Three Irish people tell ROSITA BOLANDabout their relationships with God and the Catholic Church
Fr Michael Maher
43 YEARS A MARIST PRIEST
It was after the death of my grandfather Thomas Ashe, when I was 19 years of age, that I first remember thinking, Yes, this present life will come to an end. This, I presume, led me to ask the ultimate question: What is it all about?
I always had a great love for and devotion to the mother of God, and this brought me to suss out and see if there was such a religious order called Marist, when I felt I might have a call to the priesthood. Community life is important to me. That mysterious inner voice seemed to enlighten me to be a Marist priest.
Later on, I discovered their charism is to live in the spirit of Mary. Marists bear the name of Mary; they desire to be like her and follow Jesus as she did. They see Mary as the founder and perpetual superior of the Marist Society. They try constantly to imitate her delicate responsiveness to the promptings of the holy spirit and to the needs of God’s people.
So the journey began, and I am happy to say that I am now 43 years a Marist priest. I praise God that He has sustained me with His grace all over those years. I do believe that Our Lady has been instrumental in deepening my faith, and the frequent praying of her own prayer, the holy rosary, has brought me peace and insight for the times in which we are living.
It is, of course, for me the Holy Spirit coming through her powerful intercession. I believe that it is she, the mother herself, who makes me a gift of preserving me in the integrity of the faith.
Through my own reflection I am reminded that I can do nothing by myself and that it is Jesus Christ alone who, by means of me, works and saves. I want never to forget that I am a useless servant, that I am poor, that I am a sinner.
The Eucharistic Jesus is the centre of my daily prayer, the secret of my life, the soul of my apostolic activity. I believe and I hope that, when my time comes to go forth into eternity, such a moment will be life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which I will be overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in St John’s Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Fr Michael Maher, who is 74, is a Marist priest in Dundalk, Co Louth
Rose Brien Harrington
RAISED A CATHOLIC, NOW ANGLICAN
My parents were from Cobh, Co Cork, and they emigrated to London. I lived there until I was 20. I was raised a Catholic. My parents were both roaring Catholics; they were very extreme and very devout. They were very hooked into the church and wanted me to be the same. I did it as a child because I didn’t know any better.
As a teenager, I was at a convent grammar school. I didn’t like the double standards. The nuns demanded we go around in a state of grace, and that we should be thinking of God at all times. I think they were trying to make nuns of us. But you could see they were sinful within their own orbit.
I never bought into transubstantiation at all. We were told it had changed into body and blood, and I was looking at it, and it hadn’t turned into anything at all. It was still bread and wine. And I didn’t like all the paganism: worshipping statues, using holy oil, making sacrifices. If you want to be a pagan, be a pagan, but don’t borrow or steal their practices.
I moved to Ireland when I was 20. I couldn’t believe the stranglehold the church had on the country.
The last time I went to confession was when I was 27. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was very scared and hoping for a kind word. The response was that I should go to as many Masses as I could, as often as I could.
All the abuse that came out was the nail in the coffin for me about the Catholic Church. I thought they were a pack of bloody hypocrites.
I had my first and only child at 40. My husband is an atheist, and there was no way my child was going into the Catholic system. I didn’t want them messing with his head the way they did with mine. We had a blessing on the beach, and when he was two he was baptised in the Anglican church.
You don’t have to formally join the Anglican church, which I like. I also like that there is no transubstantiation, no worshipping of statues. There are no mysteries, no incense, no holy water. There isn’t a massive emphasis on sin. There are none of the dramatics of the Catholic church, and they don’t dress themselves up like peacocks either. I find it a very cheerful, positive, joyful place. There is no finger-wagging in the Anglican church.
Rose Brien Harrington, who is 52, lives in Cobh, Co Cork
I made my Confirmation in April. Confirmation means receiving the Holy Spirit and preparing for life. The Holy Spirit is the gift of life. It means you should live life to the full and look out for other people, not just for yourself. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy and peace. I think receiving the Holy Spirit means having self-control.
We did Confirmation copies in our class. The most interesting part was teaching me how not to be selfish and how you should be looking out for other people. A sin is when you do something bad, and you go to Confession. Bad things are not treating your family nicely, and messing.
The good thing about being a Catholic is going to church and learning more about Jesus. I’m not very sure about anything else good. It’s not hard to be a Catholic. It’s nice. It’s about life and learning about life.
On Sundays I go to Mass with my family. I like going up to Communion. The priest says we all have to look out for each other. I don’t find it hard to understand how the wine becomes blood, because Jesus did that at the Last Supper. I say three prayers every night, and sometimes I say the rosary with my mam.
I don’t really know anything about other religions. A Muslim is a person who comes from a different country and has that religion. It’s just what their country believes in, but I don’t know what it is.
I think God is holy. I think He is a nice, generous man, who’s nice to everyone. He wears a white robe, like the priests. I’d say He’d be sort of in between old and young, but there is no age in heaven. I think heaven will be a nice life, and there will be no fighting and no killing and everything will be just great. God will be watching over us all the time, like He does now.
I think that whatever age you are when you die, that’s the age you will be forever in heaven.
I believe in guardian angels and that they are looking out for us. I have one. He’s a boy, because I’m a boy. He has wings and he’d be very small. He’s sitting on my shoulder now.
Lorcan Cahill, who is 11, is a sixth-class pupil at Our Lady of the Victories Boys’ National School on Ballymun Road in Dublin