Tired of all the bad news

While we can't deny the difficulites for so many people at home and overseas, it's important to take account of the positives, and to spread the Good News. I don't know who said this but; "No-one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side." Blessings..

Friday, 17 November 2017

Salvator Mundi - No Charge

This has been a week where Homeless Agencies in Ireland are under severe pressure to continue to help what seems to be a growing crisis among homeless families and rough sleepers. We have seen genuine concern from smaller homeless services, voluntary groups, who bring hot soup and basics around to those sleeping rough in the city each night following comments in the media saying that this isn’t always helpful in the main. The problem is perennial but now in winter time we see the crisis deepen here.

It has been a week when we have seen Bob Geldof giving back his Honorary Freedom of Dublin City because he feels in conscience that he can’t share the same roll of honour as Aung San Suu Kyi. U2 have also expressed criticism of her on their website; “…the violence and terror being visited on the Rohingya people are appalling atrocities and must stop. Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence is starting to look a lot like assent…” The pictures on our television screens of these suffering people are harrowing.

We are also seeing terrible scenes of suffering in Yemen and the BBC reports online today that more than 7,600 people have been killed and 42,000 injured since March 2015. Again, our television screens show is the massive suffering of innocent men, women and children and Yemen is on the brink of famine.

In New York a painting of Christ by Leonardo Da Vinci, ‘Salvator Mundi’, has been sold at auction for 450 million dollars. It has been sold to an anonymous bidder and therefore we don’t know if it will emerge some day for people to see and view. There aren’t too many people who would be able to stump up that kind of cash to buy a painting by Da Vinci I would imagine. And if it was a private collector, who will get to see it again? At least the big museums of the world would afford people the chance to see this and perhaps time will tell.

I was thinking about this after I saw a tweet by Fr. Paddy Byrne (@frpaddybyrne) the other day. He said we can all have a personal life saving friendship with the person this image depicts…for free… I totally agree with this. A life-saving relationship with Jesus Christ fuels all of us to endeavour to make a difference in people’s lives. It spurs people like Sr. Consillio, and Sr. Stan, and Fr. Peter McVerry, and Br. Kevin, and others to help the homeless and those in addiction as they have been doing since the 1960’s and 1970’s. It inspires people, and many of them young professionals; nurses, medics, surgeons, therapists, engineers, social workers, teachers, etc. to give up some years of their lives to travel with the NGO’s, the Red Cross, and Red Crescent, and MSF for example to areas broken by war, disease, and famine. And of course, I am conscious that people may belong to another faith community, and also those who don’t believe in God, and will still work tirelessly to make the world a better place.

Pope Francis has inaugurated this Sunday as the first ‘World Day of the Poor.’ In his message about this he says I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.  They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father.” We keep in our hearts all who are broken by homelessness, violence, poverty, famine, and caught in the crossfire of selfishness among those who want more and more at the expense of the most vulnerable. The happiest people are those who are at the service of others.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Scaffolding, bricks and mortar

We’re getting the church painted by degrees. There has been ongoing restoration work done during my time as parish priest and before my time. Naturally, the cost of the work done has been great and we have developed ways for people to donate and contribute. We are one of the oldest churches in the diocese and indeed perhaps the oldest parish on the north side of the city, and people from all over the world have contacted us for information about their ancestry. This, among other initiatives helps us to continue to tip away with our restoration work.

Last year, 2016, as we looked towards the bi centenary of the parish, 1817 – 2017, we began to paint the walls of the church which were badly in need of cleaning and painting since the last time the church was painted was 1991. Because the lower part of the walls was quite marked and dirty, and because they were accessible with ladders, we painted them first. Before Christmas 2016, we painted the sanctuary; the high altar and the two side altars. A generous benefactor kindly offered to pay for this phase of the work which greatly helped us to plan for the third phase, which we’re at as I write. The third phase necessitates high scaffolding around the walls as we paint them all the way to the ceiling. Next year please God, we will see about phase four; painting the ceiling itself.

So, at the moment we have scaffolding around the front of the sanctuary and all along the walls of the church. It is a tight squeeze to say Mass on the altar although it’s a small sacrifice as we look forward to the completion of this stage. of the works. We look forward to the Archbishop of Dublin coming to celebrate our Mass of Thanksgiving on August 25th, the feast of St. Michan, the patron of our parish.

