‘Thinkers needed for the Wasteland!’

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Colm dropped into me. We talked. We visited several countries in our chat. Names too appeared in our conversation. Alan Counihan (sculptor and visual artist), Fergus Lyons (painter/artist) were surprising mutual acquaintances. We meandering into the world of the arts – with music, poetry, wild-life and artists being the signposts that suggested other avenues of discovery. The expansiveness of discussion is where real theology stretches. God is real when we move beyond the obvious. We dabbled in the reflections offered by all of this and even wondered how we get waylaid by the immediate, the practical and the mundane. God surely teases and taunts us into a greater exploration.
I was thinking. Two women (Religious). Three men. All whistling the same tune. Tony & Sean on ‘Miriam Meets.’ Brian on ‘The Late Late.’ All happening at the same time. If they were young again – would they make the same choices? Was this life a waste? Now the women spoke around the time of Valentine’s Celebration where we had Reflection, Dancing, chaos, wild sharing and madness. There may have been some nostalgia for a warm embrace of what- might-have-been as they went home that night. Sean and Tony – were confronting the mess of the Church. They may have wanted an Abishag of Shunem like David to cope with coldness of older age! Or Brian might feel that the greatest loss at present is the absence of grandchildren. These men and of course the women are ‘the good guys.’ How I hate that cheap description. As if everyone else was a bad one!
Anyway in the light of this fistful of comments re life in the church; I was thinking. Choices are always strange. We make them. If we make one; another isn’t available. If I had the choice as a young fellow – I would have played for Waterford hurlers! Now I was never good enough. Tom Cheasty was the hero. If I followed my abilities after the Leaving; I would have ended up in business playing with figures. It all seemed attractive at the time. Looking backward; it would have killed me. Choices indeed.
Somehow, I ended up 53 years ago with the Augustinians. Somehow I ended up as a priest. It wasn’t easy. It was done very reluctantly. But I am here. Was it a waste? Could I have done better with the life and personality given me? I don’t know. I am happily flabbergasted at the opportunities given me. I cannot even imagine ever having a more fulfilling life anywhere else. I have been provoked, stretched and dragged from being a shy introvert into becoming confident as an extrovert. The Goodness and Godliness of it all is extraordinary.
Every single day of my life; I shake my head and ask why is God so good to me. I am not just a priest or religious – doing something. I am not ‘saying’ Mass. I am not just ‘doing funerals.’ The prayer of life is in being in a home; is being entrusted with the intimacy of a life; it is being invited into the heart of someone. It is listening and searching. My confession is like Augustine’s: I thank God for working in me and I am in awe. It doesn’t make me good or great. But the fun, happiness and wonder of every day is miraculous. The holiness of each day shouts at me. I have been blessed. I never bother my head thinking if only. If only what. Married. Children. Grandchildren. What has been; is done. What is; I live with. What shape tomorrow is; I can help make. Are there things I would like to make different. Of course, but I don’t have the energy to dream backwards.
Is the Church a mess? It is and it isn’t. We all live with the failures of life. Life isn’t perfect. The Church isn’t perfect. Priests aren’t perfect. Parishioners aren’t perfect. Bishops aren’t perfect. The theology handed down over the years was encrusted with nonsense. Some of the stuff that masquerades as theology, is badly polluted by the rigidities of those in charge. John Paul and Benedict damaged us after Vat 2. Francis is stripping away the accretions which have distorted faith. He makes it simple. It is simple. Jesus is simple.  However I get something of Benedict in his fear of everything being relative. I do worry about the future.
The care of clergy matters. I am less concerned about the overload of work than the death of the spirit of a minister. We pour out our guts daily and we so badly need to be ministered to ourselves. For how many is daily life a prayer? Who heals the healer? In the old fashioned way, I would put it this way: How do we look after our own souls? Where is God for us? Is every day a prayer? Is Mass a Prayer or a holy function? Are we praying as we try to lead others in prayer? We are on a rollercoaster. Life is crisis management. The job never finishes. There is always the accusation of what is not reached or done. It is relentless. We have to keep going. Or maybe not. Can we collapse the system and let the Spirit breathe something new?
I regularly say here that ‘the Dead will be the killing of the living.’ Funerals follow funerals. There is no escape. All our energies are poured into a family and a person. It dredges the depths in us. If we do anything; if we treat each person with respect and dignity for their uniqueness; if we put heart into every funeral being different- it becomes hard to do much more. To think! We often then make a rod- for-our-own-backs with a month’s mind and anniversaries. Why? These are the only time people appear. Those who come must get some hint of God. And we are old. Of course there has to be a team involved in all of this. But team work demands more energy and some are very poor at team working. All the preparation for talking we do, has to draw out the best in us. But then we have to start again and again. And the follow up. This is only about the dead and the living. The schools. The visits. The writing. The bureaucracy of finance; of safeguarding; of meetings about meetings. The thinking. And that is the big one for me. Have we time for thinking?
Who has time for reflection? In politics – there is a take-over by trivialities. Throw in a Tribunal and everything is solved but of course nothing is solved but the problem is postponed and money is wasted. In industrial relations – the unreality is shocking. And the immediate is everything. On TV and Radio – Miriam, Marian, Joe, Ryan, Cahal want all the yes/no answers to bigger questions. Unreality is spawned everywhere. Trump is a summary of what is crude. He tells us the easy answer to complex questions. He is a metaphor for our age. University professors tell me that students no longer can think or throw a few coherent sentences together. They want to google everything. Like children; they want everything now.
In Education – do people learn to think? In this Deis Band one area; there is a great advantage in being disadvantaged. I still propose to the teachers that they stand back from the curriculum and from the demands of every day teaching and classes  to look at the broader issues. What do these children need? What will prepare them for the future? What ambition can be nurtured in them? In Church- are people thinking? Are bishops picked because they can think or because they are predicable functionaries. In Universities – has anything of Newman’s idea stayed among the academics?
In our own pastoral area here – we have spent over ten years trying to imagine what the future of faith might look like here in Finglas but some still are so lost in the immediate and overwhelmed that they find it impossible to look at the scenery of God for this place. There is a total inability to look at building a new community of faith in the area. I do worry too about the general apathy in the country about Church. I don’t mind people not attending Church but I mind if the bigger reflection doesn’t happen. Who is helping us stretch our minds; reach out with open imaginations; be poets of faith and humanity.
What now?   Few are going to church. Few know much about faith. Few know the coherence or reasonableness of faith. Now I don’t know about E and L or about Tony, Sean and Brian – I still think these are exciting times and I haven’t wasted my life.   I have sufficient women in my life to torment me. I have sufficient children in my life to marvel at. I only now want to ensure that we have children in faith and that some thinking is happening. I was entertained last Sunday by J Hackett and he overdosed me with Roger Bacon and his metaphysics. I was lost in the intrigue of the 13th century. The minutiae of the various arguments left me floundering. But I could hear the discussions of the centuries weaving their way down to me into the present. We need to bother today with the frustrations of argument and delve into the God who is still revealing him/her self to us. Church ministry is not only ritual – it has to be thoughtful. And I was thinking of my friend Padraig Cullinane who died suddenly a week ago. He was seventy like a few of us.   He didn’t waste his life with Mary, Mairead, Darragh and Anne-Marie. He left the Augustinians but he lived a life of faith. His going asks of some of us – take stock. Mary Oliver has the last word:
When it’s over, I want to say, all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    It’s a tough profession – there is no doubt. To be effective, you must always be on the cutting edge of “What would Jesus do/say?” and relating this to modern day culture, it’s not always obvious.
    Francis has taken the lead from Benedict – I’m not sure how Benedict “damaged” you all but from the pews in the social activists’ corner, Benedict surely kicked it up a notch. His passivity in dealing with the world wide associations has breathed life into a whole new age of defiance for you all, in my opinion. It could have been a whole lot more severe, no?

