Posts Tagged ‘love’

Denis Green, Marist priest, RIP

Friday, October 9th, 2015

DenisGlendalough A man whom I loved, Denis Green, Marist priest, died on Wednesday night 6 October 2015. He will be buried today. He was the priest whose distinctive, lovely voice forms the backbone of my RTE Radio One Documentary, From Belief to Unbelief. He was with me when my father died in 1981. He helped me break the psychological umbilical cord with my mother. Aged 94, he was, to the end, the youngest man I have ever known. He was open. He was himself. He was engaging. He was genuinely interested in people and ideas and books. He was devout. He was, every inch of him, an actor. From the first moment he lectured us in novitiate back in 1980 he stood before us as one who might have leaped from a Shakespearean stage. He loved life. He loved people.

He was one of the worst singers known to human history, but that never stopped him singing! A memory: some 40 seminarians doubled over with uncontrollable laughter in the chapel at Mount St  Mary’s, Milltown, as Denis attempted with abject ineptitude to sing the Eucharistic Prayer.

His infamy as a singer was very closely matched by his reputation as a driver. On one occasion after I was astonished still to be alive I felt something needed to be said.

‘Did anyone ever tell you you’re a good driver, Denis?’

‘No,’ he replied, ‘I don’t believe anyone ever did.’

‘Think about it.’

And he was the kind of guy you could say something like that to – i.e., be entirely honest with – and nothing would harm the relationship.

He told me years ago that he wanted ‘How Great Thou Art’ sung at his funeral. Yesterday, before his coffin was brought from the chapel at Mount St Mary’s – the same chapel in which his gorgeous voice reverberates in my documentary – I told the congregation gathered there that Denis had told me that he wanted it sung at his funeral. And I, atheist and Humanist celebrant, appealed to those present to sing it with gusto and I led the singing and everyone joined in and we did him proud. The place came alive again, Denis’s final farewell to Mount St Mary’s.

Born on 11 June, 1921, in Clontarf, Dublin, he was a pupil at Catholic University School (CUS), Leeson Street, and he worked there as a chaplain until very recently. CUS is closed today as a mark of respect to him. He entered the Marist novitiate in 1940 and was ordained on 23 March 1947. In 1952 he was offered a place at the Sorbonne but he accepted a place in Cambridge! He worked in England from 1955 to 1975, as a teacher, headmaster and as Provincial of the then English Province of the Society of Mary (Marist Fathers). He came back to Ireland in 1975 and he was one of four priests in charge of us in my novitiate 1980-1981. He also taught at Chanel College, Coolock;  was associated with the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation in Wicklow; with St Killian’s German School, Dublin; and he was for a while Secretary General of the Marist Fathers in Rome.

Denis, I loved you. You were a human being! You lived a good life! You were open and thoughtful, creative and caring, affectionate and loving. Goodbye my friend.


Still loving conducting Humanist weddings

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

I still love conducting Humanist wedding ceremonies. Each one is different. Each couple is different. Every gathering of relatives and friends is different.

Ironically, it’s great when something goes wrong! Everyone relaxes and realizes the burden of it having to be ‘perfect’ is a myth. It’s always great once that first thing happens that puts people at their ease. A baby cries. A song goes wrong. A little ring bearer runs off with the rings. The parents can’t light a candle because the air conditioning keeps blowing the candles out. Someone has a fit of the giggles.

Once, at the very end of a ceremony, the bride was trying to say something to me but the music was loud and she was on the far side of a table and it was hard to catch what she was saying.

Eventually I heard her, ‘He didn’t kiss me!’

‘Stop the music!’ I cried. ‘The groom didn’t kiss the bride!’

And the music stopped and the audience watched and the groom kissed his bride and everyone cheered and clapped and roared with glee and the music resumed and the couple processed down the aisle and there was great merriment, excitement and fun.

And yes there was a little lad who blew out the candles and ran off with the wedding rings just before the exchange of rings. He was rugby tackled by his dad – well, OK, not rugby tackled – but brought back into the ceremony room, and the rings restored to the Best Man just in time.

And yes once a guest dropped the wedding rings early in a ceremony and they were a hair’s breadth from dropping down a gap between floor boards in an ancient stately home.

