I am a GAA mammy. I spend a lot of time on the side-lines of matches. Whether it is Gaelic or hurling there is skill, speed and courage involved. Most players and coaches that I know are committed to playing hard but fair.
Unfortunately, there are those who favour cynical fouling, outright aggression and even sledging – where verbal abuse is used to undermine or provoke a player. This is an aspect of the GAA that I hate.
I refuse to accept such a culture, or the notion that somehow this level of violence is all part of the game, that real Gaelic footballers have to be tough enough to take it and be prepared to dole it out too. I love Gaelic and hurling. They are amazing sports and there is nothing better than an afternoon down on the side-lines, shouting on our lads.
That doesn’t mean I have to accept everything that goes with it. I’m not disloyal if I challenge or criticise. We can all be passionate about GAA and still be capable of standing back and seeing what is wrong with it.
The same applies to the Church. We can be passionate about our Faith, committed to the Church but we still need to be able to stand back and see what is wrong. I am very aware of that with our own family. There is no point Danny and I trying to defend ‘the Church’ at every turn and indeed I often have little desire to do so. There are a lot of tough conversations to be had, whether it is about the recently defrocked cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, the abuse of children, endless other examples of the abuse of power or simply the creeping clericalism that stifles so much.
When I worked recently with the group of spiritual directors and prayer guides in Galway we came to a quiet reflective space at the end of the day. We had reflected and talked about many things, including the experience of the Paschal Mystery – the risk and vulnerability that loving brings, the experience of Cross and tomb within our own lives and the glimpses of resurrection. In that quiet, reflective space we found a thought emerging – that maybe at this point in time we as Church are being led into an experience of vulnerability, an awareness of fragility and brokenness. Instead of having answers and rubrics and certainty perhaps we are being invited to acknowledge all that we do not know. My sense is that we need to learn to listen – really listen, with humility and openness. I think that the Church as an institution needs to listen to the experience of God in the lives of ordinary people.
Maybe Lent is a good time to allow ourselves to consider what the way of the Cross might be for us as Church today. What may Jesus be inviting us to?
It was very clear that day in Galway – and it is clear to me from listening to my own children and others – that we need to find a new way of being Church. We need to name the culture of negativity that has done damage – and it is not disloyal to do so.
Clericalism is just the Church’s version of the sort of dysfunctionality and abuse of power that happens in so many institutions.
The reality is that it is behind the abuse of children and women and those who are vulnerable.
Clericalism has left so many lay people feeling that their lives are second rate when it comes to Faith, that God is present within the walls of the local church but not the walls of their family home.
This is not an experience of Church which will sustain Faith – we need change.