  2. Seamus, what an honest reflection. Each new piece you share with us seems to surpass the previous. Regrets — I’ve had a few too. One thing I will never regret is taking my mother’s advice very seriously when I was giving the priesthood serious consideration and she said to me ” think very seriously about it before you decide”. And, thank God I did and I made the right decision. The two pontificates before Francis would not only have damaged me but actually destroyed me. I would never have coped.
    Lloyd@1 above, I don’t think I have ever found this before on this site but I honestly have to say I really don’t know what you are saying in that 2nd paragraph!!
    Seamus, thanks.

  3. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    I don’t know whether to be honoured or not Paddy @3. I’ll explain – and please understand this is from a perspective that I don’t know the canonical implications Benedict’s tenure placed at the feet of the reformers – I just know how he influenced the outside world for those in the social activist realm.
    Benedict was the author of the new list of the seven-deadly sins. This was a historic moment for the Church when the modern suddenly overwrote the archaic. From an activist point of view, clericalism infects everything – it is not just a Roman Catholic phenomenon so you come to expect it from all institutions in every corner of the globe. You start to see through it in hopes of finding whispers of the logos and Benedict, despite his long list of occupational shortcomings, showed his true resolve in this decree.
    Laudato si’ is simply an extension of Benedict’s original list which laid the groundwork for the most important encyclical in Church history.
    Now regarding his passivity, well I’m come from a management background with years of human resources experience and I can tell you first hand that if I had 3% of my employees insubordinate, they’d all be suspended with pay for a day and return to work on a performance improvement plan. That would be going easy on them from a legal point of view. Benedict actually created the environment for the Associations to flourish which paved the way for Francis to essentially mandate a “Don’t-take-the-CDF-too-seriously” campaign.
    I think as long as the Associations are sticking to the “Francis” plan in their approach to long term parish development of Laudato si’, avoiding clericalism at all cost, and becoming true servants to lay Catholics in the era of the inverted pyramid, they can pretty much organise and expand their membership for time eternal. This is not to say that the next Pope will be as lenient but he too is subject to the ongoing activities and ministerial cornerstones that a Francis papacy affords. With my estimate of his pontificate lasting 7 years, it needs to urgently be shown that his plan is aggressively accommodated so that veering away from it is near impossible.
    At this stage, Francis could retire tomorrow and the new Pope wouldn’t even have to say : “Stop what it is you are doing” which I find completely embarrassing and ultimately disrespectful to the current Pope. If a new bishop of Rome ascends, I’d sooner have him feel that Francis motivated us to a degree that stopping us from what we are doing could literally destroy the Church.
    There might be some confusion about Francis in conspiracy theories as he is often mentioned as the “final Pope” – the truth is, he may be the last one the laity ever needs to properly reinvigorate the Church and set its future course.

  4. Thanks for that Lloyd. Your take on Benedict is very interesting. I cannot say I feel as benevolent towards him as you do.

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