09Feb World Meeting of Families – Let’s be real.

A lucky bag!

Valentine’s Day Cards; Gift tokens; Novelty window and car-bumper stickers; a notice board. Some even highlighting the nature of God as ‘a family of persons in the Trinity’ as outlined in ‘The Joy of Love.’
These arrived last night with a late knock at the door. There is mighty brainstorming going on somewhere and it seems like a marketing bonanza of imaginary tricks and teasers. Why do I both admire the energy and surprises while still feel rather reluctant at the whole enterprise?

An artificial construct?

I begin to think of the profile of families here. They would fit very well into what Francis describes as being at the heart of the Gospel. But somehow I can’t see how a collection of prelates with tall hats and colourful outfits can fit into my family group. We need the messed up, chaotic struggle of most ordinary and real families to be centre stage. We have to reflect the life of the family in Ireland and not some idealised version. Don’t anyone dare to suggest ‘the holy family’ as our model! I have been told that Philadelphia had an air of unreality and was full of nice, middle class, happy families! I don’t know. This may be very unfair. I was told this by …….!!!!!

The little ones here:

We have 73 children for First Communion. They are magnificent. Their spontaneity and enthusiasm is delightful. They are bursting with life and honesty and fun. They come to Mass (in preparation) and are eager to chat and take part. This age has to be celebrated. We need something like First Communion to mark this great time of their lives. Some of them even see our shared Eucharist as the best part of their day. The usual adults at daily Mass, are thrilled with them.

The luxury of ordinary life:

I think of their families. I think of their homes. I think of the mixture of life that happens for them. I think of the Home School Liaison person. I think of the School being the only home that some children know. I think of what Deis band 1means. I think of the aspirations and ambitions of the Schools for them. I think of the teachers and the great banter among us all. But I also wonder where would our families fit into a World Meeting of Families. A neat and tidy collection of an idealised family doesn’t reflect much of what I know.

We are privileged:

If I could tell the stories I know, it would shatter the ideas and profile of family life that will be celebrated in August. Every possible make up of family is here. I know the love in those families. I know the beauty in those families. I know the brokenness in many families. I know the chaos in many families. I know the utter impossibility of these children holding onto the wonder of their delightful age of First Communion time. I know the outsider sense of most from the official make up of official and formal church.

Confirmation: Confirming what?

I know also that of those 73 children, only maybe two or three will make it to a few weekend Masses. I know that the adults in those homes haven’t lost God but have no real connection with the God we celebrate at church. I know that the 70 or so children for Confirmation will know nothing really of the God that our Church wants to celebrate. But I also know that there are many grandparents struggling to make up what is missing for the children. I know the tears of many as they see the little ones rotten with drugs or dragged into criminality.

Our holy families:

I know how few homes are like the ones we used to know – a father and a mother (married, praying together, eating together; holy water font, churching together). It isn’t like that and it won’t be like that. Our concept of present day family is very different. I know too that my worry isn’t about the young people attending church; it is rather people of my own age who have faded away from the Church. Several generations have left us. God has got lost along the way. I know too that the chattering and complaining classes get worked up about the Baptism cert and the control the church has in Schools; I know it is total nonsense. Our control here is nothing but time and commitment to help the school community do its best. If control means that we manage to hijack the children and the families into church and browbeat them; we have definitely failed completely!

The Heineken Advert:

The old Heineken ad spoke of ‘the beer refreshing the parts that other beers cannot reach.’ Well how I wish that this gathering in August would celebrate the mess and the reality of life as it is lived among us in this country at present. We don’t need pious waffle rattling away with the so called elite of Church life talking of a world and a family that barely exists.

How far can you go?

Many years ago, I was chatting with John Coventry S.J. John was a fine theologian and a deeply committed Ecumenist. He mused over the important questions of the time: how could the various churches and church people mix together (a different version of David Lodge’s ‘how far can you go?’). John said: “I often feel that I have much more in common with many of the Anglican theologians than I have with most of my own fellow priests.” He wondered where that might go in terms of celebrating Eucharist! I am also somewhat fearful – have I very little in common now with the kind of Church that will gather in August and present itself to Francis; with the description of family; with the language used; with the kind of Ritual marking the occasion?

The sexual chaos of today:

There is sexual chaos at present in our world. There is a total mess in family life. There is confusion about the 8th Amendment and the upcoming Referendum. There is a great gap between the ordinary life of home and the Church that comes together. Parish life is a very humbling reality. Every day, we stop in amazement as we ramble onto the various oases of faith sprinkled everywhere. God is challenging us to join in a treasure hunt. We are told that faith is to be celebrated in a new way and in a new language and that the God of our people has to be reintroduced to ourselves and to everyone. Like the Heineken (ad) we somehow have to reach parts that no-one else can reach (with the excitement of God/faith/love/wonder/prayer).

Revelation:

A different God is being revealed. A new language is being created. But if we come together as Family of families; we must make sure that there is a reality which reflects Ireland today. We don’t have to think of Finglas. Many of us can look at our own families and a certain reality will show itself immediately. I don’t dismiss or undermine anything of the mighty work being done in preparation. I am concerned that it can reflect something of what we see daily.

Seamus Ahearne osa

*
D
elivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) the Action Plan for Educational Inclusion, was launched in May 2005 and remains the Department of Education and Skills (Ireland) policy instrument to address educational disadvantage. DEIS is now used informally as meaning disadvantaged.

10 Responses

  1. Francis

    Well done on a great article.

  2. Joe O'Leary

    This hits the nail on the head. The bishops come rushing to the scene with their band aid but do not dare examine the patient.

