01Aug August is a wicked month! Or is it ‘the silly season’ ?

Funerals:
Someone died in the parish Community. He went straight to the graveyard. That is new around here. Will it catch on? Or will some Ritual be created that somehow carries the trauma of dying and death? The Church still adds something even to those who are totally at sea in regard to God and Faith and Church.

Baptism/Naming Ceremony:
I had a serious query on a Naming Ceremony. The copy of such a Ceremony was sent to me. I was asked could a priest say a blessing at this Ceremony (also). The grandparents were committed Catholics but the parents wanted the child ‘to make up his own mind’! In the same week I was sent another booklet by a lady who had attending a Naming Ceremony and was impressed. I was asked if I might/could include some of the sentiments in the Baptism Ceremony which I was due to Celebrate. (A son of said woman thought his mother had totally lost it!)

First Communion:
I was asked (as ACP) to take part in an interview re First Communion. The couple were lapsed Catholics and were in a dilemma over their child who was in Communion class. She was asked – did she want to receive? She chose to do so. The parents made a Documentary. I enjoyed the banter of the discussion but wasn’t totally happy with the outcome. I wondered whether the serious issues, which arose, were lost in the excitement of a Documentary. I felt that the ‘child was used’ and ‘her companions were used’ for the Documentary.

Defection from the Church:
I had an e-mail from a young journalist who wanted a comment from the ACP re his Defection from the Catholic Church. He had also written to the Chancellor (Dublin diocese). He wanted a Formal Ceremony to mark his Departure. I wrote back: ‘Dear John Paul’ (yes that was his name!) and suggested that his parents had a sense of humour to have named him thus and mused at his dilemma on his name. I then told him – to leave if he wanted to. No-one was going to arrest him. He was making himself all too precious. The ACP weren’t exercised about his defection. I may have been too flippant.

A Wedding:
Pauline asked me, would I ‘do her Wedding.’ She said – “I don’t believe in God and I don’t want my wedding in Church but I want you to do my wedding.” She was lovely, honest and sincere. Again until something evolves to capture ‘the act of faith’ which a Wedding is, beyond the formality of the Registry Office; we will still be needed. But we have work to do on this. How often do we now get the call – ‘would you do a Blessing in the Hotel for my wedding?’…….

A former Priest and Faith:
I meet a former priest very often. He definitely is where he should be. His ministry in his family and in his work, is full of Gospel values. Christ would be impressed. Even Francis might be. But our one-time-priest – has no faith; has no interest whatsoever in God…… How could that have happened? What would the ‘death of God theologians’ have to say on this? How evident is it that our priests’ faith is alive and well as we all cope with the demands and challenges of today?

The Young ones and the accoutrements of office:
Diarmuid Martin spoke in Australia about Pope Francis. He noted the ‘drift back to the past in some.’ He spoke of a young priest to illustrate this. I was asked for a comment (as ACP). I did so something like this:

‘Diarmuid Martin’s words are apt. The Church in Dublin and in Ireland needs to hear more. The Bishops together need to show their excitement at the vision of Francis. It seems that some might wish Francis would go away – and some comfort themselves with the thought that he can’t last too long.

The concern DM shows in regard to the ‘young curate’ is a familiar one. The ‘young ones’ are very few and some embrace a very traditionalist view of Church. It is understandable too because there is great insecurity among the young. They need certainties. We don’t have them. Some see the ‘older ones’ as betraying the Church. The ‘young ones’ find comfort in the trappings (dressing up etc ) and wish to ‘protect’ (save) their ‘church’ which can’t be done in their way. What are they learning in Seminaries? I don’t know. But if their training is real – they will be faced with the reality of faith for today. (An apprentice model might be better). If they don’t ‘marry’ the messiness of today’s culture with a Scriptural sense of God; they will become a hindrance to the Church where they minister. Priesting is almost impossible unless there is humour, humanity, honesty. Life has to be flexible and adaptable. Liturgy has to be tailored-made to the experiences of people (it is never monastic). The rigidities are of no use and are destructive. Faith-life is very untidy as is every life and every family and every parish!

The ACP was formed with the simple aims of trying to live the vision of Church from Vatican 2. We now find that much of what we have said, is echoed by Francis. He has indeed ‘stolen our clothes.’ He is refreshing. He speaks in a language that is familiar. He tempts us out into the open. He draws us away from obsessions, with the minutiae & trivia of so called doctrine or the frozen certainties. He uses broad strokes. He calls us to look at Jesus Christ. He asks us to be evangelised ourselves and then we can evangelise others: We can discover ‘the joy of the Gospel.’ He tells us he is a sinner. He suggests we discuss things and work together in parishes, dioceses, and even in Rome. He calls on Ministers of the Gospel to immerse themselves in the ordinary and real life of people. He asks us to use their language. He calls us out of the dead formulae of the rule books. He reminds us that we don’t live in a museum.

