Some months ago, Fr Donal Neary S.J., asked me if I’d write a piece for the Novmeber issue of the Sacred Heart Messenger Magazine. I was honoured to be asked. He wanted me to write a piece on the Pope’s Intention for the Month of November. The Messeger is a very popular magazine here in Ireland and in other countries. I’m amazed how many people I have met in recent weeks who told me they read the piece and enjoyed it. Most recently a woman today in Duffys’ SuperValu who told me she had read it before realising the words were mine and had enjoyed them (I don’t think discovering they were my words lessened the enjoyment!) In any case, I thought I might put the few words here as well. Just to keep a few thoughts going.
That within parishes, priests and lay people may collaborate in service to the community without giving in to the temptation of discouragement.
(Pope’s Intention for November 2016)
“You did it again!” John Moran often said that to me after a Sunday Mass. He didn’t add to it or take away from it, just left it at that as he shook my hand. To me, he was saying, that something I said or did at Sunday Mass made a difference to him. I’m not sure how I responded or if I did respond but I appreciated what he was saying.
A small boy told his mother on a Monday evening that she could never wash his hair again. When she asked why, he told her that a neighbour had put his hand on his head as they left Sunday Mass together the day before and said “you’re a great little boy”. That man was found dead in bed the following morning. The boy, hearing this and knowing that his neighbour had said these words, felt his hair could not be touched again lest the blessing – the praise be erased.
I asked her, following her First Confession, if she’d say a prayer for one of our two clerical students. I named them both, asked her to pick a name and suggested she pray for him. Before leaving the church, she came back to me and whispered “Can I say a prayer for the two of them?”
“The temptation of discouragment!” How tuned in is Pope Francis! How blessed we are for that attentiveness to the local at the service of the global that is central to all he is about. It is indeed the real temptation for people in parishes, priests and laity, to be discouraged. There are seeds of it blowing in the very wind that should be at our back but is instead, at times, reaching gale force pitch as it meets us head on. We want to say “enough”, “what’s the point?”, “nobody’s listening” but as Francis says, that’s “temptation”. There is a point: people are listening and it’s never a good time to stop.
Least of all now! “You’ve done it again”, “You’re a great little boy”, “Can I say a prayer for both of them?” This is collaboration. This is the message we need to hear, to share and to re-imagine. We have the framework already. It’s rooted in Schools, monthly visitations, parish groups, Pastoral Councils, sharing parish resources, clustering and so much more. It’s heard in God’s Word proclaimed by people who believe they are sharing a treasure, in Eucharist carried to the sick and housebound as treasure, in choirs hearing a hymn and making it their own that they might share it with others, in priests meeting their people and people meeting their priests so that a conversation of hope may continue. But without the framework of this encouragement of each other, many of our new structures lose life and become part of parish history.
It’s time to make real the talk of all of us “being church” and to focus less on the history of boundaries and more on the geography of truly knowing one another and caring where we live. It’s a time to look for signs of hope rather than weep into pools of despair. It’s time to face the road as one knowing that He who is the ‘One’ will walk with us, break open the Scriptures and the Bread for us and cause our hearts again “to burn within us” because he truly cares about the matters we are discussing as we walk along.
Deliver us Lord from temptation, grant us peace, grant us eyes to see and ears to hear all that is already collaboration in our day.