Wandering Thoughts

The Raiméis1 of a driver
Schools and teachers:
I was scribbling scattered and disconnected thoughts as I drove to Holycross Abbey. The Religious advisors were in one of our primary schools recently. The Report I got seemed happy with the atmosphere in the School. I was remembering a previous visit when a list of criteria was presented to the School re what was expected from the teachers and children.
I laughed at it and wondered did HQ have any idea what happens in Deis2 (band 1) schools or what happens in Deis (band 1) Parishes. Sometimes our Principals return from Meetings of Heads and workshops (Educational) and are totally exasperated. They repeat the mantra – do ‘they’ have any idea what goes on in Deis (band 1) schools? It amazes me how upbeat and full of commitment and contentment our teachers are. They make the school safe. They make the school a happy place. They care for every child. They retain their humour and their stamina and their conviction with a great sense of love and vocation. We are at home with them. They are at home with us. I love the spontaneity of the little ones. Their abilities and their curiosity is quite wonderful. And then as they age, something stops. I feel ever so sad, when I see how hard the teachers have worked and yet many children leave school without being articulate or literate.
Paddy Kavanagh:
I am also amazed if any drop of religion remains in the youngsters when so few of their families ever reach Church except for funerals, Baptisms, First Communions and Confirmations. If the teachers are indicative of their own generation, I expect too that very few (of the younger ones) are totally at home in Church. I was wandering around another Church recently and I overheard a teacher telling her class (Nativity Play) to look at the ‘audience.’ I also overheard elsewhere a teacher asking – ‘Where does the Offertory come, is it after Communion?’!
Many of us can look at our own ‘children’ and ‘grand-children’ (I am talking age wise and not genetically) and know that they too are not anti-church but have no connection with Church or any need for it. The God- of- the- gaps is no longer needed! And yet the wonder of God; the presence of God; the music of God rings out everywhere. If we could only find a language to tap into the rhythms. Where are the Paddy Kavanaghs among us?
I was writing this while driving to Holycross Abbey yesterday. It was a trip to the depths of the past. (Wedding preparation). And I was thinking of the history of faith in the country, and the present state of faith, as I drove.
800+ years of history was giving me a perspective. Life in a Deis (band 1) Parish is always exciting, interesting, demanding and challenging. About 1200 Bulletins are printed here each week. These are newsy and provocative. They are scattered throughout the area. We had a mail drop to every house of around 3000 Christmas bundles. Around 50 turned up for the Carol & Confession evening in spite of the blanket marketing. Mass numbers go down. We do much work each weekend for anniversaries or month’s minds. The people come for those. Otherwise the Parish gets very old. As the ancient ones go; there are no replacements. The volunteering squad is reducing. As the very active old ones fall or die; there are no new recruits. For the first time, it is very difficult to get new people for the PPC. It is hard to add to the Parish Team. There are no new people to collect the envelopes from all who are willing to give. As the collectors drop off the income drops down. People are willing to pay but not willing to come to Church. There are no new counters or cleaners or decorators or fabric protectors or liturgy folk or school Board of Management members or Finance committees. It becomes too often the same people who prepare for every Service.
The disease of meetings:
We get tired ourselves. More demands come in. Central Office wants new accounting methods used. The Charity Act insists. But who are the ones who will fix up the new system? Safeguarding bombards us with new demands. Much is understandable but it is riddled with unhelpful standards and bloated bureaucracy. Deanery Meetings, Clustering meetings and other outside calls on our time are not attractive. Deis (band 1) Parishes sometimes find Central Gatherings about Baptisms or about First Communion or Confirmation or Eucharistic ministry or Funerals to be couched in stodgy language which doesn’t relate to the experience of the life (Deis band1) we know and our people know. And now we have The World Meeting of families. I fear what kind of construct this will put on the nature of ‘family.’ We find it difficult to get excited about it. And yet we would want our unruly and strange ‘families’ to be at the heart of any such gathering.
Stop Pope Francis:
Pope Francis may be coming. For God’s sake leave him at home. This has to border on Elder Abuse bringing that poor man to Dublin. He is too important to be dragged here and to be put on show. For what? We don’t need pop stars. We need fundamental renewal. Leave him where he is. Protect him from showpiece efforts. Pastoral care has to mean caring for the basic human needs of our elders. He is an old man. And we want to parade him around waving and cheering him. We have rather more fundamental digging to do at the very foundations rather than putting on flimsy shows. It is probably anathema to him that €20m might be the cost of this. John Healy comes to mind yet again: No one shouted stop.   Like Crispian Hollis said in his apology re the new Missal – how could we be so negligent as to allow that rubbish through (or something like that.) The Church collective can still shout STOP to this. We all have a duty of care.
