21Nov Rigidity kills the Heart

Some of us miss Robert Mickens since he left The Tablet. A certain flavour has been lost since his departure. He always made his points with clarity and left us with questions for ourselves. He used to colour his stories with a little hint of gossip which drew us in!

Many of us now realise our own dilemma. We want decentralisation. We want the local Church to be sensible and real. We want the Bishop to do his job and not to defer to Rome for every thought. However, now that we have a man in Rome who speaks our language (!), we want our local leaders to take their inspiration from Francis and to imitate his way of doing things. We almost want more centralisation! We whisper to Francis – come help us.

It is very true that those who appoint our leaders and those who are appointed are still working out of a model from the past. (The pool is very small). We need and want better than that. It will take years and years for a different mentality to filter down. We are impatient. I expect too that Francis is very impatient. He hasn’t the time. Some of our bishops use the language of Francis but structurally still act out of an autocratic model. ‘They know best.’ Everything has to go through them. All decisions depend on them. Nothing can happen unless it is agreed by them. A Synodal model? Not very likely. They can nod reverently to Francis but carry on as always as this man may die away soon.

It is also true that many priests who might shout at the bishops for their methods of working actually work out of a similar model themselves. The very thing they accuse the bishop of doing is what is done locally. In fact, whatever about Francis and whatever about Bishops or other leaders – the Church is local and whatever happens locally is what most people see as Church. Is God celebrated? Is the Liturgy a Celebration of the experience of the locals? Is the language in Church the language of the locals? Are people respected for their experience of God? How often is the congregation passive and asked to listen to Father who still knows best……. . Are people ‘met’ out there where they are (outside of the building)?

Francis is quoted yesterday as saying: ‘I will tell you sincerely, I’m scared of rigid priests. I keep away from them. They bite.’ Such rigidity was everywhere up to a very short time ago. It was priests, bishops, Rome, CDF (G Daly illustrates it rather well in his book: The Church – always in need of reform.) It was everywhere. It was respectable and acceptable and the only model in town.

Rigidity kills the heart, the imagination, the creative spirit, the freshness of Jesus Christ in the Gospel. The ‘sound men’ who were appropriate as candidates for Bishops were the most unsuitable ones to live the life of a leader in the Church of today. They haven’t got the flexibility or the imagination to face a different and difficult world. But again our local Church is left with many an inflexible minister. I think the structural idea of Clustering is a disaster which is not thought through but I also believe that few of our local parishes make any real attempt to try it out. Is that the same problem?

We see daily and sadly what rigidity and fundamentalism does in the bombings and shootings across the world – we cannot leave allow a trace of it among ourselves. Being Godly means being expansive, exuberant, exciting, imaginative. We don’t have to protect God. God is used to our mess. Let’s take hold of the vision from Rome and apply it locally. Antoine Leiris wrote a letter to the killers of his wife Helene Muyal (one of the 89 who died in the Bataclan theatre). The inspiration in that letter speaks loudly from the heart of the Gospels and suggests a way forward for all of us.

Seamus Ahearne osa

5 Responses

  1. Paddy Ferry

    Excellent piece, Seamus. I feel the same about Robert Michens.

    I am baffled as to why bishops and others are still afflicted by this rigidity that you refer to now that we have Francis in Rome. A good recent example is Bishop Billy Crean and his appalling treatment of Fr. Hazelwood and the parish of Killeagh-Inch. We probably need a psychologist to help us here or even better a socio-psychologist– if there is such a thing, I’m sure there is –who has a special interest in our Catholic Church.

  2. Mary Vallely

    ‘A judgemental rigidity is the enemy of progress.’ (I think that quote is from Carl Rogers?) Seamus talks about bishops lacking flexibility and imagination but it isn’t just bishops. I was helping with the Flag Collection today for the St Vincent de Paul and a woman, around my own age, (youngish pensioner!)and a regular mass goer, told me that she refused to support the organisation because we were no longer ‘Catholic’!! We are too cross- community now. Now, THAT’S rigidity. We see it also in the reaction to the atrocities in Paris and the increase in support for Trumpism. Does it stem from fear of change and fear of stepping out of our own comfort zone?
    This is Adolf Eichmann during his trial in 1961. “Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one’s need to think.”
    Food for thought? Is that not frightening, to think that it can apply to some of us too??
    The only way to change that rigidity and lack of imagination is to engage in dialogue so that we can learn from each other and I do believe that there are a number of hierarchs who are open to engaging in dialogue. I think we ALL need to take more responsibility for this and not expect the clergy to always take the initiative. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. We need to humanise “the other” and engaging across the table helps us to see Christ in each other -eventually!
    Whilst I have this slot, I want to express my gratitude to the many priests, particularly my own Admin and local curates who work tirelessly and with great heart for the good of their parishioners. I know I speak for many others. Throughout the length and breadth of Ireland there are so many overworked and weary clergy who do sterling pastoral work, visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved and all those myriad tasks the rest of us take for granted. Each one of us knows he/she is loved unconditionally by an all merciful God but each one of us needs human approbation too. Thank you, ordained men and some day, after much dialogue, may I soon be able to say “and women” too! Rath Dé oraibh. (Seamus Ahearne, you are a little tonic at times.) 🙂

  3. Joe O'Leary

    I never thought I’d be an ultramontanist but I clutch at the hem of Francis’s garment as the last great hope for the Church of Vatican II. I even take a wicked pleasure in quoting him at the conservatives who were and are so quick to say, “If you don’t like the Church, why not become an Anglican?” Now they are saying the same thing to the Pope!

  4. John

    As I understand it the bishop did not threaten Fr Hazelwood or treat him badly, because the invitation to Tony Flannery came not from him but from the parish council. It seems he may have threatened or overawed the parish council and that they succumbed to a lot of bluster. Or maybe he told them they would no longer live in his grace and favour and they could not bear the thought of that.

  5. Treasa Healy

    Maybe they are Joe, but they’re also saying “He’s pushing on 80 – got lung deficiency, working and travelling too energetically – can’t last much longer – THEN we’ll vote in someone nearer the ‘good ol’ stock’ and breathe easily again. He disturbs the simple laity … we can’t have that!”

    Pessimistically yours!.


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