert Dodaro osa et alia wrote a Book called Remaining in the truth of Christ just before the Synod on the family. It was self-righteous piffle and explosive with certainties. I don’t think Attila the Nun would have much truck with such nonsense in the world she inhabits. ‘When will they ever learn?’
Tyson Fury caused shock waves in the UK when he used the Bible to let people know what God was saying in the world of today. Many wanted him excluded from the nominees for the Sports personality of the Year on BBC. Some of us were embarrassed by his interpretation of Scripture but we had lived for years with that simplistic version and such a distorted understanding. We peddled the same fundamentalism. (How can some of our younger clergy now get caught up in the worse excesses of the past and dress up accordingly?)  There is much of it still around even with central characters such as Muller and companions.
On the same stage as Tyson Fury was young Bailey Matthews. He has Cerebral Palsy. He is 9 years of age. He had completed a triathlon. He got a prize on Pride of Britain. He also got an award on the BBC personality of the year. He was full of guff and laughter and he fell his way up onto the stage. He wanted to go a few rounds with Tyson Fury. Tyson felt it better not to accept the challenge. Young Bailey is an inspiration for us and a humbling one at that. Our simplistic answers go nowhere in the mystery of life, love and suffering. We are always walking on holy ground. We can’t be prosaic.
In a letter to Charles Brown re a possible Meeting with the ACP (turned down), I included a paragraph which spoke to me in contrast to the stilted clarity that parades around as orthodoxy in our Church. The formalities don’t reach the depths of God in my experience:

‘We had among others – the funerals of two people with severe disabilities (in the past week). One girl was 35; the man was 44. Neither ever spoke or walked. If God is love – God was deeply present in the life of those parents and in the life of the carers. Neither family ever went near Church. We drove down to St Vincent’s (Navan Rd) with Berno after leaving the Church. The hearse stopped. There was a guard- of- honour by the residents in their wheelchairs. The parents got out. They went to every patient and touched them. It was an incredible moment. That reaching out was inspirational. Was that holy? Was that Mercy? Was that Godly? I think so. We can learn from them. ‘

For the past five months, I have been running to catch up. There hasn’t been time to stand outside. The clutter in the house is indicative. I didn’t do any cards for Christmas – the first time in 40 years. I am now opening my Christmas cards and the Golden Jubilee gifts & envelopes. Is this all due to bad management or lack of discipline? Possibly.
Is it due to lack of energy or age? Possibly.It is due to an increase of the demands in the Parish? Possibly. Is it due to the growth of work every day because those who don’t come to Church need more time & much more work (in schools), (with funerals) plus. Possibly.
Various people drop into this house and poke in the fridge and in the cupboard. They generally growl at me. ‘You have nothing in the house to eat.’ Our Liz threw out something that was 14 years out of date! It is hard to find the time to shop, cook, clean, do the washing. Life is relentless. But I had lots of visitors to stay recently. I watched my nephew Eric with his family. There were beds all over the floor. It was amusing to see. But I thought to myself: ‘We talk of our work as 24/7 every day and every week and every month.’ And I can say that definitely that this is so, for the past 5 months. But what is it compared to rearing a family? (There is the age thing certainly). I think the pity is that we aren’t married and we would be thrown into the mess of life that is real and then we wouldn’t come up with the artificial dogmas that ignores the incarnation. Today is the Feast of Rabbie Burns. He was a better theologian than many of our Sainted pin-ups. He was real.
Dublin Diocese has published a Report which predicts the ‘State’ of the Church here in Dublin 2030. It is stark. It talks loudly.
It wonders if Religious will be around: They won’t. It wonders if priests might come in from outside: They shouldn’t. It wonders about clusters: These aren’t working and won’t (Parishes should be amalgamated immediately). It wonders might priests stay on beyond 75: They shouldn’t. In fact, it would be better if all, went at 70 to normalise retirement age. (I wouldn’t want that this year for myself!) Then the real issues can be addressed.
The morale of clergy was a previous Report but it didn’t address the reality. Brendan Hoban talks of the trauma among the clergy. This is true. More and more is asked of older and fewer people. The whole construct of priesthood needs to be looked at. Tony Flannery was ‘shot down’ for asking such obvious questions. Until and unless these questions are asked; our planning for the future will be false.
Saying Masses isn’t what it is about. Covering the Sacraments isn’t what it is about. How do we really understand Eucharist? How do we understand the Sacraments? How do we enable priests deal with the wider issues of Church? (The house was taken over by a Lifer on day release today; I spend time writing letters to Judges, to Prisons, to politicians; I spend forever with my team, meeting with people in homes who have no connection with the Church but need help; Schools aren’t about whether someone is baptised or not but the incredible social problems surrounding families and we are in the school as community carers with the staff… it goes on). Catching up is a permanent challenge. Do we ever or can we? We never get around to what needs to be done or get to follow up on people we want to meet. That in itself is stressful. I work with a team and a community model. What about those who work alone?
Characters like Sr Rita; like young Bailey Matthews; like the families of Berno and John; like the parents of Gavin (suffering from MND) are the ones that help us create a different model of priest and church. The Gabriel Dalys of this world tell us how to puncture the sterile balloon that damages our image of Church and masquerades as graced, godly and goodly. And can you believe it – the ACP is still ignored even though it talks the language of the local church.
We need Reports but we need people who will listen.
Sr Rita loves her life and so do I. We need to help each other and to be helped in getting to the heart of the Gospel and ensuring that this text is being fulfilled even as we listen: ‘ Anointed to bring the Good News to the poor.’ Poets, artists, creative personalities are needed. We don’t need robots. We don’t need conformists. We need people who are ‘full of grace. ‘ Let’s remodel the broken down version of priesthood, ministry and Church. It is still a most exciting place to be and we are privileged. Every day is a work of art. May we be used well before we wear out.
Seamus Ahearne osa   (Rivermount Parish, Finglas South, D11).

