My tears for a lost innocence

The choir began the hymn and suddenly I felt the tears trickle down my cheeks. It was no special occasion and it wasn’t a particularly beautiful rendition of the hymn. It wasn’t even a very good hymn. “Our God Reigns” has never been popular with the liturgical types. So, why the tears?Because that is a song I associate with my young days, the days of youth and optimism, and those are long gone now.

“Our God Reigns” reminds me in particular of the pope’s visit to Ireland in September 1979. I was at the youth Mass in Galway, having entered the seminary just two weeks before. And at the Mass, where the warm-up acts included Bishop Casey and Fr Michael Cleary, I was allocated a seat in the section close to the altar, the section reserved for priests and seminarians. The pope was just one hundred yards away.

I was 17 years old. I was innocent and naïve and awestruck and, like so many others present that day, swept away in the euphoria of it all.

We were celebrating the swan song of the church in Ireland during those three days of the pope’s visit but we had no idea that is what we were doing. The hundreds of bishops and priests and religious present must have felt a warm glow of satisfaction and assurance as they gazed out at the vast sea of faces. The future of the church in Ireland seemed secure. All those young people had travelled to Galway from every corner of the country tired, but full of faith and vigor and love for the church, and singing “Our God Reigns.”

The day before almost the entire population of Dublin had gathered in the Phoenix Park in another extraordinary display of faith and emotion. The church was safe for several generations more.

I was 17 years old and had no cynicism in me, or disappointment or disillusionment with the church or the world. My experience of both had been nothing but positive. Full of zeal, I wanted to make my contribution.

It’s hard to believe that was almost 37 years ago. The young clergy who had brought bus loads of teenagers to Galway from all over the country are old and wearied now, morale is sapped, the energy and exuberance of those days long gone, as churches empty and monasteries close and parishes cluster and vocations disappear.

The tears I shed were for the innocent, fragile me of all those years ago with my naïve enthusiasm but also for the church that through arrogance and complacency and abuse of power lost the love and trust of its people and won’t ever get it back.

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Author: frommypulpit

I'm a Redemptorist preacher and writer, with an interest in history, politics, and sport, who is living with chronic back pain.

5 thoughts on “My tears for a lost innocence”

  1. Gerry, we were all naive then with a very one dimensional world view. Our experience has taught us during the years. You should not be too down hearted, you have made a great contribution over the years and still do. Best wishes, John.

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  2. Gerry agree with practically everything apart from your very last words – “won’t EVER get it back.” It may require something very painful that will draw out the mystic and the martyr in the Irish Church but I am sure there are many of them there.

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  3. It has been hard, Gerry, but we have a Faith which is rooted in hope and the joy of resurrection. The Irish Church will rise once more but perhaps humbler, more inclusive and dynamic. The choir should not be singing ‘Our God Reigns’ – the people should…once the ordinary Irish people in the pews start to sing In Church and not just in the pubs, then they will start to own the words, and please God, show once more that the Irish Church is alive and kicking – and as Brendan says, the martyrs and the mystics will emerge once more.

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  4. There are lots of signs of newness around, The Holy Spirit has not given up on the Church. I am excited to see many groups of people springing up all over the place, doing lectio Divina, contemplative prayer and integrating the Gospel in their lives. Resurrection consciousness gives us eyes that see the new.

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  5. I speak from the U.S. and from an earlier generation, so my experience might be different. But I feel encouraged by all the positive signs of change in the church. I can recall the moment when I heard the first reports from Vatican !!; I felt as if the weight of the world had lifted from my shoulders. Change has been slow, uneven, and, as you say, sometimes disappointing, but the church today seems more vibrantly alive than it did it the dark old days before Vatican !!. The mere fact that we can express ourselves so freely is a wonderful change from my growing up days.

    Liked by 1 person

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