The Poetry of life – and I was thinking!
Several texts rang on my phone. Curraghmore was on Nationwide with Mary Kennedy. I turned on the TV and saw the playground of my childhood. Lord Waterford was interviewed. I smiled at the thought – my father (as he worked on those grounds) used to mind him as a child. I painted (summer work) around that Shell house. My mind was swimming with memories. I still don’t find a place for Lords and Ladies or the Gentry in a Republic! Even though those faraway days in that lovely place were stimulating. …
This morning some photos arrived. These were photos of the 26th August 1964 as I left for Novitiate in Orlagh as an Augustinian. An email came in from Phil Jacob. He reminded me of a talk I gave in Leeds, which I began by draping ‘The Sun’ (newspaper) over a ‘photo’ of St Augustine and throwing other tabloids on the floor. I had forgotten that Conference. Phil had dedicated a psalm to me after my three-hour presentation. I probably said that Augustine lived and spoke on the issues of every day. The Word and his word became flesh in the world about him. He was and is often misunderstood. The context is forgotten. (Like how Scripture is often distorted). Today I feel old and somewhat nostalgic. And I was thinking.
I often say – I am sick of Religion. I can’t take any more of this God business. It is overwhelming. It is relentless. The days never end. The challenges are forever. There is always more to do than I can ever do. I am not in control of what needs to be done. The desk piles higher. There is always more to do and more left undone that I see to be very important. If I am in the house the doorbell never stops. The phone keeps barking. The e-mails want answers. Letters. Administration. Organisation. Meetings. The homes need visiting. Preparation goes on forever. Something else has to be written. Masses and Masses and more Masses. It would drain the soul. However, we are blessed with a great Parish Team which meets every week. Everything is done by agreement and consensus. It is also great fun.
And I have been thinking. I am swamped by Weddings these times. And I wonder. I enjoy the couples but the Church part means so little. It is a foreign land with a foreign language. There is no rejection. There isn’t apathy. But it doesn’t reach their guts. It isn’t just the young ones; the old ones are the same. Such a marvellous moment of mystery needs to be Celebrated but our Ritual can’t catch it. It is exhausting making the effort. I am not talking of me – I am unimportant but I am wondering what can be done to ‘celebrate the profundity of the moment.’ Mass is definitely an added and unnecessary extra. I end up frustrated and disappointed for them. I wish something of this God- aspect could reach their innards. I am of course delighted that the students in Maynooth are going to say the Rosary together and that the staff will join them. That will help enormously!
Baptisms go on and on. I only had 7 last Saturday. A baby is a bundle of beauty and a whisper of God. But is Baptism anything more than a party? What does our Ritual do to bring some Godliness and Gratitude to the moment? Not much I think. Again where is the Religious sentiment gone? Where is that awesomeness gone? Where is even what John Feehan speaks of in regard to a leaf – the soul and divinity of life? What can we do? Our Baptism Team work tirelessly in preparation – but the very ‘holiness’ of the moment is not grasped. Sacraments how are you?? A smile on the face of God. Indeed. Most times it is crowd or noise control. We do try….
And then School begins shortly. For some of us involved, it never stopped. And the Catholic school – what is it? I can’t find the words to speak of the miraculous community that is our graced village of Education. The Staffs are magnificent. We are totally immersed in the company of all. But in the conventional sense – Catholic? What does it mean? We have lost ‘our God.’ First Communion and Confirmation will start soon. Is there anything of God in those moments? Oh the Ceremonies will be beautiful but I am talking of the God part. Is God optional? I know that the time of First Communion is an occasion of human poetry. Does it make much sense? Are we prolonging a Sacramental system that is bordering on farcical? We continue to carry on as if it all meant something but it doesn’t. And what do we do? Even our Mass – is an evolutionary product of a monastic system and is inappropriate. It is overwhelmed with words that make it difficult sometimes to find God. And officialdom dumped ridiculous Latinisms to distort it even more.
And yet somehow in the midst of all this – people die. People are most inconvenient in dying. And we are called in. We are totally welcomed into the homes. Our gutsy people who never watch their words (unlike the chattering classes) will do a striptease in telling the stories. And the stories begin to feel like the Bible alive; like the parables of Jesus. We prepare and we welcome. Somehow we carry the family and the occasion and even those who know nothing of Church or God or Mass – seem to be dragged into something bigger and more for themselves. That Ritual does something. We hear on a regular basis that ‘if church elsewhere was like it is here we would go to Mass all the time.’ It doesn’t happen but what matter. Something of the depth of life and God and humanity is touched. It is Sacramental. I invite people to Communion by summed up what real Communion is. And no one is an outsider……. If there is a sense of God.
And I suppose it is there that my concern is- the sense of Godliness; the sense of the holy; the sense of beauty; the sense of wonder; the sense of poetry; the sense of holy ground. Church going is not my issue. I am even bad enough at times to say that faith is an Invitation; there is no imposition. We don’t have to worry about those who don’t come. They are big enough and bold enough to make up their own minds. We aren’t responsible. I feel sad for many priests who feel responsible for the ‘lapsed.’ We don’t have to haul them along. It is up to them. All we can do is to ensure that the God they might meet when they rub up against us is full of goodness and fun and humour and humanity and hospitality and respect.