God moments:
I went around with some leaflets (Christmas bundle) last week to about five hundred houses. It ensures that I don’t for a moment forget what real poverty is. The other 2500 gets done by all the ould wans! On the way, I am asked to make a date. To bless some houses. That now has happened. Very special moments. It won’t drag anyone back to church. But it is a form of top soil. Something fertile emerges from the past. God hovers at least in the background. I go to the shop. Two want Confessions. We sit in the car. Sometimes I feel shattered with the residue of the past and the total nonsense that Confession was and its obsessions. But a ‘worker’ (minister) in Deis (band 1) parishes has to create Liturgy; create language; create and exploit every moment; create opportunities where something of God is splashed about. It is very real and delightful. But the preoccupations of officialdom is a foreign country and hardly touches on the interests and experiences of the folk in a Deis (band 1) parish. Many are simply overwhelmed by daily life.
Old age:
I am 71 now. I suppose that affects me in some ways. I no longer ever seem to be able to catch up. The relentlessness of ‘the undone’ gets to me. Even the ordinary daily routine; Mass every day; funerals; meetings; preparation. There is a forever catch-up which never quite makes it. The follow-up (on schools; after funerals; the sick) is impossible. How can we be fresh and cheerful and prayerful everyday? How can we root something of God in the real lives around us? Not easy.
I get tired. I get forgetful. I have become like my poor mother in her later years (re Christmas cards). I do many and yet become unsure if I have sent or not sent them to some people. And I was impatient with her! I forget names. And yet I know that my memory is better than most of my age. I still find it hard to accept the lapses of memory. I find reading less easy. I am usually too tired to read and I can’t concentrate on reading as I get tired. But the job goes on. The house gets untidy. The doorbells and the phones and emails feel a nuisance at times. However the excitement of dancing with God in a new dance goes on.
Minor Irritations:
I am amused at myself at times when I allow myself get irritated with emails, texts and phone calls which begin with ‘Hi.’ I want to scream when reporters or interviewees use the word ‘Absolutely.’ Or if I hear again the words: ‘You know what I mean.’   Or if every sentence is littered with – ‘you know.’   But these are minor distractions in a world of wonder and fun.
Alice Leahy:
I was happy to hear Alice Leahy mentioned in dispatches this morning re homeliness. She sounded so realistic. She is right too that many hijack ‘homelessness’ as a political slogan. Homelessness is very real. But some of this homelessness is not solvable. The issue of responsibility is always there. The issue of craven ‘entitlement’ is also there. The Government and everyone else can’t sort out everything for us. We have to grow up and do some things for ourselves. I hear the same gibberish in regard to Church and the past – everything that church people, did was wrong. Some things were bad. Much was stupid. But not everyone was bad and nobody will ever replace the care and support that was given over the years by church people. It may not be remembered or appreciated. To use my previous words: Eaten bread is soon forgotten. That too applies to the Eucharist.
Responsibility and entitlement:
How is it possible for anyone ever anywhere not to stop and say to God (however we understand God) Thank you. I have seen many a minister of the Church worrying about what can be done to reach those who have forgotten about God. We could do more and differently. We could make Liturgy real. We could make the church welcoming.
But above all – let’s get to the central issue: People are finally grown up and responsible for their own relationship with God. We may have treated people as passive and as children too often in the past. Everyone has to be treated as adult. Faith is a very adult relationship. We can’t and shouldn’t attempt to carry everyone up to the Gates. A last thought then is – more work and different work is essential in a Deis (band 1) parish. Our Church is outside of the building. Our Liturgy has to happen on the hoof. The preparation for the special occasions needs more energy and more imagination. It has to be gentle, real and kindly. The domestic Church is the only church we now have. I shouldn’t write while driving. I get so distracted. I will end with a few words on Christmas.
What is Christmas? Who is Christ? A baby? Hardly. That is too simple. We can admire a baby. Christmas is much bigger. It is a challenge to celebrate real Religion: The poetry of life. The mess of life, the wonder of life, the bigger picture, the awesomeness of people and nature. It is about something more than ‘now.’ It is about lifting our spirits and our hearts to ‘someone’ and ‘something’ more. It is about humour and hilarity. It is about fun. If there is no dance or laughter or wonder God is not around and we aren’t faithful. Life is tragic without comedy. Francis is right: ‘The joy of the Gospel’ has to be celebrated and it isn’t a funeral. How often the funereal takes over and masquerades as reverence for God. God is very obvious when we stand on tippy-toes and look around. Christ is birthed daily. Revelations occur in a deluge; in laughter, hilarity; fun and chaos. God is alive and well and living among us, if we could only see. ‘Christmas’ is our daily Eucharist. ‘The God of Surprises’ is here and I am grateful. ’
Seamus Ahearne osa

