Faith in the Family

Faith in the Family

During the week we had the first session of our book club exploring the story of St Ignatius ‘The Pilgrim’ which Bishop Alan McGuckian had translated into Irish. We talked about the early life of Ignatius and the impact it had when he began to realise how present and active God was within his own life experience. This is an aspect of Ignatius’ spirituality which has always appealed to me. I think that as a Church we really need to reflect on whether we have done enough to encourage people to reflect on the experience of their daily lives and to trust that God is present right there in the bits and pieces. I recently watched a talk by my friend Salvador Ryan, Professor of Church History in Maynooth. In it he talks about how in the past Irish Catholicism was nurtured by a rich profusion of devotional practices which weaved their way through every aspect of daily life. With Vatican II there emerged a much greater emphasis on the full and active participation of lay people in the Mass. At the same time, and hurried on by many changes in society, there was a sustained decrease in devotional practice and more and more of Catholic life came to focus on and depend upon what happened in those forty five minutes on a Sunday.

The vulnerability of that dependence has come into sharp focus over the past year. Without access to the Mass many people do not know where else to draw strength or nourishment for faith. We have to wonder how many will come out the other end of the pandemic having shed, almost without realising it, whatever faith they had.

It seems to me then that as we move through Lent, towards Holy Week we need to reclaim the domesticate reality of our faith. We are not going to be gathering in our parishes but this cannot be allowed to mean that Holy Week and Easter do not happen. Instead it is up to us – with the assistance of liturgies on TV and online – to celebrate meaningfully. So what can we do? On Holy Thursday could we find some way to remember what happened in the Upper Room? Jesus washed the feet of his friends. Perhaps we could take on some act of service for those we live with. That evening perhaps a loaf of bread could be placed on the table and shared during the meal. And let’s be clear – we are not celebrating a Mass here or pretending to do so, but we are acknowledging that what Jesus did at the last supper arose from his experience of shared meals. With our sharing of bread we can acknowledge how much Eucharist means in our lives and our desire to return.

On Good Friday we could walk a Stations of the Cross where we live. I think here of the Courthouse and the Poor House, the building that used to be the county psychiatric home, the hospital where so many patients and staff have struggled to make their way through the nightmare that has been Covid. I think of the schools and the struggle that families and teachers have had, of supermarkets and their frontline workers, of businesses whose lives and futures have been cast up into the air. There is plenty of material for walking a Stations of the Cross. Holy Saturday is always a day of quiet preparation and waiting for me. Perhaps this year it is a time to reflect on what experiences from the past year we need to let go of – fear, anxiety, frustration, anger perhaps – and what experiences and wisdom we can bring with us into the future.

Easter Sunday is a day for flowers and brightness and celebration. If my children were small I would have them drawing pictures of empty tombs or building Easter gardens! Whatever we do it is vital for our wellbeing and our faith that we take ownership of Holy Week and Easter, that we celebrate it in ways that make sense for us and our families. Perhaps this year Easter is about the liturgy of family life.