Sunday, May 17, 2015
Have we become comfortably numb?
I arrived at Dublin airport only a few hours ago but in time to attend Sunday Mass at a nearby neighborhood church. Mass began with the deacon reading Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin’s pastoral reflections about Ireland’s upcoming constitutional referendum on marriage equality. Spoiler alert: he’s against it.
For those unfamiliar with this Friday’s referendum in Ireland, the proposed constitutional amendment would insert the following text in a new subsection to Article 41 of the Irish Constitution. “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
Anyway, I was the first person to arrive for Mass – the very first - though I arrived about 10 minutes prior to Mass. The parking lot had but one vehicle as well so I began to question the accuracy of the Mass time posted on the internet. No worries, a priest greeted me at the door and reassured me that a Mass actually would start in a few minutes; I was just early, said he. Despite his reassurances, as I opened the door to the empty sanctuary the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” popped into my head…“Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody in there?”
I thought, “O.K., the stampeding herds here must slide into their pews just before Mass…kind of like Ty Cobb sliding into home base on a steal.” I sat awaiting the rush.
Well, if the teeming masses came to this Mass, they were invisible because what I saw was barely more people in the pews than on the altar. We had two priests, a deacon, a lector, an altar server and an old guy whose role never became clear to me – all to attend to just a few dozen mass goers. The PPP (priest per person) ratio was pretty high today, enough so to cause me to doubt lamentations about priest shortages.
As the deacon read the Archbishop’s statement, I found myself musing about what must be going through his mind as he reads this pastoral reflection practically to himself. I again heard Pink Floyd playing in my head, ”just nod if you can hear me…is there anyone at home?”
The Archbishop’s reflections included advising people to reflect carefully upon same sex marriage’s implications for the family and parenthood. He also admitted, “…the severity with which the Irish Church treated gay and lesbian people in the past – and in some cases still today – makes it difficult for some to understand the Church’s position…” on homosexuality and same sex marriage.
Yes, witnessing the mistreatment of homosexuals does make it difficult for many Irish to understand the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Adding to their confusion, in this part of the world many people recall Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation on March 3, 2013, in which he said "I ... admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."
His sexual conduct that had “fallen below the standards” expected of him? He repeatedly made homosexual advances towards seminarians and young priests. You see, like many clergy, Cardinal O’Brien is gay…yet he preached about the perils of homosexuality all while living a closet homosexual’s life. Unlike many gay clergy, Cardinal O’Brien’s sexual orientation is no longer hidden in the closet. But his expression of truth meant he couldn’t hang with the homosexual clergy deniers club any longer. I can only imagine what kind of self-loathing occurs when a person preaches as indisputable truth that one’s very self is “intrinsically disordered.”
Since gays are people’s beloved children, relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors, I can also imagine people – were they in attendance – responding to the Archbishop’s reflections by borrowing from Pink Floyd, “You are receding - a distant ship smoke on the horizon…” My dear bishops… your relevance and credibility seem to be fading like the distant ship smoke on the horizon. This sentiment echoed in today’s cavernous empty church.
I’m uncertain which statements by the Archbishop most inspired my mouth to hang agape – the “We’ve historically treated homosexuals like crap but, trust us; we’re the experts on what’s best for them...” or the ones about family and parenting. I thought it took a special kind of gall for the dear Archbishop in a country more severely and recently damaged from the Church’s vast clergy sexual child molestation and cover-up scandal than the U.S. to think people might actually care what the Church had to say about children’s well-being. Granted, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin personally has been more of an advocate for victims than most bishops, but he still represents an institution that has repeatedly botched handling sexually abusive clergy and shown deplorable insensitivity towards sexual abuse survivors.
I wonder how many people view the hierarchy’s advice about marriage, family and parenting as being akin to Pink Floyd's lyric, “Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying…”
I spent a lot of time meditating upon the church’s vast emptiness today. I think the majority of laypeople feel the bishops have become comfortably numb – to their concerns and contributions. And still the bishops preach…to increasingly empty pews...assuming the laity are who have become comfortably numb.
Have you become comfortably numb? Is numbness to an organization that has become comfortably numb to children, homosexuals and women a bad thing?
“Hello, hello, hello….is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me… Is there anyone at home?”
Side note to my Irish followers. I am in Dublin for about a week.