I was sitting in the church for a short while the other day as Stephen and John were on the scaffolding painting. As I looked around at the scaffolding, I was reminded that the scaffolding with its bars, and platforms, and its planks, and its pins and rivets, it just that, a scaffolding. The scaffold helps us to look beyond and make things new. As it stands along the high walls of our church on this two hundredth year of its opening, it tells a story of faith not just over two centuries but of a millennium since St. Michan called a people together in the name of Jesus Christ. The scaffolding also reminds us of the story of our parish from Capel Street to Parkgate Street and from the north banks of the River Liffey at the Four Courts to Constitution Hill. It also tells us of a people who were born here in this parish and who now live all over the world and who are part of the Christian community in all five continents.

The scaffolding assists us. It raises us to great heights safely and it helps us to see things in a new way. The faith story of the people of this parish down through the years is a scaffolding to support the parishioners of the future to carry of the message. The scaffolding is helping us to paint and refurbish the walls of the church. And indeed, the walls of the church are just bricks and mortar, but our church is more than that, it is family, it is community, it is young people, it is schools, it is neighbours, it is history. It’s heart beats with stories and prayers, and it’s blood courses through the very soul of the people here. 

Thursday, 8 June 2017

'It was twenty years ago today...'

‘It was twenty years ago today…’ These are the iconic opening lines to an iconic song and album by the Fab Four which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of release on June 1st 1967. On this day, June 8th in 1997, I was ordained to the priesthood in St. Kevin’s Church, Kilnamanagh, in south west Dublin, the parish I grew up in having left there in September 1987 as an eighteen-year-old.

Dublin Auxiliary Bishop, Jim Moriarty who ordained me said in his homily that I was becoming ‘a priest for the third millennium…’ I was nervous and excited at the same time. It was a surreal experience on the morning of the ordination as it was something I had dreamed of and imagined from a long way back. To become a priest in my home parish with friends and neighbours who knew me was something I had longed for and prayed for.

I remember wondering would the day ever come? I was afraid something would go wrong or that the alarm would go off and I would wake up to disappointment like waking up in the morning from a dream. Ten years before when I returned from novitiate, green and naïve, following my first profession of vows, I wore the Capuchin Franciscan habit for the first time in public and my old friends saw me dressed like a ‘monk.’ Then in 1994, I took my solemn vows for life as a Capuchin brother and while this was the end of my initial training, for me it was always about the continuation of a journey which I am still on.

I didn’t get there on my own. So many people, family, friars, teachers, and friends, have been part of the journey. I have always felt great good will from so many people when they speak to me about the choice I’ve made. People have commented to my family; ‘you must be very proud…’ And the truth is yes, they are; but for who I am and not what I’ve become. All families love us for who we are, and we love our families because they are part of our family.

In a world where the majority of people find a life-partner and start a family, most of us are accustomed to seeing relationships in terms of marriage, partnership, children, etc. The whole idea of lifelong celibacy is very unusual when we’re geared to finding that soul mate. I mean what do I tell Facebook? ‘Bryan is in a relationship? I’m not. And yet I am. Bryan is in a relationship and it’s complicated? Sometimes. Bryan is single? Depends what you mean by single; I’ve perpetual vows in religious life so I’m not exactly single, and I’m an ordained priest; ‘In persona Christi.’ Mind you, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about my status, yet I know people do but perhaps that’s for another blog.

Over the years I’ve experienced the highs and lows of being a priest-friar in religious life. I’ve worked in school ministry, hospital ministry, and now at the moment parish ministry.  It hasn’t been easy in terms of the revelations of clerical sexual abuse and the cover up by some in leadership. Our struggles as clergy and religious are nothing to the hurt of those who are still living with the abuse. While we all remember tough nuns and brothers in our past (I certainly do) it’s hard when media and social media attempt to airbrush out the great good many religious orders have done, for example in education and healthcare in Ireland when no one else would. In my life, I’ve known men and women in religious life who were the personification of kindness to me personally and today I know religious women and men who are at the vanguard of the outreach to the homeless and addiction services.