The ACP are at home with his language and his challenge. We do worry about the young and know how ‘lonely’ the priesthood can be. Neither the young or old can, run back to the nostalgia of a past which no longer exists – a fantasy-land. The Word has to become Flesh in everyday life. Francis doesn’t disturb the ‘faithful’, he rather excites them. He doesn’t disturb the ‘faithful bishop or priest’ but calls them to be less fearful and to enjoy the excitement of their privileged calling. Diarmuid is right but all the Diarmuids (bishops) have to show in practice that they believe in Francis and his vision. They too must live it by doing it and not just by talking about it. The puppeteer model of management/leadership/ministry is redundant. Real communion has to happen. ‘

Edna O Brien said ‘August was a wicked month.’ (It is a time for flights of fancy). And in the Media it is often spoken of as the ‘silly season’ when any old trivial story will fly and fill the spaces. My stories above are ‘kites’ but they hint at a culture that is changing. We either embrace this new world or it runs away from us and we become irrelevant. The phrase ‘they just don’t get it’ has been hurled at us as a caste of priests (it is a misused generalised slur which offends all logic and all truth). However, we better ‘get it’ – the world as we knew it, is fading away. We need to wake up to that fact and quickly. Have Fun.
Seamus Ahearne osa

6 Responses

  1. Mary Vallely

    “Priesting is almost impossible unless there is humour, humanity, honesty. Life has to be flexible and adaptable. Liturgy has to be tailored-made to the experiences of people (it is never monastic). The rigidities are of no use and are destructive. Faith-life is very untidy as is every life and every family and every parish!”

    Have shared this on the ACI Facebook page as it is so refreshingly honest without being ‘doom and gloom.’ I agree totally that humour, humanity/compassion and honesty are vitally important traits to be cherished and encouraged and nurtured in the more serious younger models of priesthood. And joy, that underrated emotion which Seamus exudes, is extremely infectious, as we can see from the ever smiling Francis in Rome. (Didn’t he say something recently about winning souls by attraction rather than by proselytism.)
    It was interesting and eye opening to read about the difficulties and pressures of a city priest and a lesson to all of us in how to keep insanity at bay. It’s also good to share experiences so that others can identify and not feel so alone. :-)

  2. Sean O'Conaill

    ” We either embrace this new world or it runs away from us and we become irrelevant.”

    Seamus is always worth reading, but I am frankly bored with being advised to ‘embrace’ this, that and the other, and feel it’s time to bury this Robinsonian cliché forever, in the cause of verbal lucidity.

    Seamus obviously doesn’t mean we should see everything in ‘the culture’ as worth applauding, adopting, experimenting with. Surely we do need to be compassionate towards the many kinds of bewilderment, confusion and sheer daftness that are out there – because self-harm in many forms is very much part of all that. Respect, agape – these always need to be our default attitudes to people.

    However, if we do not also have a seriously critical edge to our gaze on ‘this new world’ – if we try to get along simply by being ‘nice’ about everything – don’t we simply become part of the daftness? AND irrelevant?

    Don’t we need to SEE, for example, gadget fetishism – and name that fearlessly for what it is? Don’t we need to attack full on the vapidity of ‘celebrity culture’ – and invite people to see the Christian tradition as a radical alternative founded upon the exactly equal value of everyone?

    As for the gathering environmental crisis – largely caused by this throwaway ‘new world’ – when are homilists going to become passionate about that, and the mostly crazy ‘market’ that threatens it?

    We need also to get a grip on the roots of all addiction in low self-esteem – and attack that fiercely also. The many illusory solutions to that problem provided by this ‘new world’ need to be seen for what they are, if we are not to abandon all hope of engaging helpfully with it.

    Is that maybe what Seamus meant by ‘embrace this new world’ – engage helpfully and compassionately, but also fearlessly, critically and insightfully?

  3. Michael O'Connell

    Seamus’s observations have hung around in my mind since yesterday.

    And I think that had to do with being given some access to his interior conversation ; and what life is really like for priests these days.
    I have often wondered what goes on for them in their everyday lives that must be so different from us lay people with children, grandchildren and with the continuous company of people with similar lives ; to whom we can talk and listen and know that whatever is going on for us, whatever we are feeling, no matter how askew, is normal – a valid response to life’s struggles.
    But what of the priest charged with ministering to our spiritual lives, and yet he’s the ‘other’ : most of his flock stand up straight in his company and see more of the priest than the person.
    ( I have just become aware of one advantage of celibacy- I don’t have to worry about the his/her inclusive pronouns ! )
    Then what if some see someone else, a different ‘p’. What must it be like to wonder if you should tousle a child’s hair and then find yourself drawing back from doing what any other man, especially Jesus, would feel free to do.
    I don’t really know if I could cope with that : having to censor a natural, loving impulse ; how could I do that and still be fully human in the way Christ was ?

