The impact of Church failings on community

The Cast Stone

GREAT LOSS Declining faith has seen Church traditions that brought communities together grow less popular or less frequent. 

The Cast Stone
Michael Gallagher

I grew up with a certainty that God would help me every day of my life and be on my side as long as I lived a good and worthy existence. I also knew when death came calling, I would be headed for a wonderful existence in heaven, as long as I hadn’t too many sins on my scoresheet.
Having such belief was hugely comforting and a wonderful security blanket on tough days. St Joseph was my guy. I had a prayer I would recite to him when I needed big things – a new job, mortgage approval, exam results and suchlike. I also had a few regular prayers tucked away for more ordinary things – bills, football results, getting rid of a headache etc.
Then, a priest took a dislike to me and everything changed. I saw through him; he didn’t like it and tried to walk all over me. Needless to say, that didn’t work, but when (most of) his colleagues tried to drive the shoe into me too, I suddenly saw the Catholic Church in a totally different light.
These days, I view the Church as a bit of a mafia. There are many fantastic people – priests, nuns and lay people – in the Catholic Church, but as an institution I have very little respect for it. I have seen its spite at close quarters, and it was a very ugly sight. I found that they don’t like anyone standing up to them, and their tentacles can stretch into many aspects of life. I know this to my cost.
Personally, I’ve survived the wrath I experienced, and am very proud of myself for it, but I also miss the old beliefs and the comfort they brought me. I miss the communal feel of being a tiny part of a huge family and the feeling of peace that engendered. I feel that my bad experience of the Catholic Church has robbed me of so much.
It has meant that I want absolutely nothing to do with that crew any more. When others head off to Mass on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning I sit at the laptop and work or go to the gym.
I suppose my story mirrors the story of our nation. On the whole, Ireland once believed in the Catholic mantra of ‘Live well, follow our rules and you’ll get a ticket to heaven’. However, countless scandals and outrages have changed many minds and on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings these people now find other things to do than go to Mass.
Funnily enough, over the past week I’ve come to regret the way things have turned out, and it all came about because of the death of a very fine man.
Marty Murray was my aunt’s husband, my neighbour and our great friend. For two nights Marty’s neighbours, friends and family gathered around his coffin in his sitting room, and while it was sad, it was also wonderful.
We laughed, cried, reminisced and recalled; we talked, joked, loved and listened. Our hugely busy lives, in which we hardly had time to breathe, were put to one side, and we found time to sit around, have the craic, eat sandwiches and drink a few beers. In the middle of it all, someone remarked how similar the gathering was to The Stations.
The Stations are house Masses where neighbours gather, pray a little and then eat, drink and be merry. Family and friends gather from near and far – songs are sung, music played and stories told. At least that’s the way they were at home in my village along the Owenduff in Ballycroy before they died away in that area. The Stations were wonderful, and I miss them so much. They’re still popular in many parts of Mayo, but it’s years since I heard of one at home.
They died around the same time my blind belief in Catholic teaching died, and in our corner of rural Ireland they’re a huge loss.
These days I meet my neighbours from home at funerals or on Facebook. They pop up on the screen of my laptop most nights, but we’re touchy-feely people and I long for an opportunity to all get together and rekindle the greatest of friendships.
The Stations gave us that opportunity a few times every year, but the fact that many of us now have an allergy to Mass means those longed-for gatherings are now a thing of the past.
The Catholic Church’s failings and the subsequent decline in faith has robbed many of us of so much. It’s time we fought back and started new traditions of our own.