    A glimpse of the current “chaos” in today’s Guardian:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/09/polyamory-trans-documentary-love-unlimited?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Opinion+UK+connected&utm_term=263541&subid=12927916&CMP=ema_opinionconnectuk

    How much of this is pathological chaos and how much is welcome creative transformation?

  3. Paddy Ferry

    Excellent article, Seamus. “We don’t need pious waffle rattling away with the so called elite of Church life talking of a world and a family that barely exists.”–that really nails it. Thanks, Seamus.

  4. Mary Vallely

    “Well how I wish that this gathering in August would celebrate the mess and the reality of life as it is lived among us in this country at present. We don’t need pious waffle rattling away with the so called elite of Church life talking of a world and a family that barely exists.”

    Hear, hear to that, Seamus! That’s the God’s honest truth. I sincerely hope that there will be no pointy hats or embellished chasubles taking precedence over the ordinary mix of family members in all their shapes and forms. They have to honour their promise that all will be welcome.

    “We have to reflect the life of the family in Ireland and not some idealised version. Don’t anyone dare to suggest ‘the holy family’ as our model! “

    Oh Seamus, you of all people should be allowed to have your voice heard. Your account of life in inner city Dublin tells it as it is. It is not glossed over but also reveals your deep love for people, something that might put other pastors to shame. It HAS to be heard!

    “I am also somewhat fearful – have I very little in common now with the kind of Church that will gather in August and present itself to Francis; with the description of family; with the language used; with the kind of Ritual marking the occasion.”

    My fear too, that this WMoF may end up being a showy, glossy, unreal reflection of Ireland in 2018. A meaningless, expensive event with no real lasting learning taking place.

    “But if we come together as Family of families; we must make sure that there is a reality which reflects Ireland today.”

    Insist on Finglas being represented, Seamus. Write to the organisers, picket them if necessary, hound and hassle them.

    I came across this quote today and thought I’d share it. May the coming Lent be a time of deep learning and spiritual nourishment for us all!
    “Lent is when we die to the spirit of this world, so we can plug into the Spirit of God.”

  5. Frances Burke

    Great article in which a lot of common sense is used. As we know ‘Common sense is not that common’.

    I would recommend Dr Jordan B Peterson’s work to anyone interested in hearing a modern interpretation of the Bible stories and their relevance to a properly functioning modern society. His work on ‘chaos’ (as Joe mentioned above) is also very insightful.

  6. Joe O'Leary

    What most makes me pessimistic about this family event is the dismal and tedious performance of the bishops at the two Synod meetings on the family. The style of these exercises seems to be fixed.

  7. Sean O'Conaill

    “I know that the 70 or so children for Confirmation will know nothing really of the God that our Church wants to celebrate.”

    Note the exasperation of Fr Patrick Banville of St Senan’s, Enniscorthy, over this. By implication, he seems ready to withhold the sacrament from non-Mass-going children, but will he? Public meeting pending Thu 15th Feb.

    https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/confirmation-children-families-must-attend-mass-says-priest-1.3385833

    Watch this space!

  8. Treasa Healy

    Fr. Séamus, my heart responds totally to your plea for honesty and reality in connection with the WMoF in August. In the mid 1930’s mine would have been the typical ‘Holy Family’ as outlined in your article. Now in 2018 we are still mostly typical, but back then others would have been outlawed or blacklisted on every count. My four brothers and I have now grown to 50 and still counting please God. We include mostly normal orthodox unions, but have also some divorced and remarried couples, a Gay marriage and a ‘tragic’ death as well as the ‘fallen aways’. I, as a loving aunt was invited to, and attended because I value family relations and would not cause a break in the valuable and vital connections within our families.
    Were I to have the ear of Archbishop Martin I would ask him to request the Holy Father to reconsider the 2018 venue – to task Cardinal Farrell AND THE PRIME ORGANISERS with the responsibility of finding, somewhere on the planet, a venue which answers their understanding of the perfect ‘Holy Families’ of yesteryear.
    I laud and bless all the families who are in such positions – they too have had to cross many hurdles and answered the graces given in their difficult situations. I believe they will be mightily blest next August. However, what a pity the hope of the ORIGINAL handout has been lost – and so have many who might have taken the opportunity to slowly ease their way back to the Catholic Church in time.
    I have made this contribution personal – that is the way most people will view the August event.
    Yes to Frances No 5 – I have only recently been introduced to Dr. Peterson’s work and I agree, he is refreshing and hopeful to read.

  9. Pádraig McCarthy

    Séamus –
    I confess!
    I sent a link to your article to the WMoF website with a suggestion they might consider the world of families you know.
    How about if everyone who reads your article would do something similar, to let the organisers be aware of the holy messy world and what they might learn from it.
    The email for WMoF is: info@worldmeeting2018.ie.
    The link for the article is shown in the address bar for the page.

  10. Mary Vallely

    Thanks, Pádraig@ 9. I have just written to the organisers of the WMoF suggesting they speak with Fr Seamus and allow him a platform during this event. It would be wrong and hypocritical to present a glossy image of the Church in Ireland in 2018 but allowing Seamus to speak about his experiences in Finglas may kickstart a worthwhile dialogue which might possibly reap dividends. Let all voices be heard. That includes the positives of course. Those are important too. However it is only natural on this platform that we air our grievances. I mean, where else would we air them? What other platforms are there but the ACP, ACI and WAC websites? Long may they each continue to support the marginalised and the voiceless.
    Looking forward to Fr Ahearne getting his invitation to speak at this event in August. I might actually bus it up from Armagh to hear him AND bring a few supporters with me. ( Thank God for the travel pass!) 😉


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