In light of the World Meeting of Families this August 21-26, a wonderful childhood song comes to mind which still rings in my head today. It was years ago in Ballymun, Dublin when my parents used to bring me and my siblings to the Jesuit church where Kevin O’Rourke SJ was parish priest. I must have been around 8 years old and I have a colourful memory of all the congregation at the church for Sunday morning Mass. We’d begin as usual with a greeting and a blessing from Fr Kevin, and shortly afterwards we’d all join in on the more colourful singing. My absolute favourite song went like this:
“We are the Church, we are the Church, we are the Church of the Lord. Won’t you come and help us, won’t you come and help us? Help us build the Church of the Lord.” And I remember it got more interesting, “The mammies are the Church, the mammies are the Church…” I’d look to mam and the other mammies with gusto at this point. The song continued, “The daddies are the Church, the daddies are the Church…” and with this I’d look to dad (RIP) who would be grinning with a child-like expression (I just realised recently that he had the same cheeky expression on his face since he was an infant). He was so ridiculous sometimes because his clap (oh yes we clapped and moved) would be off the beat. But nobody cared. This atmosphere excluded no one.
And that is my central point here. Nobody was excluded. A verse or two later, we’d be singing, “The brothers are the Church… the sisters are the Church…” When the congregation looked to me during the song – a brother – I felt a warm sensation envelope me. I’d feel on top form because I felt equal to my dad who got the same time of recognition as me (“The daddies are the Church”) and I’m sure we included the priests too, in which case I also felt equal to. This expansive feeling that I experienced comes back to me now as I ponder the whole event. And so I look to my creative work from more recent times – an adaptation of Psalm 23 for the sake of the World Meeting of Families. If you have read this before, please let me include it again and perhaps you can sing along with your own inner tune:
The Lord is our shepherd, we exclude no one.
He helps us to relax,
he leads parents to silent prayer,
he reenergises our families.
He guides us with collective wisdom
in his own name.
Even though we encounter
a severe crisis of faith,
we will fear no evil,
for you are with our woundedness;
your warm blanket,
comforts our children.
You prepare us well
in the face of life’s stresses.
You bless each partner;
in abundant grace.
Your goodness and love will follow us
all the days of our lives,
and we will glorify Jesus
Right now, I can envisage God’s warm blanket comforting our children, the warm blanket that puts us at ease, that makes us feel safe, that makes us feel secure. I don’t wish to have an unrealistic image of God who over-protects me and over-soothes me, but I think all of us could feel the warmth of God’s blanket every now and again. For example, if we start to hear about people being excluded from the World Meeting of Families this August – already I’m hearing about LGBT people’s stories being denied – perhaps we can imagine a warm blanket comforting them. For if I imagine a warm blanket comforting a gay child who is being ignored, perhaps I can imagine a warm blanket around myself too. And since we both have warm blankets wrapped around us, then I can feel the love that God has for both of us. We become equally warm through the ultimate embrace.
Do you really think God would give me a blanket and not to another? We are equally comforted and equally taken care of when we need it most. So, I give thanks to Fr Kevin and especially to my cheeky dad for a wonderfully positive endorsement of equality in this world. Coming to think of it, this experience was surely a formative spiritual experience for me. My heart became a ‘heart set on fire’, a heart that understood the joy of being equal to a priest, a dad, a sister, and so on. If I get shook up by LGBT people being excluded from this World Meeting of Families or divorced people or those not thought to be in a state of grace, I can return to this inclusive, positive, heart-embracing, life-affirming experience in Ballymun. The path of inclusivity began here for me. And I am grateful that God’s abundant light shined on this cherished gem of Dublin.