Frequently in these pages contributors speculate and agon-ise over what is needed to make the Church healthy and vibrant into the future. No easy solutions there, but cheerfulness, positivity, purpose, service and innovation will go a long way.
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy encapsulates all of the above and watching the excellent documentary Being Stan – A Life in Focus (RTÉ1, last Thursday) we were left in no doubt about the innovation.
She pioneered Meals on Wheels, Focus Point (now Focus Ireland) for the homeless, Young Social Innovators (mainly for Trans-ition Year students at second level), the Irish Immigrant Council and the Sanctuary meditation centre.
Any one of these would have been an impressive life achievement, but having credit for all of them knocks the ball out of the park altogether. The documentary was well crafted and well paced, with insightful con-tributions from Sr Stan herself and those who knew her, along with an impressive selection of archive footage (particularly from the Radharc collection).
The features that stood out most were that she “gathers people”, that she has a “quiet fortitude”, that she is full of idealism, enthusiasm, zeal and fun; that she is forceful, determined and well informed. I also liked the way she didn’t make organisations dependent on her, instead setting up structures that ensured that they could thrive without her.
She told us how she entered religious life at a young age to serve the poor, but stayed for the spirituality. Prayer and meditation remain important for her, and after some time in California she introduced elements of eastern meditation into the practice. However, Christian art and symbolism were to the fore in the prayer scenes. The life of Christ inspires her; she feels life is “rooted in God”.
I’d have issues with her public support, during the referendum, for same sex marriage, a concept entirely foreign to the Catholic Church of which she is a member, and indeed a member of a religious congregation. No doubt she is motivated by compassion and a sense of equality, but there’s still an issue here. I would have understood better if she had distinguished more clearly between the Church’s concept of marriage and that of the State, or if she had also been shown publicly defending that explicit eq- uality measure that was the Eighth Amendment during the subsequent referendum on that particular topic.
On Wednesday morning she had been interviewed on Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) about the upcoming TV programme and went further, saying she was in favour of same sex couples marrying in churches, “if they wanted to’”. She also said “I believe absolutely in Catholicism.”
I can understand people favouring same sex marriage, I can understand people ad- hering to Catholicism, but both at the same time?
In that latter interview she was also in favour of a greater role for women in the Church, a topic that also surfaced on Newstalk Breakfast, Wednesday of last week, when Fr Roy Donovan from Limerick (of the Association of Catholic Priests, though this wasn’t mentioned) had what I thought was an overly grim assessment of the state of the Church. He didn’t demur when he was introduced as one who thought that the Church was “irrelevant” to most people who, he thought, felt the Church had nothing to offer.
He thought that was a pity as the Church did have something positive to offer, especially in terms of the “mindset” of Christ and human dignity. He complained about unjust structures, lack of input from women, “bad messages” around gay people, abortion being made into “a single issue” (meaning what?), divorced people not welcome – I thought that point was particularly inaccurate and exaggerated – with regard to divorced people, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate”. This is on paper and in my experience there’s even greater inclusion in pastoral practice.
Presenter Shane Coleman wondered if there wasn’t the danger that in chasing a congregation the Church might lose its fundamental values and end up stranding for nothing.
While aspects of Fr Donovan’s diagnosis are valid, this kind of bleak presentation will surely not attract people to the Church, and while Fr Donovan declared himself “always hopeful”, I felt that just didn’t come across.
Pick of the Week:
SONGS OF PRAISE
BBC1, Sunday, February 23, 1.15 pm
Seán Fletcher visits Pershore Abbey in Worcestershire to find out how the Church of England community is preparing for Lent. Music from Katherine Jenkins and Voces8.
IN CONCERT: THE GREAT ORGAN OF NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL
EWTN, Monday, February 24, 6 am
The majesty of the great organ at Notre Dame Cathedral is showcased by organist Olivier Latry in a concert recorded prior to the catastrophic fire.
HOLY MASS WITH THE BLESSING AND IMPOSITION OF THE ASHES
EWTN, Wednesday, February 26, 3pm and 11 pm
Pope Francis presides over the Prayers and Penitential Procession from the church of St Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, where he celebrates Mass.