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‘The emperor has no clothes’: thoughts from a walk by the Tolka

The Dawn Chorus chirped and chatted this morning and teased my ears until I got out of bed. The carpet of crocuses (under lights) was beautiful in the Tolka Valley Park at 06.20. The sliver of a moon was hidden this morning but I remembered yesterday. Only a few dogs took their owners for a walk. The wind was assertive but not aggressive. The daily ramble stirs my joints and wakes up my heart. I need to get out at this time or else the demands of the day will take over
It is also a great time to think. Alice Herz-Sommer warmed my mind. She has just died. She was 110 and had been the oldest survivor from the Holocaust. She had been in Terezin. She was a musician and had played Verdi’s Requiem. Her throw-away line was: “Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old, you appreciate it more.” She had an extraordinary effect on everyone. She was so positive and just loved living every moment. She had seen evil and wouldn’t allow that evil ‘control’ her living.
And then a stray intruder linked the ‘evil’ around Alice and the ‘evil’ of Michael Adebolajo & Michael Adebowale. These were sentenced yesterday for the killing of Lee Rigby. They shouted in the Dock – ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the Greatest). What a distortion of God, life, love and humanity? The madness of religion haunts us all.
Then I recalled the ‘reverence’ of Rodica & Victor from Romania who delight in our Community. Rodica had joined our group attending the ‘Pathways’ course at All Hallows. She loved it and poured out her ‘excitement’ on Victor when she got home each Monday. Then disaster struck – she had to begin another course in a different college and it was on Mondays. She came up with a plan. She told husband Victor to take her place and then he could come home and tell her everything that went on. We find their eagerness contagious. Rodica is always very questioning and often pursues explanations from us on how our Euchariast (and rituals) and our way of being a parish is so different and so utterly foreign to anything she had ever experienced anywhere else! She loves the daily banter (sharing) at Mass. She cannot believe what goes on, and how ‘bread is broken and shared.’ She presses us on the ‘literal’ meaning of words and their metaphorical/poetic/scriptural meaning.
And then my mind wandered towards language and words and liturgy. I thought again of the Missal and the crudity of its language and theology. The disastrous non-incarnational theology (and latinised words) is not the main problem. The real issue is: What is the structural fault-line that allowed such rubbish through? Had no-one read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes’ (and about the boy who cried: The emperor has NO clothes.) I suppose no one suspected that it could turn out so badly. But the ‘emperor had no clothes.’ It is true. And oftentimes HQ has been naked and foolish. This obvious point gets missed.
There is a fundamental flaw in our structure: the hierarchical model. It assumes that someone knows what they are doing and we leave it to them! And somehow everyone else is too busy and too deferential to have a real look at the Emperor.
We are consumed by our failing effort at ‘time and energy management’ (and age!) All church leadership is taken over by busyness. None of our work can ever be completed. We are full of clutter. There is always much more to do. How do we decide what is most important and how do we live with our decisions. Life is eaten up by meetings. If we look at our post, e-mails, texts, door bells, phone calls; our preparation time for our words; funerals, weddings, baptisms, schools, the sick, our visits – it is enormous. The bishops are overwhelmed. They haven’t the time. They are slaughtered by demands. Leaders locally and nationally haven’t the time. How can anyone be bothered with more demands in the post be it even drafts of a new missal or synods?
My meandering mind wandered and wondered and came up with a simple idea. This management and administrative chart is attractive:
All parish priests should resign as PPs at 66. All bishops should resign at 66. All popes should resign at 66. Such men (for the moment) could go on being priests or ministering away from their administrative duties…. That might show us a truth and create new ways of administration. If that were to happen; a total revamp of the system might help us to look afresh at how the Gospel now is lived and shared. We must take care of those who are our ministers. We cannot continue to run the Church as we have. If those resignations happened – this reality therapy might lead us to a new world where the Joy of the Gospel could be celebrated. Pope Francis asks for new eyes, new imagination and a new heart. Might this help?
I emerged from the Tolka Valley park and left all those ideas behind me. But the crocuses stayed with me; the wind whispered; the Dawn Chorus had gone silent. However Rodica and Victor remained …
Seamus Ahearne osa, 60 Glenties Park, Finglas South, D11: he is a member of the ACP Leadership Team

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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Seamus, it seems the one point that you made at the beginning of this piece was lost in your final observation. “Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old, you appreciate it more.” Truer words were never spoken. Its application to the priesthood and the hierarchical structures applies, in my opinion. Now I truly believe that a priest’s ‘day to day’ communications/administrative duties would be better managed by someone who specializes in this and like you mention, the ministering could be left up to the priest. This is the way it should be no matter what age the priest is. Keeping in touch with your parishioners is an important job and with today’s technology, there are many options available; options which normally complicate the life of a priest but are easily mastered by someone who specializes in this. I think for something as cerebral as the administering of theology, someone who is 66 could be in their prime for such duties.

  2. Kay Mcginty says:

    Seamus, I love it.. Reality therapy.., a serious wake up call is desperately needed. I so much admire and respect your various articles. Keep strong, your parishioners are extremely lucky to have you.

  3. Clutter : Surely there are numerous unemployed blokes or women in the locality who could attend to the correspondence and the meetings!

  4. James Conway says:

    Seamus, this edition of the 1998 translation of Opening Prayers/Collects approved by Bishops’ Conferences with responsibility for English-language editions, may be of interest to you and other readers.
    As for popes having to resign/retire at 66, yes. But not this one. May Francis live to be 100!

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