But I do have a problem and my nasty way of putting it sometimes is this: If there is an absence of gratitude, it is impossible to be Godly. It is impossible to celebrate Eucharist. It puts a person outside of faith.
And there is an absence of gratitude. There is a crudity in our public discourse. How can there be Eucharist if we don’t come in humility to say thanks to God? If we don’t stop to be aware of the ‘gracefulness’ of life; if we don’t stop in utter amazement at the very mystery of life in nature, in people, in moments. If we don’t look at a baby and become more human; if we don’t look at a leaf and become more human; if we don’t look at the exuberance of a child for First Communion and become more human; if we don’t look at the act of faith of two lovers in marrying and become more human; if we don’t see the selflessness of parents and become more human; if we don’t see the prayerfulness of our faithful and become more human.
And I conclude my thinking on this day after 52 years as I touch 70 and say to myself how blessed I am. I love life. I love this life. I am very rich in this life. I am surrounded by poets of faith who wake up my soul daily.
I wander to our Masses and we shout and share on the Readings and God speaks. I went to the shops today and met someone who is grieving and he talks of the loneliness and some new friendships and I go to the Pharmacy for the tablets of an ageing body and the young chemist comes out to tell me of his Wedding and it is beautiful and I meet a woman who watches her husband settle into a home suffering with Alzheimer’s and she talks.
I have only to wander across the street and the world of God comes to me and I say to myself what a wonderful world! The journey I began 52 years ago today was an adventure. It has got better than I ever expected. The God-world is delightful.
But the concerns of some in the world of Religion are not mine. As my friend Augustine would do – it is the newspapers of the day that have to provoke us. We have to stand and stare. It is the beauty of life that stirs me as it stirred him and I am blessed. I don’t get upset about Maynooth. I think our bishops need to go back to school; our priests need to go back to school; our students need to learn a new language in a very different way; all of us need to grow up in a different faith. Our wrestling with God and with words and occasions and moments has to go on forever. Too many Rituals got rusty. We never know. We are always learning. We have to be humble. We must be grateful. And I was only thinking and my fingers began to speak. I won’t read what they said.
Seamus Ahearne osa. 26th August 1964-2016. (And I am not dead).
From afar Irish Catholicism looks very divided. I listen carefully to Irish voices and conversation and what the problem seems to be is the lack of insight in pastoral care. The priests and bishops are basically “good natured”. I am not going to come up with a new bibliography so let me suggest just a few books. PASTORAL CARE IN GRIEF AND SEPARATION by Dr. Wayne Oates, GAMES PEOPLE PRAY by Dr. Eric Berne, A TESTAMENT OF DEVOTION by Thomas Kelly, THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP by Dietrich Boenhoffer. Small group studies in parishes can make a huge difference to the spiritual health of many people.
Well, thank you so much for thinking and letting your fingers do the talking. As ever, refreshing and real.
Thanks, Seamus, for helping us to see the sacred incarnate in the everyday nuts and bolts.
“Where is even what John Feehan speaks of in regard to a leaf – the soul and divinity of life?”
“the mightiest meditations of mankind
cancelled are by one merely opening leaf
(beyond whose nearness there is no beyond)”
Read the full poem by e e cummings: “life is more true than reason will deceive”.
And for wonder on a macro level, contemplate Earthrise:
“All we can do is ensure that the God they will meet when they rub against us is full of goodness and fun and humour and humanity and hospitality and respect.”
I love that! Throughout this whole song of praise I could hear and picture Seamus morphing into Louis Armstrong singing, ” It’s A Wonderful World!”
Seamus Ahearne is truly blessed with a hugely innate capacity for awe and has such an awareness of gratitude to that God of humour and humanity and goodness and hospitality that dwells within him. It is a delight to read this post and allow oneself to get a little tipsy on the intoxication of his own passion and lust for life. It is a gift not given to many but for those who have it, this awareness of beauty and poetry and God within and without, it must be shared and used to lift the spirits of the rest of us dullards. Thank you, Seamus and do keep writing and living and loving and sharing that God of praise and joy with us which you express so wonderfully! ?
Like Phil Jacob, I was present in Leeds and well remember the presentation, the engagement with the tabloids, and the incarnational Augustine engaging with the rich, raw material of his world.
When training in Spiritual Direction in England, a fellow participant, a young priest from the Philipines – grappling with loneliness and lack of his community – survived (just!) by writing poetry. One of his lines has stayed with me: ‘gratitude is the memory of the heart’. On this Feast of St Augustine, I am grateful for so much poetry in my life, so many poets of heart and soul. Seamus, your poetry continues to move and inspire. For this, much gratitude!
Seamus, you are some man –infact you are a great man and a great priest. This piece, like your others, is so honest –almost painfully so–and yes, you are so right, so much of the stuff we call faith or religion or liturgy definitely “doesn’t reach their guts”. And whose fault is this, I wonder. Is anybody to blame? The new liturgy certainly made it more difficult to “reach their innards” and we can easily point the finger in that instance. Since Francis talks so much about narcissism being a major part of the cause of the malaise that afflicts our church, I have become more and more aware of it and you do not have to go to Rome to find it. Just another irritant to annoy me.