Where the River Shannon flows

It was the 5th September. The place was Our Lady and St Lua’s Church in Ballina, Co. Tipperary. I spent a few hours there before a Wedding. A west Limerick man dropped in. He was smelling of varnish – as he was decorating his son’s new house up behind the Church. We chatted. He wandered outside and gazed at the scenery. I went out. He had a word to say on the Wedding. He said – “Here is your Homily. Tell them to turn around; look out and fill their souls with the view across the Shannon over to Killaloe. If they do that; then they are ready to be drawn into the depths of mystery which is a wedding.” He was right.
The Wedding began and I told them that story and then I drew them into another few stories. I picked up on the ‘fascinators’ worn by some women and said I was amused by them. I suggested (with the West Limerick man) that they ‘be amazed’ and ‘fascinated’ by the occasion. And that if they weren’t or couldn’t – there was hardly any life before death, never mind after death.
I then reminded all of us, why we were in Ballina. John (the groom’s father) came from this place. (John introduced me to the Augustinians some 51 years ago and he died 6 years past.) His son loves that house/home/history and has spent time restoring the ‘range.’ That range is where he touches the ‘fire’ of his past. I teased David and said that I would have sold that ‘range’ to my friends the travellers! I spoke about that ‘range’ and that place and that house and the memories involved. (The range was like a Christening robe – the couple were being hugged by the legacy of the past – its faith, love, history).
I then mentioned to the English people present that ‘porridge’ was important and used to be called ‘stirabout.’ And our time today – was like ‘stirabout.’ Emotions were throbbing in all of us. I recalled my own father stirring the porridge and then I meandered along the story of that ‘range’ (always hungry for firing and then feeding everyone) which heated the house; did the cooking; was the heart and the hearth of the home and the link with the table in our homes.
A Wedding stirs up those memories of the past; the values; the history; the stories; the faith; the love; the gratitude. I linked the fascinators; the range; the porridge and then Seamus Heaney’s – while they were away at Mass.’ Something very deep stirs in our souls when we allow ourselves be amazed. Imagine the profundity of someone saying yes to another for life? Surely that is the ultimate as an act of faith? The scenery, the amazement, the beauty and the wonder touches the holy ground of our hearts. I hope I brought the strands of life together in the Brigid’s cross. (Afterwards, the images of the range and the stirabout proved evocative and stories of the past were strewn everywhere).
I drove home later in the evening and listened to the pan-pipers which was very soothing. I had bought the CD at the market in Quarteira. And then I turned to Mick Rogers and poems ‘he has learned by heart.’ (A lovely phrase – isn’t it? Learn by heart.) He did this CD for his Golden Jubilee of priesthood. He ‘uses’ poetry regularly as he leads people in reflection into the light and shadows of Glendalough. I heard those poems as if for the first time. The wonder of it all linked up with the West Limerick man and the range and the stirabout and the fascinators. And then my mind went awandering.
I thought of the richness, colour, depth, beauty and bigness of God that the poetic spirit exudes. I thought of the Jubilee Celebrations here: Our parish sister Liz who is fifty years a nun and Madeleine who is sixty years professed. Fifty has passed for me too. I thought of the ‘bigness’ of the God that Liz celebrates and the playfulness of the God that Madeleine displays. Liz and Madeleine are outrageous, outlandish and outstanding. Wouldn’t Mick Rogers and Liz and Madeleine have made great bishops for this time of Francis?
And then I remembered Killeagh and Tony Flannery. I felt so embarrassed at the puny God that emerges in such a prohibition era. Why do church people become prosaic and lose the poetry of faith? I wanted to shout/scream and protect our Church – our wonderful marvellous Church; the delightful God that Kavanagh talks about; the beautiful God I meet every day in the living Scriptures shared here from the plodders! Killeagh however fed into the caricature of Church that gets peddled too often in our Media. Isn’t life hard enough for most of us now without making it worse?
I also recalled Stephen Hawkins who said that Church folk damage God – “your God is too small.” I want to rid our world of the minimisers; of those who corner God into their own image. Why do they ‘belittle God’? Isn’t faith about ‘being great’? I don’t recognise the God of little men/women who has to be protected. A God that has to be protected from Tony Flannery? What kind of unreal God is this? It is not the God I know or the Church I know. Tony and his ilk stirs up the God of Jesus Christ. We need him badly. I would have thought that Tony and the ACP and Francis share a common outlook. Does Killeagh need a Berlin wall?
I would prefer if our ‘young bishops’ showed spunk and began shouting as ‘youngsters’ should, about revising and renewing our Church and bringing hints of Francis into the Irish Church. If they put the ‘stirabout’ on the Range (of our experience) and used their ‘fascinators’ to enliven our Church – how good that might be. If they decided to highlight the stupidity of the real ‘heretics’ who foisted the ridiculous Liturgy on us in the guise of Sacral Language (New Missal); if they shouted out that the Emperor had no clothes (and humbly said how wrong we have got things so often in church life); If they screamed from day- one at the Nuncio Charles and at the College of bishops – to sort out the Tony Flannery affair and told Rome to have sense and to apologise, as the Romans had to, with the women Religious in the USA. That is what I hope for in the younger prophetic bishops. I don’t want them to wear mitres like a dunce’s hat or to behave stupidly.
My mind darkened and I was tired. Was I allowing stupidity seep into my bones or was it that I was weary of defending a Church that is falling apart? And yet I knew as I went back to listening to Michael Rogers that my experience of God;
my experience of Church here in the parish;
my experience of people like Liz and Madeleine;
my experience of Tony Flannery;
my experience of the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ every day could not and would not be destroyed by the foolishness of a few.
Our God is good. Our Church is good.
But we need more fascinators.
We need a ‘range.’
We need stirabout.
We need Seamus Heaney.
We need the West Limerick man.
We need Mick Rogers.
We need Liz and Madeleine.
We need Tony Flannery.
We need the ACP. I think we need Brian Cody to mould our team together. And those who damage our name have to be thrown off the team. Charles Brown needs to wake up to the reality that is the Irish scene in faith. Don’t sell us short. Don’t make it more difficult for us than it is.
I have great regard and great sympathy for our poor bishops. Their job is impossible. The demands are huge. They will all make mistakes. They will be watched and scrutinised. They can’t do ‘right with doing wrong.’ None of us would want to do their job. However we are all on side. Obviously things go wrong betimes for them and they slip up. Eamon had a few stumbles. Kevin went rather wild and got clouted at the gates of Maynooth. Diarmuid has hit the odd bluster. Phonsie rambled into Communion and unworthiness. Kieran ran into the resolute women and had the gumption and grace to back down. Billy ran amok over Tony. They are men of faith and full of goodness. I have many friends among the bishops and admire them hugely. I try to keep some of them orthodox! But please ensure above all that God is allowed to be big and expansive. We don’t want the book of Judges 9.6-15 to be the story or the description of our hierarchy. I repeat: Never be-little; be great! That is the banner over all of us.
I recall a long time ago in Heythrop college arguing on the merits or otherwise of counselling – PCT (Carl Rogers). I felt it was very narcissistic. The director rather plaintively said: “we don’t do any harm anyway even if we don’t do much good.” However that isn’t good enough in this business. Our church has to be expansive and explosive and exciting and exhilarating. Pulling up the drawbridge is not an option anymore. Lord save us from all who are defensive; protective; fearful and who only can see darkness and dullness and problems and difficulties. Give us back those who can fascinate us and stir-us-about……. Tony, Paddy Kavanagh, Padraig Daly, Seamus Heaney, Liz and Madeleine, Mick Rogers. These are the saints that we need and must celebrate. The Gospel (Jesus Christ) has to be Good News.
Seamus Ahearne osa Rivermount Parish.

