Post-Christmas reflections from the coalface
I love the writings of Bryan McMahon. There is a warmth in his work. In The Master, he says that the purpose of education is ‘to stir up the curious wonder of a child.’ The feast of the Epiphany stirs ups that curiosity in all of us. It sums up those who have the head and heart to search for what is good, wonderful and beautiful; to go beyond the obvious.
Our Church officially often failed because it was too rigid; too fixed; too dead; too certain; too sure; too fearful; too inward-looking; too unimaginative; too caught up in supposed sinfulness. The feast celebrates those who come out and try to make sense of life today, in our world; in our country; in our own community/ place. It celebrates those who hear the Word of God and let that Word be birthed in their own lives and experience. This is a rich feast if we could only live it. We are the ‘wise’ men and ‘wise’ women who live up to the ambition of God for each of us – and live out ‘ the curiosity of the child within.‘ We don’t need camels or stars but guts and gumption. Thanks to all who inspire us (in- spirit us). Suenens said some years ago:’ Dream dreams and be willing to pay the price to make those dreams come true.’ Pope Francis has spoken with a similar heart and freshness – to make real the imaginative story of the Epiphany.
The very heart of this feast was missing in the new missal. It is dull. It is dreary. It is stodgy. It is leaden. Paddy Jones suggests that it may be looked at again. May be? There are serious issues to be addressed immediately. How could our pastoral leaders have allowed this book through? It fails as theology, as liturgy and as an English document.
Did any of the ‘collective’ which makes up the hierarchy, read the document before allowing it through? Were they so convinced that any such document had to be infallibly correct? Did they just wave it through? Were the New Zealanders and the Germans the only people who were awake or less deferential? Is this a resignation matter for all those concerned or not concerned? (!) Were the nuncios alive or alert to the local churches? Should they be indicted also? Before the issue of the New Missal is addressed – the whole way of management in our Church has to be reviewed plus the very meaning of liturgy.
Brendan Hoban, amusingly but tellingly, writes on the ‘Francis effect’. The Church presented by Francis is very familiar to many of us. It is true and strange that the version of the Church presented by the ACP is very similar to what Francis is now saying. It all seems so obvious and so real. It is fired with life and imagination and warmth.
The Church was stuck in recent years and was cold. But that never was the Church of Jesus Christ or the Christ of the Gospels. Yet somehow, the ACP were seen as a threat. A threat? How could a thousand priests be a threat? These are the men who are the ministers of the Gospel in the local Church. And yet it became such an ordeal for anyone officially to speak with the ACP. Where is Communion? Is there any theological understanding of the Eucharist – when people can’t talk or won’t? The Feast of the Epiphany is about people searching for the truth – they travel anywhere and everywhere to meet the Christ in life. Do we?
Around Christmas, I mused over the numbers. Many came to Mass. A Francis effect? I’m not convinced. But I also know that huge numbers didn’t come to Church for Christmas and if people don’t come to church at this time: definitely ‘God is missing and not missed.’ God is not important enough for some. I don’t blame people. This is a reality. Many are actually too busy about Christmas to make time for Christ. (In our own families – we recognise the same pattern). And then so often the language and ritual (at Church) is beyond their experience.
Ritual or Liturgy has to be rooted and steeped in the language and experience of ordinary people. Otherwise the Word hasn’t become flesh. I liked young Katherine Welby’s blog. She has moved back in with her father Justin (what a gift he is – like Francis?). She said: “just didn’t feel like going to God. Church is where I feel worse. I cannot sit still for the length of a Service without getting anxious, so often I find a reason not to go. You feel slightly foolish if you are getting up and down three or times and can’t but feel that people will be questioning your attentiveness, ability to listen and how committed you really are.” And then she says: “ I just can’t be bothered to give it (the Jesus story) the time it deserves.” It sounds very honest. A Welby – would be!
I went into a few shops (in the past week) looking for Pope Francis’ recent words on the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’ It wasn’t there but Tony Flannery’s book was! I went into a monastery (Melleray) to check whether it was available there: neither Tony or Francis appeared! I didn’t go to Veritas…. But in the light of the Feast, I will keep searching. My last word, I will whisper; be gentle with Keith O Brien. He too is in exile. He too is silenced. It isn’t fair to ask him speak; he is not allowed. Those of us who know the man well; recall the warmth, humanity and the Joy of the Gospel in his ministry among us.
Seamus Ahearne osa is a member of the ACP Leadership Team. He ministers at St Oliver Plunkett Church, Rivermount, Dublin 11.