It’s great when the couple, especially the bride, relaxes and enjoys every moment; realizing that it isn’t about external things at all. It’s about living the moment, cherishing the important things, celebrating the love the couple share for each other and the commitment that they are making publicly to their partner. I think of the bride who decided, when I met her outside the chapel, that she’d be far more comfortable in her boots than her wedding shoes and decided to go up the aisle in the boots instead. She asked my view. I suggested comfort first. ‘I like your style,’ she said.

And once the bride is chilled out and relaxed and living the moment it’s much more likely that everyone else will enjoy themselves too.

Happily, I’ve encountered very, very, very few bridezillas! But, unlike the deities, they do exist – perhaps just one per hundred brides. You can spot them by the state of panic of the unfortunate groom, who might remove something beautiful a florist or decorator did because ‘she’ would see red. Or I’m told confidentially by the venue manager that they’re all on tenterhooks because of the unreasonable demands of the bride. Or the musicians might agree with a small last minute amendment I propose but they wouldn’t make the change because they’re terrified of Zilla, lest the improvement incur her displeasure. Or I spot something that I know won’t work for the ceremony, fix it and come back moments later only to see that someone playing watchman for the bride has changed it back to the way that I know won’t work.

The exceptions might make the good stories but the greatest stories are the ordinary, lovely, gorgeous, hopeful, committed couples who just want a personal ceremony that is about them and who want to show their families and friends their loving commitment to one another. They want to feel relaxed and they want their guests to enjoy their wedding. I think of all the couples that I have met, wonderful people, who have found love and hope and joy, and whose lives have joined together in a union of trust and encouraging mutual acceptance. And they want to celebrate that love by getting married.

Often they may have their children there and we include the children in the ceremony. Often the kids make the ceremony. We might have planned to stand for the vows but junior decides he’s crawling up on his mother’s lap and we adjust and do the vows sitting down. Or up come the kids to pour sand or tie ribbons or have candles lit for them.

I love my work – being with people at such important turning points in their lives.

Tempus fugit

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Where does the time go? It falls like sand through our fingers. Cannot be stopped. Races, gallops, charges along. It will not wait for us.

Twenty years ago today my son was born. Fiche bliain ag fás. Twenty years a-growing. Twenty years since I gave up my permanent, pensionable teaching post in London, teaching Religious Education to boys who are now in their early to mid-thirties! How did that happen? Boys whom I remember as teenagers who are now fully-grown men with children, even with teenagers, of their own.

Ah the shock I got years ago driving back to Donnycarney where I grew up and seeing mature tress in Grace Park Meadows which were planted in my childhood. Those saplings had transformed to full-grown trees – now what did that say about me: only that, when I was not looking, I too had been aging, maturing, going further along my personal finite lifeline.

All we have is now. All I have is now. This now which is whipped from me like a leaf sundered from its tree on a gusty day. The cacophony of life resounds around us. And sooner than we think all will be still. We will be as we were before our conception: that is, not at all. We are not traumatized by our non-existence before our life: why should we be after it?

And by not relying on imagined existence after death, we can live this moment as best we can.

Enjoy this day, my son, and every day. Live each moment to the full. Be yourself. Dare to be you. Ignore any detractors or anyone who might seek to pull you down. Surround yourself with people who love you and whom you love. Carve your own path in life. Think for yourself. Never let anyone else do your thinking for you. Choose what you want, not what you think you ought to do. Be reasonable. Be compassionate. Be willing to take a calculated risk. Trust yourself.
 

Highs & lows of interviews

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

We learn by our mistakes. I have been privileged to tell my story of my journey from religious faith to unbelief in the media in recent months. First, there was my RTE Radio 1 documentary, From Belief to Unbelief, which was shortlisted for a prize at the New York Festivals world radio awards. There was a great profile done of me by John Meagher in the Irish Independent on the day last October when the documentary was first broadcast. And my appearance on TV3 on 30 Oct. 2012 was contented, calm and balanced.

I was very happy with my Newstalk interview on the Tom Dunne Show on 26 June 2013 (my bit starts 26mins and 50 mins into Part 1 of show). I was also delighted with my interview on Gerry Kelly’s Late Lunch show on LMFM on 2 August 2013. He said I seemed very happy in my skin. And I am, (generally!).

I think it’s fair to say that in all of the above I was balanced and respectful of all views, even those I disagree with.