    However maybe my imaginings are worse than the reality : maybe you priests find strength and grace , some way to transform all of that. What was it CS Lewis wrote ?
    “We are like blocks of stone… – blows of His chisel which hurt us so much are what makes us perfect”
    Seamus tells us his his stories of everyday life, perhaps the only place where the Word can be made Flesh. And oh, how I need to be in-spired in my own daily struggles.
    Tell us ( or at least someone) your story – as does not the Gospel of Thomas urge ?
    ” If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
    If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.”

    Seamus did that in simple everyday words.
    And I’m glad that he can talk of the darker places. Of the ‘Difficult’ as well as the ‘Beautiful’.
    (Oops even his penchant for inverted commas is affecting me.)
    Cogged from Julia Cameron’s elegant and succinct :-
    ‘Life is difficult and beautiful.’

    That first Communion documentary was ‘difficult ‘ for you Seamus, obviously. Was it the same one I heard on radio / by an Australian/New Zealand woman ?
    Maybe there was a ‘back story’ that I don’t know – but its impact on me was such that I wanted to get a copy and send on to a young woman whose religious anti-religious dogmatism would rival that of the Curia. So that she might allow her twin girls to take their first Holy Communion for a rite of passage; an outing, companionship and maybe more.

    Seamus , what about us making August the Un-Silly season. When we might set ourselves free from all the noise and the rancour, the I’m right, you’re wrong stuff.

    In following this site over the years, I have enjoyed ‘enlightened’ views, been enraged by the injustice done to Tony Flannery, Sean Fagan and others. But often recently the rage ebbed quickly as I noticed a strong sense of losing connection with something Vital.
    Perhaps we pay a big price for focussing on wrongs, become ‘possessed’ by them rather than by That we yearn for.
    We can become infected. Without knowing it, we seek to control those who seek to control us ; or replicate their violence with our own.
    [ Isn't that obvious at its most extreme in the Middle East?]
    So even at a practical level, fighting fire with fire rarely has the outcome we desire.
    Reportedly, Thomas Merton drew back from the anti-Vietnam campaign believing that some of its tactics hindered it being heard by those in power.
    The terror on the face of the naked child photographed running from the napalm – it’s the story that picture told which maybe made the difference.
    Real influence seems to lie in stories that are true.
    Like your stories, Seamus.
    When Merton, (in India, I think it was) on the day before he died, received a complaint that in his speech to clergy that day he had not spoken about converting the populace – he suggested that the only way to do that was to Live her own Christian story. In your words Seamus: to be evangelised herself.
    Not through the certainties and the catechisms clung to by the Young Ones you mention. But down, as you say, in the messy, in the despair. Mine not too long ago : Lord, I am on my knees, I can’t take this any more, you’re going to have to do something. Then the Word can becomes flesh.
    Maybe also too – in those occasional upsurges of joy which come unexpectedly, gifts from God knows where.
    In the everyday as you say, and as Merton said :
    “Every moment and every moment in every man’s life plants something in his soul.”

    I have been trying to show up in every day and in the most difficult of circumstances.
    Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. It takes a lot of practice; and practices like mindfulness, meditation and yoga ( oh, it is hard not to have a cut at ‘Donegal’ – but just a gentle one) help greatly.
    Tomorrow morning I will meditate in preparation for my grandson’s third birthday party. I hope to throw him around a lot and make him squeal and chortle. I find myself these days pushing the grandkids high on the swings as their mothers put their hands over their eyes. Getting us all into mischief seems to me to be a big part of the Grandpa’s role

    Thank you for your stories, Seamus – without which I wouldn’t have written this. May there be many more to come.

    Michael

  4. Bernard Cotter

    Thanks, Seamus, for a wonderful article, full of life, and true to our pastoral realities in parish. Have fun yourself in August!

  5. jim mc hugh

    Séamus,

    you wind (us) up with, Have Fun!
    having counselled us, August is a time for …Flights of Fancy.
    After digesting your choice morsels, I went out into the garden because there was weeding to be done. While having fun there, this quote from Chesterton reverberating in the memory chambers:

    “There was some one thing that was too great for our God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”.
    First read as byline on the jokes page in.. now where’s memory..the OFM magazine ? All that was a long time ago, I remember.
    Fare very Well

  6. JohnM

    This piece puts into prespective the odd concerns of the person in the vatican who is worried that people might leave their seats during Mass to greet one another.