Comfort of community and ritual

Respond to fear with faith

This is the first time I’ve picked up the pen since the death of Tom O’Gorman. Tributes have already been paid on the pages of this paper but it is difficult to write with much energy on any other topic this week.

The death of a friend is a difficult thing but when that comes about by murder, the shock has another dimension. Added to the distress in this instance are the indescribable details of the murder.

Over the last several days those who are mourning have been comforted by words of wisdom offered by men and women of faith. Some of that advice may be helpful to others who are grieving the violent loss of someone close.

To begin, it is important, in the case of violence such as this, not to dwell for too long on the manner of the death. Such evil and badness can have a sort of mesmerising power which is unhelpful spiritually and psychologically. It is more fruitful to move on and dwell instead on Christ and on His love. In Heaven Christ is the only one who bears wounds. The dreadful moments of the murder are over now. There is a new reality.

Secondly, a murder of this nature can easily instil fear and dread. The Dominican theologian, Herbert McCabe, noted that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is fear. Respond to fear with faith. The mysterium inquitatis, the mystery of evil, is a reality but so too is the presence of the crucified and risen Christ. The hymn often heard at funerals, Be not afraid, is not a pious cliché. It is the best response. 

The experience of recent days has also been a reminder of the comforting power of community and ritual. The memorial prayer vigil in St Teresa’s, Clarendon St two days after the death, allowed mourners to experience the support of each other, God’s people, the Church. The sound of the familiar prayers of the rosary rising from the congregation made sure no one felt they were facing their grief alone.

During that vigil, four decades of the glorious mysteries of the rosary were followed by a hymn. One mystery though was followed by several minutes of silence – a powerful silence, a silence that expressed the wordless reality of incomprehension. The silence was heavy but healing.

Finally, our faith teaches us that those who die still exist. They are no longer visible but they still exist. They exist now in the company of God’s love.


Look in the eye

Several months after the attempt on his life in May 1981 Pope John Paul resumed his public ministry. A journalist who had met him several times before the assassination attempt had the chance to meet him again. Even though the Pope seemed physically robust, he noted that the twinkle in his eye had dimmed and instead, there seemed to be a sadness or a weariness. John Paul, wrote the journalist, had the look of a man who had seen too much of life.  

Some would challenge that description of John Paul after the experience of 1981 but it goes someway to illustrate how life-changing an experience of violence can be.

The sad reality is that so many people around the country have had that experience over recent years.


Adult Faith Formation

I recently came across an impressive adult faith formation initiative taking place at the Church of Our Lady of the Apostles in Ballybrack in south County Dublin.

The parish is offering a seven session course on Ignatian spirituality, with a distinguished speaker each week.

There seems to have been a revival of interest in Ignatian spirituality in recent years. Ignatian spirituality, named after St Ignatius of Loyola – the founder of the Jesuit Order, points to God’s active presence in the world and in our lives. In particular, it is very helpful for discerning good decisions.

At a time when we’re told that people are interested in spirituality it’s good to see that the rich spiritual traditions of the Catholic faith aren’t being forgotten about.

And it’s also good to see a parish offering adults some serious and engaging content.

The donation-only course takes place on Thursday nights at 7.30pm with the first on January 23.