One of my most fascinating nights in Ireland was after the “Second Chance” mass at St Andrews-Westland Row in downtown Dublin. After Mass, we all gathered in Fr. Fintan’s apartment for a grand dinner prepared by the friends of Aine Carvill. Aine was the coordinator of the Ireland tour and one of the members of the Second Chance Ministry. (Second Chance was established to give those who have fallen away from the church an opportunity to give the Church a second chance by provided vibrant worship.)
Towards the end of the evening, Stevie, who is part of the Second Chance Ministry and the local DJ on one of Dublin’s top radio stations, took out his guitar. What struck me was that when he or one of the others sang an old Irish folk song, everyone sang with such passion, like it was embedded into their being. As an American, even though my parents are first generation Italians, I didn’t grow up with such history of the tradition. While listening to my new friends sing, I felt their connection to the past through the energy of their voices. As they sang with confidence and pride about their heritage, I was able to understand the context of their passion.
During my tour of Ireland we provided a mini-retreat event for about 9 schools in 3 days. Each day I would ask the students how many thought mass was boring. 99% raised their hands. That number is not much different in the United States and I wonder if it’s because we as “church” have not passed along the passion of the tradition in a way that is embedded into our being. When I was a guest on the George Hook show last week, we talked about how there is so much apathy in the Catholic Church today. The “George Hook Show” is one of the leading talk radio hosts in Ireland. During the conversation CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO the sports announcer, who was probably in his 30’s, said he hadn’t been to mass since Christmas and he wasn’t planning on going back until next Christmas. He said if the music were more like what I did, he would go every week. That is a common thing I hear regularly, that if the music were more vibrant and uplifting and joyful people would go. I understand that and I agree that music in our Catholic worship needs to vibrant and joyful and reflect the many movements of the rituals, but I don’t think that is the issue at its core.
I believe the issue is how many really believe Christ present in the Eucharist? I think that if we did, the churches on Sunday would be full and music wouldn’t be a problem because we would be tied into the history of the tradition of the music and the prayers. The music would reflect not ones preference but who is present in the gathered assembly. We would see Mass not as an old tradition that has nothing to do with me today, but as a living tradition that has everything to do with me today. A tradition that is interwoven into my being. If we believed without a doubt Christ present in the Sacrament how could we not sing and participate fully conscious of what we were doing? If we recognized that these rituals within the Catholic worship can be traced back to our history and that when enacted enables us to connect to our heritage, just as an Irish Folk song can, then we will be transformed into what these traditions are meant to transform us into which is the Body of Christ. And the body of Christ humbled himself to accept the cross but also be raised to life from the depths of devastation. From a Christological perspective we can see that it was through Jesus’ faith in God that he continued to walk down the via Dolorosa. Even in the moments where he cries: “My God why have you forsaken me?” his faith is still strong.
Hence Mass is a response to the lived experience of faith in our everyday lives as we remember God’s faithfulness to all people from the beginning of time through the events of today. The Spirituality of the Liturgy is Kenosis, an emptying of ones self and ones preferences. Knowledge of what the rituals are to do is key in order to surround them with music that brings their deeper meanings to life. Vatican II states that all are to be predisposed before they can enter fully into the worship. It also states that its more than just the words the govern valid and licit worship. You have to know what’s going on. As a Navy man myself, you have to know where you’ve been or else you won’t know where you are going.
I had the awesome opportunity to go to Trinity College in Dublin and see the Book of Kells. To see for my own eyes this historical document that was written in the early 4th or 6th Century, created such a sense of awe and wonder because it’s message was the same message we hold true today. As I looked through the glass at this work of art I became aware that I was attached to this history because the intention of the book to spread the Gospel of Jesus is the same intention I have today. That history is our history and to know how it survived through the wars through out the years speaks volumes of its importance. Those who kept it from being destroyed relied on each other to maintain its safety in order to pass on what they held as truth. Even in times of destruction, faith was not abandoned.
We can see from the history of Ireland and the Church how people relied on one another to get through the oppression. We can see how the traditions were developed so that we remember how we got here and where we go from here. But those who hold the keys to how these traditions are passed on must see this too so that music, preaching, and hospitality enable those who are in some doubt, to see with the lens of the Spirit and hence Mass becomes effective, it changes us. Not just a going through the motions quickly to make bingo on time, but expressed with the same passion as when an Irish Folk song is sung that connects us to what it means to be Irish, or American, or Italian, or Catholic. If our worship doesn’t take us here, then we need to reflect why are we going through the motions? I think it is important for people to question and doubt. But not question with an attitude or doubt that leads to despair but question and doubt that lead us to explore further the mystery and come to have faith in the uncertainty that is beyond our human understanding but understanding the certainty of knowing in our hearts that we are loved because we have choice. We have so many choices in today’s world but I think simply our choice in all situations is to love or not love. That encompasses everything.
This is not a time for despair in the Church but a time for renewal. The issues within the Institutional Church and amount of apathy within the laity is a clear sign to me that the Church and the people need to take a look at themselves and realize we need each other equally to see that the Kingdom of God isn’t some far away place but evolving right before us. As the old song says, “The strife or o’er that battle is won.” God has won the victory over death through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore Sunday is a celebration of this victory. I see the current turmoil as an uprising of the Holy Spirit in the world, turning everything upside down, awakening our eyes that love is a choice in our every action toward one another. Our mission is the same no matter where we live. Our mission is to Move In Spirit Seeing Inside Others Needs. If we all say we believe in God then we believe in love above the boundaries that have been politically or religiously put upon us.
I hope that my tour has triggered the people of Ireland and people of the world to see God’s extraordinary love. The product of this love is that we have been given the gift of choice. I can’t force you to love me, I have to show you how much I love you through my actions and then it’s your choice to love me back or not. Unconditional love that can be seen in the beauty of Irelands country and in its pride for freedom from oppression both reflect the artistry of God’s presence in the lived experience of history and God’s presence now and forever. The essence of this is expressed communally in the Mass. My hope is that together we come to realize that the key to effective worship is more than just vibrant music and preaching, but that vibrant music and preaching in worship enables an assembly to see Christ present in each other and in the Sacrament we are called to become. I hope that my Irish brothers and sisters realize that the music I gave them only scratches the surface of the mystery. I hope that I have caused them to search deeper into the beauty and value of the tradition that we all share to see that everything is God. God dwells in us and we in God.
After a great show at Vicar Street in Dublin, a man come to me and told me how he enjoyed the show. He then began to tell me about losing his son and I could see how sad he was as he showed me his son’s picture. I told him that one day he would see him again and he smiled and said: “I can’t wait for that day.” And so do I close with that same emotion for my friends from Ireland. We have made an everlasting bond with one another based in the history and tradition that we both share in Christ Jesus. May you endure the challenges that lie ahead and with the faith and hope of God’s ever-present love in sacrament and sign we forever stand in the light as one. I can’t wait until I see you again.
I send you out on a mission of love, forever and ever. Amen.