A week ago I spoke about Friday’s Referendum and mentioned it quite likely that by this weekend, the votes, cast and counted, would reveal a majority in its favour. I didn’t need to be much of a forecaster or analyst to arrive at that conclusion.
Such is the case today. On this Pentecost Sunday we stand with all who stood yesterday in the hope that they too stand with us. It is certain that many of those gathered yesterday, longing and waiting for our country’s yes, are today, like us, gathered in church, praying with their neighours and communities. We were not enemies yesterday, nor are we today. On the contrary, as one we seek peace and direction, strength, dignity and hope.
There is surely no better day to do it. Into the “locked upper room” came the Spirit of God to empower and release. Doors once locked were opened, voices once silenced found their breath, language once confused found a common and shared vocabulary. The Holy Spirit came to bring courage for the road and hope for the day. The Apostles left that upper room and walked onto the world’s streets. We have been walking since. That conversation continues.
Archbishop Diarmuid Marin spoke yesterday, in a timely and gentle tone, to say our church needs to have a “reality check”. I liked what he had to say and believe there’s a great truth in it. It’s certain we have lost contact with a sizeable number of our people. He spoke, in particular, of young people but I feel it goes broader than that. So on this Day of The Holy Spirit, what better way to begin that check than to ask that same Spirit to empower us, engage us and bring us to a place and point where discussion continues.
Are we about yes and no? Are we meant for division and hostility? Are we intended to be fearful or mistrusting of one another? I think not. We are on a journey as one and, to that journey, we invite again the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit. More than invite them, we rely on them.
I mentioned last week that if the referendum passed because people genuinely felt it was for the good of our country and its people that I could and would live easily with that decision. If, on the other hand, it was to be viewed as some victory over the Church and its teachings, I’d find it difficult to come to terms with that and considered it a high price to pay. For that reason, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the many who called for “no”, voted “no” and believed in “no”. This “no” was and is rooted in love of something held very dear and sacred – something at the core of most of our lives – the reality that was father and mother, doing together their best. Of course there were exceptions. Sadly too there were tragedies and illnesses that deprived children of one or both parents but the truth remains that many among us value married life and felt it under threat. Out of that and because of that, there was a desire not to have its meaning changed.
This, for the majority of people calling for “no”, had nothing to do with hatred, homophobia or oppression. People – the Church (and its teachers) wanted to protect something held sacred. There was no wish to hold people back or create division but, as I understand it, a call to reflect before change might be made.
To that end, it is possible that many did in fact “reflect” as the bishops asked and having done so came to the conclusion, that they had enough faith to sustain marriage as we know it, to continue to cherish it whilst opening the way for other understandings. Should that be the case, we pray for the sustaining of that faith and a way to communicate it with generations to come.
My deep wish is that we can put “yes” and “no” behind us now and journey respectful of one another in a way that is dignified and worthy of human beings – men and women – sharing time and space.
Furthermore, I truly hope that all can come to see our church as a place of welcome and challenge. Through that welcome may we accept the challenge to be better people because of our Faith, Hope and Love. I don’t believe the church seeks to oppress people. That is not why we are Catholics. On the contrary, we are called to be people of hope and encouragement. We have to own our Faith and speak from it. There’s so much good to be cherished, valued and shared. I fear the apparent desire to silence this sharing and the lack of courage, at times, to bring our Faith alive to the market place. Of course some of our teachings are demanding and maybe even burdensome but, like all lessons taught with passion, seek to bring us to a place of understanding.
Indeed Archbishop Diarmuid’s words refer to this. Whilst most will focus (as did I) on his mention of the need for “reality check”, he had more than that to say – not least about the teachings of our church. He puts it well:
“we tend to think in black and white but most of us live in the area of grey, and if the church has a harsh teaching, it seems to be condemning those who are not in line with it.
“But all of us live in the grey area. All of us fail. All of us are intolerant. All of us make mistakes. All of us sin and all of us pick ourselves up again with the help of that institution which should be there to do that.
“The church’s teaching, if it isn’t expressed in terms of love – then it’s got it wrong,” he said.
So come again Holy Spirit and fill (again) the hearts of ALL your Faithful, enkindle in them, the Fire of your love, and we shall renew the face of the earth.