Fr Vincent Sherlock
It’s an old story now – well a few weeks old and that’s history, the way life moves on.
The Taoiseach compared the leader of the opposition to being like a priest who speaks against sin while being a sinner himself. It was, in all fairness, a cheap and unnecessary shot. If a priest is honest with himself, he knows all too well the meaning of sinfulness and of the need to acknowledge and repent.
I don’t know many priests who speak out about sin, in isolation, or who refer to people as being sinners. Rather priests urge all to live a better lifestyle and, in making that choice, sin is put in its place. The hope is that we all realise our weaknesses and, having identified them, determine to do something about them. Quite often, and appropriately so, this may lead us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we commit to starting a fresh.
It may well have been a slip on the Taoiseach’s behalf, and we know he issued an apology. Many saw it as an opportunity to attack him or maybe jump on some sort of bandwagon. Truth told, he didn’t need to make that comment but, since we believe in forgiveness, maybe we should let it go. To capitalise on the ‘slip’ serves little purpose.
What I found more upsetting in all of this, was hearing that An Taoiseach refers to this same leader as “the priest” – it is said he does this in private. You can almost hear the laughter in the Dáil bar, even the rodent there might have chuckled! I try to imagine the tone, the nudges and winks, “quiet lads, the priest is here” or “you can’t talk like that in front of the priest” – Shortt and Kenny come to mind – “you can’t be doing that lads!” Little, well measured laughs, at the ‘priest’s’ expense.
Ours are quite often the first doors called to when someone needs a helping hand”
How many of us got the memo that to be called ‘priest’ is an insult? I hadn’t. I know some priests who have been very shaken by hostile words addressed to them, solely because they were identifiable as priests. Thankfully it is not an experience I have had but have heard enough to know it happens. I know enough too, to know that some of those hostile words came from a place of personal pain and, though perhaps mis-directed, were not totally without foundation.
The truth remains that priests, all things considered, live as best they can in a fragile and human world that seeks its guidance from God. Priests were once youngsters who felt they had something to offer – something called ‘self’ and did so with good intention and in faith. They put themselves forward in response to what they heard as God’s call and, having been accepted, gave of their youth to pursue studies and become priests.
As priests, in most cases, they have stood with people and accompanied them on some of the most joyous and painful moments of their lives. Priests offered support, kindness and loyalty to those in whose communities they were privileged to minister. They – we – have tried to bring out the best in people so that the best can be celebrated and appreciated, and the best too brought out in ourselves.
Ours are quite often the first doors called to when someone needs a helping hand, our phones the first called when there’s a tragedy in the parish and ours, the last feet to walk away when someone needs support.
Oddly enough, I still believe it’s a good and meaning-filled life. I’m happy to be called “priest” and most people who know priests in their lives, would not think of that as being an insult.
The Urlaur pattern
No, it’s not a version of an Aran Sweater! It is an annual gathering on the shores of Urlaur Lake in Kilmovee Parish, Co. Mayo. Here the ruins of an old Dominican Abbey stand. Each year on August 4, irrespective of the day of the week it falls on, people gather for Mass in the old Abbey and for a family day of fun and gathering.
There is something very special about it and it runs deep in the hearts and memories of people. I once met a young man there from Dublin. He told me he never missed ‘The Pattern’ and the first job he had, at the age of 16, in HMV Music Stores, saw him on his first day asking the boss for the day off so that he could attend The Pattern.
All over Ireland now, festivals and gatherings are taking place. Enjoy them, let them run deep and let them make a difference.