However, I wasn’t happy with my performance on yesterday’s The Last Word show on Today FM. I am entirely responsible for this, and nobody else. I hadn’t slept the previous night. I have been overwhelmed by the number of inquiries I have received to conduct Humanist ceremonies – more than twenty-five requests within my first two weeks as a celebrant. And I was asked, quite understandably, before the interview, if I would comment on the Bishop of Meath’s recent directive that there was to be no secular music and no eulogies at Catholic funerals in his diocese, and that these represented a ‘dumbing down’.

Unable to sleep, I checked out the actual words he had used on the diocesan website. Reading it, I felt very angry. It is a long time since I’ve read diktats from a bishop and it instantly brought me back to a very negative space in my mind. I saw ‘control, control, control’ all over it. I was offended by his suggestion that secular music is a dumbing down of the faith and I reflected, honestly, that faith itself involves the greatest dumbing down of the intellect imaginable – since there is not a shred of evidence to support the presumed authority of any bishop nor the dogmas of any church. Religious faith, by definition, involves believing in supernatural deities and powers that somebody else tells you exist (even though there is no evidence for the existence of these imaginary powers, angels, spirits and deities) which, in my understanding, is the last thing that any responsible adult is meant to do. I was annoyed with myself that I had submitted my mind and my will for so many years of my life to religious nonsense. And, having liberated my mind from that, and analyzed what the bishop had said, it pulled me back into a very negative place in my head, the likes of which I have not revisited for a very long time.

And so, rather than present the positive things about humanism in general and humanist ceremonies in particular I kept reacting to the bishop’s words which I’d read in the middle of a sleepless night.

The church is a dysfunctional organization. It prohibits free speech, censoring its priests and theologians and silencing those who don’t toe the party line (even though much of the current party line is at odds with previous teachings of the church). It indoctrinates young, innocent minds and that continues to trigger justifiable anger in me and others, not least because it does not teach children to think for themselves and to make their own meaning in life. It (and other religions) marks infants out as Catholic or Protestant or Muslim from birth rather than teaching children their common humanity. It insists on segregating children through the education system that it still largely runs. This is the organization that used to burn ‘heretics’ and that still silences those who disagree with the party line, depriving the church of the voices of the loyal opposition within the church. As you see, the anger has not gone away. And why should it? This is the church that teaches that gays must be celibate for life. It is the church which forbids its tens of thousands of married priests to serve the church, even though they remain priests for life. In this, the church places its man-made rule of compulsory celibacy (it admits that it is man-made) above what it pretends to be the god-given vocation to the priesthood. It forbids even discussion about women priests. It threatens priests that don’t agree with the current status quo that they will be stripped of their right to exercise their ministry. And I haven’t even mentioned its criminal protection of pedophile priests which were left freehand to rape and abuse young children.

I cannot deny the anger I feel about all the foregoing. And yet I regret my focus during yesterday’s interview on that negative aspect of things. As I have stated in pretty much all my previous interviews, it’s all about love and nothing else. It doesn’t matter, ultimately, whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, so long as one treats one’s fellow human beings as you would like them to treat you: the golden rule, which, of course, predates christianity by centuries, although the chances are students won’t have been told that in what passes for religious eduction in our schools.

The Beatles did indeed get it right: all you need is love.

While I regret my negative tone yesterday, I don’t think that it has at all really come on to the public agenda the extent to which individual lives have been damaged or in some cases ruined by their indoctrination into Catholic or other religious beliefs from infancy. People who are not born into a belief system never have to clamber out of one. I had to rethink everything. Nor is the issue only about intellectual abuse of children. There is also the emotional abuse of teaching children to fear god, to fear hell. Catholic guilt is not just a cliche: it is real. Men and women have lived their whole lives believing in nonsense and many have died without ever really having lived. Or thought! This is a human rights issue.

In times past, sexual abuse of children took place and children were not believed. Priests got away with it. And now everyone knows the price of that in the lives of adults who were sexually abused as children. But spare a thought, if you would, for those of us, myself included, who were intellectually and emotionally abused by the church. We have every right to be angry about it. Just as I was taught that 2+2=4, I was indoctrinated as a child to believe that everything the pope said was true. I was taught to obey and not to question. I was taught to repeat and not to think. I was taught that to leave the Church would result in the loss of my ‘eternal soul’, or if I left the seminary I would not be happy. I was taught all kinds of manipulative and untrue things. I absorbed them and believed them, things that I now know to be false or silly or crazy.

