Keeping the show on the road isn’t enough

We must “remind ourselves that Christianity has something beautiful to offer” writes Andrew O’Connell

I went for a haircut on Good Friday morning. The infectiously upbeat young woman doing the trim was from England. I asked if she was looking forward to the Bank Holiday. She wasn’t, it turned out. She had to work.

She inquired why it was a Bank Holiday at all and I explained it was Easter Monday and today was Good Friday.

“Do you do something today?” she asked innocently. “We do,” I told her cheerily, “We fast and go to Church. It’s a day for reflection.”

“Cool,” she responded before excitedly predicting that there was bound to be a great movie on the telly that Sunday night. That prospect lifted her spirits no end. Then we talked about the weather and discussed plans for summer holidays.

The following night, our vibrant faith community in west Dublin gathered for a deeply meaningful celebration of the Easter Vigil.

Here we were, living the Paschal Mystery – the very heart, not only of our faith, but of our understanding of life.

But at the back of my mind was that bubbly young woman who seemed to be getting on fine without any faith at all. 

Pope Francis is challenging us to see people like her as a primary focus of our mission as a Church. He has warned of a Church that looks after the one sheep in the pen and forgets the 99 who are outside.

For many, the scale of the challenge is too great. Some Catholics insulate themselves from the culture, making their faith a private and personal devotion with self-excusing slogans such as, “It will all come back again”.

Another temptation is to conclude that as long as an individual is happy – like my friend at the barber’s shop – all is well in the universe. Happiness is really all that matters.

But that’s not how Christianity works. In the words of Pope Benedict: “Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to Him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on.”

Our diminishing energy and resources, however, are increasingly consumed by the work of just ‘keeping the show on the road’. There often isn’t much time or enthusiasm for doing much more.

Perhaps, a first step is to remind ourselves that Christianity has something beautiful to offer. The great questions about the meaning of life cannot be answered merely by relationships, careers and hobbies.

Something else is needed. Something we believe is found in Christ.

Communicating this requires care, tastefulness and discretion, motivated by a genuine concern for the other rather than any self-interested agenda. And much depends on the disposition of the searcher.

It is only when their restlessness encounters the restlessness of the Christian eager to share the Good News that fruit will be borne.

Conversions, it is said, come from conversations. And it leaves me wondering what I should have said on Good Friday to that happy young lady trimming my hair.


Scientific brother

Much has been made in recent years of the gulf between science and religion. However, the work of Bro. Guy Consolmagno, an American Jesuit brother working at the Vatican Observatory is challenging that simplistic view.

Bro. Guy has received the prestigious Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society for outstanding communication of planetary science to the general public.

The citation for his award described him as “a rational spokesperson who can convey exceptionally well how religion and science can co-exist for believers”.

An even greater challenge now is to find spokespeople to do the same for non-believers!

Mondays at the Monastery: Since the Year of Faith we have been running an adult faith formation programme at the Presentation Brothers in Glasthule in south Dublin.

Known as “Mondays at the Monastery”, it consists of a series of talks on a particular theme. The most recent sessions focused on the four women Doctors of the Church – Thérèse of Lisieux, Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen.

They drew large turnouts with a decent number of younger adults. This month’s series addresses ‘Catholic Social Teaching’. There is a demand for initiatives like this. In particular, folk appreciate solid input in a non-academic environment. Perhaps more parish councils could consider running occasional programmes like this.