So, what about the future? I’ve no idea. At some point in the future, I know I’ll be changed and be asked to move to something else somewhere else and I’ll have to say good-bye and so will the people. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. This is hard and the older one gets the more difficult change gets. I was nearly twenty-eight years old on my ordination day when Bishop Jim reminded me that I was being ordained as priest for the third millennium. Twenty years later, and my prayer for the future is that when I die, whenever that is, I will have tried to be a holy Capuchin Friar, and a holy priest. Everything else is tied in to this hope. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

You're having a laugh

Today is Vocations Sunday and therefore today we try to remind people of the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This is not a new concept, it is fifty-four years old this year. This weekend, Priests will stand up at Masses all over the world and speak about the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and we are doing the same in churches in Ireland, in fact the need is even more great here.

In Ireland? This weekend? Are you having a laugh? If we are to pay any attention to the media over these last few weeks, and if we look at what is posted all across social media in the last while, preaching about the great need for vocations is not going to go down well, I would argue.

In the last weeks, we have once again seen the question of the appropriateness of the ringing of the Angelus at 12.00 noon and 6.00 p.m. on our national broadcaster. We are also hearing calls for the ending of the saying of the Dáil prayer at the beginning of each day’s Dáil session. There has been almost universal condemnation of the Irish Sisters of Charity and their healthcare services being awarded the running of the New National Maternity Hospital on their campus at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin 4. We are also hearing calls for the ending of some catholic national schools requiring a child’s Baptismal Certificate for entry. 

All across the media we are seeing calls for the complete separation of church and state in today’s Ireland. One commentator I read is calling for the total dismantling of the Catholic church in Ireland. Quite simply he feels that the church has been part of the problem in Irish society rather than part of the solution. While we are not naïve about what has come out into the light of day, only this week past once again, media were looking for comment from the Peter McVerry trust and from Br. Kevin about the latest homeless statistics – especially homeless families. So, some nuns and priests do the state some service in fairness.

What will this kind of Ireland look like? Will people be choosing to go to Mass on Sundays anymore? It’s only a matter of time before the Angelus goes from our national broadcaster and I’m sure certain T.D.’s will have another go at ending the saying of the Dáil prayer each day when the parliament is in session. Will the saint’s names be stripped from hospitals, schools, and sports clubs? We’ve already seen Christian images and statues removed from some of these places. Every Christmas we hear a debate about the placing of the crib in hospitals etc. I wonder are its days numbered in the GPO? And that brings me to another question, will Christian feast days cease to be here in Ireland? St. Patrick’s Day? Christmas Day? Easter Eggs? “At least from next year we can have a jar on Good Friday.” In Penal times, people from outside tried to take our Catholic faith and our church from us. Our ancestors were reduced to going to Mass at Mass rocks and going to school at hedge schools. Today, its not an outside force that is attempting to dismantle the Church, it is coming from within.

Yet we still need vocations. We still need priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people to minister in the Church.  Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. When we come to know Christ and his love for us, it was impossible to ignore it. When Jesus Christ gets into our hearts, we feel the power of his love. I’m reminded what Jesus said to the twelve apostles in John’s Gospel; “What about you, do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered; “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

Jesus also told his disciples that they would inevitably face difficulties as they went about the world preaching the gospel. It’s as if the main mission of a disciple, of a believing Christian, is to suffer. “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but have courage: I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Jesus Christ is Risen - A message of hope for all the world...

When the senior pupils of both schools come to Mass, I usually take some questions at the end of the session after Mass. They like to ask questions perhaps because it inevitably delays their having to go back to class. One of the pupils who recently made their confirmation in last month asked me a very difficult question; “why did the nuns kill all the babies in Tuam?”

Before I tell you how I answered this, let me tell you that in Ireland, the church has been really under the cosh these last few months. It’s been hard to be a minister of the gospel today. I’ve felt it, the other friars have felt it, and my colleagues in ministry - religious and laity have felt it. It’s as if once again, the institutional church is making a success of scoring spectacular own goals. I’m not looking for sympathy either because most people in the real world have – you people -  have their own struggles; family, relationships, financial, illness, and bereavement.

