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June 2019
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2002-08-28 I see God in music

"Gold priests and wooden chalices in Ireland in Patrick's time, Gold chalices and wooden priests as the wretched world stands now." This anonymous sixteenth century couplet shows that people even then were expressing disillusionment with the Church. Five hundred years on, many of us sadly remain disillusioned.


Putting aside the well documented scandals the Church has recently faced, I would like to put forward some suggestions as to why "people are turning away from the church and going back to God".

Why are numbers at an all time low in Maynooth and the Divinity College? With regard to celibacy much has been said, but why is it difficult for the present Pope to reverse a decision made by another Pope in the last Millenium?

The numbers for ordination would soon rise should he take the initiative. And 100 per cent support for womens positive contribution to the Church wouldnt hurt too much, now would it?

Neither do I intend to get personal about the countless negative experiences Ive had with men of the cloth or to cite examples of the hypocrisy which so often abounds. But there has been a drift away from organised religion, whatever denomination, and a search for a more general spirituality - Why?

There is a growing tendency to question authority of all kinds, and also more awareness of possible alternatives to Christianity, but the Christian ethic is a good one. The Old Testament spouts many beliefs/rules which promote sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., and are definitely best forgotten. However if we were to live by the New Testament we would be doing ok.

The Church has never succeeded in bridging the gap between the congregation and the theologians and seems unable to put across the continuing relevance of the Christian message in our scientific and post-modern culture. Maybe when the economy is doing well, people need religion less as a prop. Are we an increasingly secular world and less interested in God?

People are interested in God, and their spiritual well-being, but are disillusioned with the Church itself. Efforts to modernise the liturgy, and liturgical music, have been counter-productive. Much of the music (for me) lacks any depth at all.

In many of the city churches, people actually come to hear good music which can overshadow the less than adequate efforts coming from the pulpit. Good music enhances the liturgy and this is often forgotten. Wordsworth saw God in nature: I see God in music.

So much energy is put into beatification, relics, the Churchs huge wealth, the pomp, ceremony, and interference into political decisions such as contraception.

This is far removed from the real work of the Church. Like singers, priests are performers, but sometimes they get so caught up in the performance they forget their true vocation.

I feel so sorry for those who are doing Gods work in a most committed way. They are fighting an uphill battle. I met a priest in Baltimore who was working with drug abusers and was turning their lives around.

On a flight to Newark I chatted with a nun and her husband (with their baby) - members of "The Order of the Crucified One" (Pennsylvania) - who were doing incredible work in their community, though the Pope hadnt been too impressed.

There is of course fabulous work done by many in education and the missionaries. Individuals like Sister Stan in "Focus Ireland" deserve special mention too. In our own town, look at the wonderful work done by Father John Carroll in the Social Services, Dean Griscombe in St. Johns and Reverend Liz in Calry.

There are really good hands on priests out there spreading the word not by patronising pontification but rather by their good deeds.

On Easter Sunday 1999, Archbishop Connells homily at the Pro Cathedral was a plea for more money for his "Millenium Cross". At the final blessing came an announcement that collection boxes for the Rwandan appeal were at the back of the church. My visiting singer friends were left unimpressed with Irish Christianity on that Easter Sunday. Sometimes I think I see more Christianity in non-Christians.

Maybe the process of selection needs more thought, then unsuitable and even unstable candidates might not slip through the net. The Church is in desperate need of candidates, male and female, but are flawed candidates useful?

Priests are human, but they make a conscious choice to do what they do and thus remain under constant scrutiny. Like many jobs, it goes with the territory.