While the sexual and physical abuse of children was an abomination, the emotional and intellectual abuse of children was, and remains, a crime against human rights. It is a violation of the rights of the child.

Saying these things aloud in public places is a bit like it once was reporting sexual abuse. People weren’t believed. Or the crimes – of rape or molestation – were hushed up. Well where are all you good people out there whose minds and emotions were raped by priests and religious and nuns and ardent lay people? And can we stand idly by while young children continue to be taught crazy beliefs as if they were scientific truths in schools paid for by the taxpayer? I cannot stop being angry about this no less than I’d be enraged if children went on being knowingly beaten or raped in our schools.

Humanist Celebrant – Joe Armstrong

Monday, July 29th, 2013

I am very happy to say that I have been accredited as a Humanist Celebrant by the Humanist Association of Ireland. It’s like an aspect of my life coming full circle – having trained for the Catholic priesthood, spent nine years in religious life, left, stopped believing in God, given up on the idea of being with people at key moments in their lives like births, marriages and deaths, and now, unexpectedly, finding myself able again, with integrity, to celebrate these turning points in people’s lives again.

When I was moving beyond religious faith but still attending religious ceremonies I often used to try to deconstruct the religious content and language of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I tried to translate them in my head, quietly and privately, so that the ceremonies could mean something to me. What was the essential human meaning behind the tissue of myth of religion? There was essential meaning there and I sensed that it was a pity that it should be clouded by religious ritual, language and daft beliefs. I wondered if they could be stripped of the nonsense and if we could just celebrate the human moments they signified: a new life born to us! a new loving union of two people committing their lives to each other publicly! a life ended, that life celebrated and mourned in equal measure, and without the unnecessary facade of an afterlife.

I conducted my first funeral last Friday. I feel that Humanist funerals do great justice to a live well lived. A person attending a Humanist funeral who did not know the deceased will have a good sense of what that person was like by the end of the ceremony. After a whole life well lived, surely it’s the least we can do, to honour someone who has died. And to remember the deceased. And it’s such a relief to be able to do that without nonsensical talk of ‘sin’ or an ‘afterlife’. Death is the most natural thing. All living things and beings die. Nothing and nobody lasts forever. And so when we die let’s be adult enough to see death as the end but to recognize that we loved the person who died and wish to honour their life and their passing.

I very much look forward to conducting naming ceremonies for families and couples welcoming new life into their midst. It is important to celebrate new birth, a new life, a new name, a new individual. It is a time of joy and wonder, a time of celebration and delight. And we can welcome new human beings without having to believe in nonsensical beliefs, such as that a baby is born in ‘original sin’. What nonsense! But let not our distaste for old mythologies discourage us from having a naming or welcoming ceremony because ceremonies are important. They are key moments in our lives.

And, yes, let is celebrate marriages. Courageous couples who publicly commit their love to one another. Love is what it’s all about, as we know. And so it’s important to celebrate love publicly and not only privately. The community gathers to acknowledge and support a new couple in their love for one another, and to publicly mark the love between two people which manifests in a new public commitment. Even in Catholic theology, the groom administers the sacrament to the bride and the bride administers it to the groom. They are the ministers of the sacrament. The priest is only there as a witness. Likewise, in Humanist ceremonies, the bride and groom marry each other and everyone else is there as a privileged witness of the loving commitment made by the couple.

Love needs support. Marriage needs support. Couples need to know that love is indeed the way, and that love can and does survive. That love is a beacon in what can at times be the stormy seas of life. And that love is worth it. Money, success, power, pleasure, health…all these things will end. But love survives.

What a privilege to be able to conduct weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals! It is an honour to be with people at such moments, at such turning points in their lives. Each is a threshold through which lives pass, changing almost everything. Each is a human moment, a singular moment, unique to that person, that couple, that family; and yet also shared by all humanity.

I look forward to helping couples and families and loved ones to craft and create ceremonies that are unique to them at key moments of their lives.

For more about Humanist Ceremonies, see Humanist Association of Ireland
 

The greatest omission in life is to risk nothing

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

“The greatest omission in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing gets nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering, pain and sorrow, but he does not learn, grow, live, or love. He is only a slave – chained by safety – locked away by fear. Only a person who is willing to risk, not knowing the results, is alive.”
Anonymous

I came across that quote for the first time this morning on the web. Does anyone know who first said it?