I saw a post on social media yesterday to do with the proposed relaxation of the licensing laws on Good Friday from next year. It read something like ‘the pointy hat brigade are slowly losing their grip’ accompanied by a picture of a pint of Guinness. I met a neighbour on Jervis Street who showed me a picture of himself drinking a pint in one of the train stations yesterday too. Do we seriously believe that the bishops are the reason why the pubs are closed on Good Friday? ‘Oh, I can’t have a jar on Good Friday because the Catholic Church won’t let me.’ That’s one less excuse now then. I await the fanfare next year on Good Friday when the media descends on pubs all over the city to celebrate the people’s liberation from the Pioneers and Father Theobald Mathew so.  I further imagine we will shortly see the end of the Angelus on RTE at noon and 6.00 p.m. And I wonder will there eventually be a call to ban Christmas and Easter since they are Christian feasts. After all, there are non-Christians and non-believers in Ireland now. Bye-Bye St. Patrick’s Day. Is there a minority out there shouting above the silent majority? Is the tail wagging the dog? For fear I am beginning to sound cynical I better move on.

There are intelligent secular commentators in the media today calling for a total separation of church and state in Ireland. They resent the policies of some schools in asking for baptismal certificates as a means of entry into primary schools. There is a call by the many of our legislators to stop this practice as it is discriminatory. Mind you, it doesn’t happen in our schools in this parish. There are children from Catholic families, Muslim families, Orthodox families, and Christian families attending and we call on families of prospective pupils to contact the schools ahead of the September enrolments. And I have baptized children from the schools in order to fulfil a parent’s desire for their child to make their First Holy Communion. We don’t refuse anyone.

Across the world, we are seeing the dreadful scenes of children gassed in Syria and in Sept 2015, we gazed in horror at the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beaches of Bodram, Turkey. Last week, many Coptic Christians were killed in an attack in Egypt by IS and we remember the lines of Christian martyrs being killed on beaches by militant Islam. We also hear that the cause for the Beatification Fr. Jacques Hamel, martyred last year in Rouen, will soon begin in France. All over the place, in great and small ways, ordinary people are suffering dreadfully and it’s impossible to make sense of it all. We are hearing of people suffering day after day because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Still, its ordinary people who are making a difference all the time. Ordinary people’s kindness to us here in the parish. Ordinary good people who don’t take a blind bit of notice of what the minority in the papers say. People who still come to Mass here. People who will cross the world to bring their new baby living in a new country back to have it baptized. People who come in numbers to the Novena of Grace. People who always return to remember a loved one on their anniversary or their month’s mind. People who kindly invite me to bless a house or a Garden of Remembrance, or to say a prayer over the mortal remains of a deceased nana or mammy laid out in their home. This is how we know Jesus Christ is alive. This is how we know Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday. And while I guess it is inevitable that we will probably lose the Angelus bells on RTE sooner or later. We will still ring our church bell here and many other church bells will ring out too. We will doubtless see the end of the prayer said at the start of the daily Dáil session.  I suppose the minority will get their way in secularizing the public square too because we are at the end of Christendom here in Ireland. Christendom is the political, economic, and social order of our nation inspired by the gospel ethic, and this is at an end. It is not the end of Christianity. Too many people have a deep faith in and love for Jesus Christ and this is thanks to the parents and grandparents we love who gave us the best years of their lives. We believe in Jesus Christ because of their faith.

Finally, I answered that lad’s question; - a powerful question by saying the nuns didn’t kill the babies in Tuam. There were indeed bad priests and brothers and nuns. But there were and are far more good and kind and generous ones. Sr. Consillio, Sr. Stan, Fr. Peter McVerry, Br. Kevin, Merchant’s Quay, and the list goes on. These people, members of religious congregations, have a track record of beginning what we now know as the homeless services, the social housing services, and addiction services today. And they are not the only ones. They are assisted by generous volunteers, many of them young people, who roll up their sleeves day and night to help those who are homeless. In forty years’ time, in a different Ireland, when another government calls the very few religious congregations to account then about how they tried to help homeless families in the second decade of the 21st century this will be our answer.

Jesus Christ is risen and the message of the gospel is and always will be a message of hope for all the world. Amen.