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  1. Lee Cahill says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Prophet! You imply many ears and hearts that rubbish the glaring truth you state. That does not make you unique at all!!! although I am sure St Luke would not have made Jesus’ rejection at Nazara an absolute either: he did point to those that wondered at what Jesus had said!!! Count me in…….

  2. And in remodelling the church surely it will be necessary to break old moulds and old bans. In pagan times you could put someone “faoi gheasa” – a kind of taboo. For instance, declaring someone’s ministry as unacceptable or declaring them “out of ministry” or “excommunicated” requires the complicity and obedience (and fear) in respect of a lot of people to make it work.

  3. Padraig McCarthy says:

    I heard a story many years ago. I don’t know whether it happened, but this is it.
    A woman came to confession and said, “Father, I haven’t been at Mass for two years. I’ve been looking after my son at home, who was very ill. He died last month.”
    The priest said: “You have been at Calvary every day for the past two years.”

  4. Chris McDonnell says:

    Yet again, Seamus Ahearne puts clearly the position of many priests. We are asking too much of men who, having offered themselves to serve the community of the Church, find that not only is the load almost impossible to bear, but that their alarm calls are continually ignored. Our bishops continue with a non-listening, non-responsive attitude that exasperates the laity, let alone those struggling against all odds to keep the show on the road.
    We have to re-examine, in a quite radical manner, the nature of priesthood in the coming years.

  5. Con Devree says:

    Some of the people whose company I enjoy most are atheists, or at least claim to be. One is a close confidant. Like all human beings they are made in the image and likeness of God. They don’t need to be Catholics to deserve applause for the good deeds they do. But their goodness does not lead me to believe that Mass and the sacraments, the catholic faith, are simply refuges for “pifflers” who know nothing and care less.
    I find it difficult to engage in the good works the writer describes himself as doing to the extent he practices them. I am not inclined to say what I actually do. But whatever I do is done to a significant extent because the more I engage in the Mass and the Sacraments, the more I am confronted about my duty to do them.
    On the issue of understanding. A priest entertained us with the following recently: “a man who is wrong and admits it is said to be wise; a man who knows he’s right and still admits to being wrong is married!” Understanding is not always a sine qua non, but can grow.
    The Mass does not lose its “source and summit” status because one cannot understand it. The limits of human language renders our understanding of the Mass an approximation. The more one experiences the multiple works of a Mozart, the more one must leave oneself open to the realisation that one will never be able to envision the whole possible expression of his enormous personal creative freedom. But the ongoing finite experience of the works enables some grasp of their own special truth.
    So with the Mass. It is a magnum opus, an expression of the enormous personal freedom and creativity of God. Among other things it poses a deliberate challenge to pursue the deeper truth of the freedom of God, the creator of the Mass. Devotion to the Mass can gradually offer a glimpse of such truths. Throughout history they have been expressed through the “mouths of babes.” At times the truths are incapable of expression by those rewarded with them, but they energise good works and add rich meaning to life.
    Prayer and good works are not polar opposites in Catholic life; do they not nourish each other?

  6. Teresa Mee says:

    Seamus, you ask, ‘how do we understand Eucharist ‘.
    Perhaps your question is addressed to priests only. I imagine the average priest in Dublin understands Eucharist as a ritual he performs on behalf of whatever men are in the passive congregation seated or kneeling at the back of the Church.
    Eucharist in my past experience and present understanding is a community celebrating together the historic and current life-giving presence of Christ among us, inspiring us to open up to the needs and the gifts of each other and of our world. It’s the Breaking of Bread and Sharing.
    With regard to clustering of parishes and overworked priests,I wonder what workable alternatives one might envisage. How about the following?
    Share with qualified and committed lay people the ministry of baptising, presiding at weddings in which the couples perform the sacramental rites, visiting and anointing the sick and dying, chaplaincy work in College, Hospital, Nursing Home and Prison.
    Quit the preaching of sermons. That belongs to an age of illiteracy when people sought out the priest even for reading and writing letters to their exiled children.
    Maybe the future lies in developing house churches where small groups come together to study and share on the word of God in our world of today and to go out to spread the good news.

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