  1. Raiméis, an Irish word usually translated as ‘rubbish’ or ‘nonsense’.
  2. Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) the Action Plan for Educational Inclusion, was launched in May 2005 and remains the Department of Education and Skills (Ireland) policy instrument to address educational disadvantage. DEIS is now used informally as meaning disadvantaged.


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  1. Thank you for a great article. However I agree with most of what you say and have experienced some of it.
    I am a professional at what I do for a living. I am good at it and I get results. I am a change manager.
    I have a deep faith in the word of Jesus.
    I have been involved with my parish for some years. My parish priest has made it very clear that he is quiet happy with the direction of my parish and is unwilling to participate in a planning process which will see any change to to the parish. He will not support of a parish youth ministry, development of the Altar server ministry, development of various church groups, development of the PPC or any element of social media or online ministry. A by product of this is that he is effectively excluding the laity of the parish and critically the youth. …
    I have discussed parish development with various priests and church groups around Ireland and apparently !!! this is very common….I think its called clericalism…..
    I have given all that I can to a church that doesn’t want what I have to offer. Perhaps it time to establish a group, and I would prefer not to, where we could me and share the faith etc. Do thing my parish won’t??

  2. John D. Kirwin says:

    Dear Seamus,
    Paddy Kavanagh? Are you referring to the poet, Patrick Kavanagh? If so, he’s one of my favorites!
    Thanks for your good words, but I have to tell you, I’ve got 10 years on you, you’re only a kid.
    Officially I’m retired, but the fact of the matter is that they can’t get along without us retirees, until we open the doors and ordain married people and women.
    I’m not allowed to mention the same at Mass, a woman threw me in, and she’s our director of communications – not the best communicator I’ve met!
    However, we keep on going and enjoying it all, knowing that God has a great sense of humor – THEY’D be in deep trouble if THEY didn’t.
    Have a wonder filled Christmas and a blessed New Year of Salvation, John D. Kirwin, Diocese of Albany, NY

  3. Seamus,
    your piece is stimulating.I don’t concur with your view of the invitation to Pope Francis to attend the World conference on the family as elder abuse but its open to interpretation and of course it could be the case.If pope Francis is willing and able, lets welcome him.His Christmas message is inspiring in its breath of insight and encouragement of hope.His obvious prophetic voice can be heard from anywhere via media and internet and his physical presence is not a requirement of that message.I cannot see him allowing his presence to be used as a wallpapering job on the major cracks in the Irish Church,long suffering foot soldiers and the Hierarchy themselves are aware that there wont be a dividend in hiding the real state of of our Church.
    Happy New Year

  4. James Mc Hugh says:

    Forwarded your Midwinter Musings to a Friend and here’s the Response:
    Jim, I’d need to read this several times and sit with it before I could begin to respond in print! Initially, I’m impressed by the “rawness of the struggle” I hear and my heart soars as it recognises all of what this man has shared!
    I will use this as my prayers in the coming days and will share what emerges.
    Thanks for sharing this powerful piece ?
    Knowing this will send you soaring into the New Year,

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