The parish community is a smile on the face of God
Is ‘the parish’ the home/heart of the Community or is it a Service Provider? It can be all things to all people or it can be a useful ‘convenience store’ for the moments of need. Those of us who work in a Parish, find that we never complete our work. The work is endless. The day is forever. The major discipline is to be able to define what must be done and what can be done or what can’t be done today. We can never do everything. Our work is always unfinished and our objective is to be ‘a presence’ which is somewhat a whisper of ‘something more.’ We are truly sacramental. The whispers of God are hinted at and are ‘rumours of angels.’
The Parish is a place (church= meeting point) where certain key moments of life are marked. For many now – this place is useful but often fairly irrelevant. Baptism can be essentially a social occasion which is celebratory for the family and has little to do with Church or God. Holy Communion marks a precious and emotional moment in a family life when a lovely time in a child’s life is celebrated. Confirmation is the end of Primary school and again probably has little to do with God. Marriage in Church marks the occasion but very little of God is caught. One delightful bride said to me in all seriousness (many years ago in Dundee) – “The Church is a lovely entrance to come out. “ She meant it and she was right in many ways. Funerals are a moment which still marks the Departure Ceremony but is only part of the convenient structure of life. We serve a need. And some of us do it well.
What do we do as parish professionals?
1. Our job is to ensure that the ordinary work of life goes on in the Church for those who attend. We make sure that daily Mass is prepared and celebrated and that something of God happens. We prepare the weekend Celebration and once more try to reach into the lives of those who turn up. We hope something of the very mystery of God is shared and caught. We mark the other significant moments as best we can; always trying to touch every person with something of the faith we share. We present a warm face so that the ‘visit’ to Church is intimate, real, homely and Godly. We are there as the counsellor; as the letter-writer; as the trouble-shooter at times; We can say ‘the few words’ when needed. We have a walk-on role in many lives.
2. Our Church is getting old and grey and tired. The Sisters and the Priests are getting old and grey. The Congregation is getting old and grey. Our Service can never get old and grey. God doesn’t. We can’t. We don’t need cosmetics; we need a change of heart. We must deal with what is and not hanker back to what was. We often are an appendix to life rather than central. But that too is also fine. We cannot whinge about being ‘used’; or even try to ‘exploit’ those moments when people need our services. We cannot present those who come to us with hoops to jump through or indulge in making them feel ‘guilty.’ We are not the guards at the home of God.
3. We move in a very privileged environment. We still have access to the inner lives of many. If we bring the light touch of God; if we bring the warmth of care and compassion; if we bring the humility of being grounded in reality without having too many answers – then our place is very holy. We have to ensure that when people reach Church; they are welcomed. We cannot indulge (poor me!) in the cheap moan that ‘we are being used.’ (‘People only come because they want something or need something or haven‘t found a satisfactory substitute as yet.’) Is anything of the ‘gentle breeze’ caught or the ‘burning bush’ when people meet us? Is this ‘conversation’ an oasis of hope and Good News? Can we hint at beauty and poetry and wonder and marvel and miracle? If our own faith is alive; then we aren’t just ‘doing something’ for the Parishioners but essentially a Parishioner ourselves. We too are searching and praying people, being helped to meet our God everyday. We can’t be mechanics of mystery. God has to be met by me before I dare act as leader.
The Local Church.
1. Life in Finglas feeds my spirit. I know I am doing something good. The folk around here give me life. I find God in the homes especially (a day without several house calls – feels as if something is missing); in the schools where the very atmosphere with children, staff and parents is inspirational; in the banter of life around the streets; in the shops where we meet more people than in the Church; in the happy occasions and the sad ones. There is fun and nonsense and laughter and tears in the amalgam of life around here. My spirit is lifted by the hospitality of homes; by the occasions I feel able to bring a little something extra to the Celebrations; by the easy relationship with everyone; by the goodness and spontaneity in Church; by the taunting and teasing we all go on with; by the weekly Team Meeting; by the PPC; by the morning Masses and the arguments and fun; by the sheer honesty of everyone; by the wonderful and appreciated opportunity I have, to being in such a warm and cheerful place, even if ‘practice’ is not plentiful but humour and humanity is everywhere.
2. Life is a prayer. And prayer is a lifting of the mind, heart, imagination to God – that happens around the Parish and happens for the people of the Community and happens for me. I have come to the view that running around is not the challenge of the role but rather being around and presenting a face which I think is a glimpse of God. I try to do my bit in being a community builder and helping folk find a place and their place in the Community. I am a facilitator and an enabler. We all try to give people the confidence to speak – to let them know that their experience in life is a profound education and doesn’t need certification (by exams). . I am amazed daily at the confidence people have now in their own reflections. This is always the challenge – confidence-building!
3. I am blessed. It is a blessed place to be. My own faith is stirred. I don’t indulge in sadness at the collapsing edifice of the Church (good riddance in some cases); God is bigger than any moment and any time and any place. It doesn’t all depend on me or us or now. I don’t have to dredge the highways and byways. The door is open. I am always around. Church is ‘more’ than being at Church! The world of God cannot be defined by simplistic formulae. Humility is essential in all we do. In many ways this is a wonderful time in Church life. We are at home in homes. We are at home in the privileged story of a family preparing a funeral. We create a space for the story to emerge. We ramble around the schools. There is no great project. At least my project is not great and doesn’t have to be. In everything I do; I recall all the people who have been around long before me – I think of the local community; I think of the real saints of the parish; I think of the work of heroines and heroes who keep the place ticking over now and over the years; I think of my own family. We are part of the long stretch of faith down the centuries and down the years and down the byroads of life. We do live and I live on the shoulders of giants and I am grateful.
Yes. The parish is a holy place. I take off my shoes. I don’t have to feel responsible for those who don’t attend church – I wonder if I would attend myself in different circumstances. I enter their world and also find God. The real Table and Altar is the multiple of Tables in every home and the story of every family. It is the struggle and the gift. The formalised version of Church is really of little interest to me. I don’t need the pompous language and archaic ritual. Real Eucharist happens when bread is truly broken and the Christ is obviously present in the very mystery of our lives. What a wonderful time it is? Let Teresa of Avila have the last word: “How did those priests ever get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don’t think God tickled them yet. Beloved – hurry.” We need to be tickled.
Seamus Ahearne osa