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5 Comments

  1. Kay McGinty says:

    Seamus, a beautiful , inspiring and uplifting article.. You have given me the strength to go to Mass this morning..

  2. hanging in says:

    You encourage me to hang in there.

  3. The institution of the Church is struggling but the sea of faith is still strong. The grass still grows the world still turns on it’s axis. God’s still in His heaven – all’s right with the world! We’ve been through worse and we’ll get through this.

  4. roydonovan says:

    Wonderful, uplifting and soaring of the spirits, Seamus.
    I met a woman yesterday who some 18 years ago or so took part in an Engaged Weekend Retreat in Esker at which Tony Flannery gave an imput on relationships. As I listened to her, I could sense how life-giving, energising and freeing Tony’s take on relationships still are on her ongoing relationship with her husband. In our times, when so many people are without hope, how dare they stop somebody like Tony, who has wonderful gifts of bringing the Gospel of Jesus alive in modern situations.
    Yes, the God of the Irish Church is getting smaller and smaller and suffocating! People like Seamus, Tony and the woman I met yesterday, are living out of a very very big God.
    It is scandalous the exclusion of Tony by the Irish Hierarchy who lack the stomach to do something about this situation.
    It is presently not unlike a certain so called Christian president in Europe who is following all the rules and thereby doesn’t have to do anything about the refugees! It’s not my problem.
    The Christ of the Gospels is the very opposite – using very very few words – he would do something.
    I sense it’s all words in the Irish Church – no actions. I am tired of all the words. I am tired of the Nuncio’s words/ I am tired of them all. Why do I have the feeling nobody is listening in the Irish Church – nobody really cares?

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