While all the others were away at Mass (Seamus Heaney)……….

As I was saying,
Francis has rattled the certainties in the past two years. He speaks in our language or rather in the language of the ordinary people. He has lived out in the byways of pastoral life where our helplessness meets much hopelessness. The nonsense that masqueraded as respectable in faith circles has been shaken. It is ironic but if any of us had said what he has spewed out of the side of his mouth in those two years we would be silenced with an Exocet from the CDF. Surely Sean Fagan or Tony Flannery cannot have been as wicked as Bergoglio?
I liked Gerald O Collins’ plea. He went on his knees and begged. He cannot believe that ‘his students’ could be so naïve. He gently whispers (in a plaintive manner) to them all –“ I knew you as confessing; I lectured you; I visited your dioceses – you made me welcome. Now please, have sense. Can’t you see? You must. It is obvious. For God’s sake; admit you made a mistake and do something about it.” Now the rest of us have been shouting this for some time. If they wouldn’t listen to us; they might listen to Gerald. He isn’t a moan. He isn’t a member of the ACP. He is a sensible man!
And I was thinking again of our language. We met in the Parish to discuss the Synod questions. Or rather we met to talk on family life. The response was strong. And there was a new appeal and a very clear one. ‘Forget your highfaluting language. Listen and learn from those who live in families. Life is rough, mixed and messy. Families can be defined in many different ways. Don’t tell us what we can’t or shouldn’t do. We all know families. We all belong in families. We all live and thrive or fail in relationships. The bruises of living together, scars all of us. Let the Jesus of the Gospel walk among us. And then you can recognise the reality of home life. You will know what feeding and eating around the real Table of life means. Understand something of what love is. Join us rather than ask us to join you. Share our language and our world.’
And I was thinking and smiling at Church language. We had our First Confessions over the past few weeks. The little ones are great. They read, sing and share so easily. Many are nervous. Why have we made Confession so negative? Where is the idea of “being God’s work of art” in the midst of it all? And as I watched and as the team watched – some of the parents got very upset by other parents. Some are full of reverence and the beauty of the moment. Others simply chatter away and make noise. Some of us wanted to scream. The most troubled youngster present with the most troubled mother almost taunted us into shouting for quietness. Our outer expression couldn’t give way to our inner feelings. And yet what happened then? The little fellow, after much coaxing went to Confession, ran back to kiss his mother. He read the Final Prayer and ran back to his mother and again kissed her. In some ways – it was like Seamus Heaney’s poem (‘When all the others were away at Mass’) around his memory of peeling the spuds with his mother. A precious moment and a sacred memory! At her death bed – as the priest went ‘hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dead,’ he recalled the moment with the spuds! He wrapped himself around the moment.
And I mused at our language. Confirmation will follow shortly. Hardly any parent or child will ever come to church and yet something of the ‘holy’ has to happen. We touch the ‘holy’ or hint at the beauty of God. We protect the ‘visitors’ from the banality of bad theology, bad liturgy and bad English inflicted on us by bad leadership in our church. We make the best of it. But we struggle. Any occasional visitor has to find a little of God when they come. These families are very far from the Church of yesterday (and the banality of its language). We have to celebrate the Church of Christ (living Gospel) with them and the God who is among them as they struggle in the rearing of their children with the fear of drugs, alcohol, sexual madness and cyber chaos. Families are at sea in the minefield of today’s world. Our Church is at sea; as every fabric of its life is tied up in the world of yesteryear.
And as I returned to the ‘promised land’ of Finglas and the banter and hilarity which is the Table I am fed from; I worried about the pile-up of marriages to be prepared. Once more, my presenting expression cannot betray my inner feelings. I find Weddings demanding and difficult. I recall with amusement my time on the Council of priests in Dublin. It was good to be there for a little while. It was a very open Forum. Diarmuid was silent and listened to the experience of all present (can you imagine him being silent?) We discussed one time -Weddings in non-parochial churches. I chuckled when Dermot Lane (one of our most encouraging and inspiring priests) spoke of the parish being ‘the Ecclesial Home’ of our couples. I laughed and had to have a go at him. In my experience almost none of the couples linked with me and here in any sense could describe the Church as their Ecclesial Home. They are totally outside of any connection with our active, living worshipping community. I put huge work into these moments (for marriages) and seldom hear anything more after the Wedding. Sometimes, I go for a meal to their home afterwards. That is the only Table we share. It is their Home and not the Ecclesial home, that matters!
And I think of our Baptisms and the linguistic distance. The Team meet, prepare, visit and ready for the day of Baptism. Too often, noise control/crowd control becomes necessary. ‘The Sacrament’ is a moment and not a life story! I worry about the efforts of the Team. Their commitment and their faith is inspirational. And yet sometimes, they speak of the odd few who remain back at the Meeting; who want a little more; who are struck by the sheer miracle of their little baby and feel awed by the God who has touched them. And that keeps everyone going into the future.
And yet somehow, it is the Funerals that hold the Sacredness of it all. We have buried so many young people. We have been involved in so many tragedies. And always, it is the silence that touches us. We work together on the Team to ensure everyone and each family is reverenced. We are tippy-toeing on the sacred intimacy of family life. This is the Ecclesial home. This is that Sacred place. We are at the Table of a home. We are the guests. Something happens. We are privileged. God carries us all through the delicate time. The language we use has to be their language. Church words and church rules only get in the way and are crude. Since we have been there at these times; we are forever at home in their homes.
Francis has arrived among us. He shows us the way. There is hope among us. He talks in a new and real language. Is it possible that our bishops have the gumption to learn from him? Have they got the backbone to listen to Francis and to Gerald O Collins? The people aren’t coming to us. When they come; let’s talk in words that they understand. If it is a Service industry; then the customer is right! The Church is out there. The Christ of last week is still making a whip (Jn 2.13). We have to knock down the walls of a Church that uses ‘bad language’ or shouts out meaningless rules about what family is. We all have to listen and learn.
Seamus Ahearne osa.

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  1. Jane Ireland says:

    The politics, pomposity and archaic language of the Church can easily mask the face of God. It’s far easier to see God in small children or feel close to God walking in the countryside.
    My brothers and sisters were horrified by the peculiar language of the synod questionnaire. They still go to Church but none of our children do. My sister told me that she had lost all hope in the Church reforming itself. Most of my friends are lapsed Catholics
    They are still people of prayer and faith. They are part of a silent hidden underground church. They do not need all this rubbish between them and God. I suspect they may now be the silent majority.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Séamus – good to see you’re back in the promised land, your Ecclesial home!
    At the end of your second paragraph, you write of Gerard O’Collins: “He isn’t a moan. He isn’t a member of the ACP. He is a sensible man!” You didn’t leave out, did you, an “Ergo …” before that third sentence, now …?

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