Posts Tagged ‘religious life’

I feel like the luckiest man alive

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

When I was in my teens and an ardent believer and I wanted to be a priest, one of my good reasons for wanting to be a priest was to be with people at key moments in their lives – like birth, weddings and bereavement. I wanted to engage with the real needs of people.
After my nine years in religious life, when I walked away from not only my priestly path but, in time, from all religious beliefs, I assumed that gone was my dream of being with people at core turning points in their lives.
I spent five years as a teacher. And I was privileged to work at St Bonaventure’s comprehensive boys’ school at the heart of the East End of London, under the leadership of the now knighted Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was subsequently made head of the English schools’ inspectorate, OFSTED.
But I knew that remaining a teacher for the rest of my life wasn’t what I wanted to do, and so I left teaching after five years.
For the guts of the next 20 years I worked as a journalist, columnist and author, in a self-employed capacity, enjoying being my own boss and working from home. I spent the guts of three years during that time as a publisher too. And then I took time out to delve into my own story, how I shifted from belief to unbelief and I celebrated that story, or part of it, in my RTE Radio 1 documentary, From Belief to Unbeleif, and in an as yet unpublished manuscript of a memoir.
And then, earlier this year, I thought about becoming a Humanist celebrant. And that is why I feel like the luckiest man on earth. If, as a teenager, I wanted to be with people at key turning points in their lives, helping them to express sorrow and joy, laughter and tears, I have discovered that I can do that as a Humanist celebrant. And I could do so without having to pretend I believed in religious fantasies that lost any claim on my allegiance, acceptance or intelligence.
As a humanist celebrant there is no nonsense about ‘ontological change’ happening at ordination. I’m a regular human being just like everyone else. And I don’t have to pretend to have the ear of a deity! Or to know his will! Or to interpret his ‘revealed word’ accurately. I’ve outgrown all that nonsense. All that superstition. I know that we have only one life and that it can be a wonderful life, and that the birth of each child warrants celebration. And that the marriage of two people is usually a happy time, and that it’s OK for people to be sad at weddings too. And I have been privileged to facilitate funerals – celebrations of a life ended, at which I have witnessed laughter and tears, joy and sadness, classical music and hard rock!
Now in my fifties, I realize that being a Humanist celebrant uses the skills and talents I’ve been lucky enough to have: my original desire to be with people at key moments of their lives; my writing skills in drafting ceremonies that are meaningful and personal for the people concerned; my teaching skills of speaking and engaging with a group of people; my empathy and compassion and listening skills; and my gratitude for being able to do this work which I love.

‘From Belief to Unbelief’ documentary on RTE Radio 1, Sat. 13 October, 2012.

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

I’ve spent more than six months working, with Nicoline Greer from the Documentary on One team at RTE Radio 1, on making a 40-minute documentary called ‘From Belief to Unbelief’.

It charts the story of my journey from belief to unbelief, and also that of two fellow novices, John O’Sullivan and Declan Wynne, who entered the Marist Fathers’ seminary at Mount St Mary’s, Milltown, Dublin, in September 1980.

Of the twenty who entered that year, only three remain in religious life.  I left after nine years. Declan after ordination, having spent thirteen years in the order. John is the most recent to leave: he was a member of the order for some thirty years.

We each speak of the insights, realisations and key events in our personal paths starting with our sense of a call to the priesthood and religious life; entering the seminary; our challenges, questions and crises; our deeply personal and painful decisions to leave religious life; and our contented lives today as unbelievers.

The documentary is not only the personal story of three men: our lives may be seen as a microcosm for the transformation taking place in Irish society in the last 20, 30 or even 50 years. In the early 1980s there were some 40 seminarians in the Marist Fathers’ seminary in Ireland alone. Nowadays, there are no Irish seminarians in the order and Mount Saint Mary’s is no longer a seminary. The chapel which once reverberated to the sound of many young vibrant seminarians now lies silent and is rarely used. As recently as the early 1980s, the houses of the Marist Fathers in Ireland boasted full communities of priests, compared to the small and aging communities remaining today.

Thirty-two years after entering the order, I revisit the former seminary in the company of Father Denis Green SM, now in his nineties, who used to be my spiritual director.

Documentary maker: Joe Armstrong.

Production supervision by Nicoline Greer.

‘From Belief to Unbelief’ is scheduled for broadcast in the Documentary on One slot on RTE Radio One, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, 13 October. It will be repeated the following evening at 7 p.m. From broadcast date it can also be listened to online or downloaded from www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone as an mp3 or Podcast. If it isn’t on the front page of that link, simply search for ‘From Belief to Unbelief’ in the RTE Radio One, Documentary on One search bar, or find it under the ‘Life’ category.

 

 

Hamlet

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

How often in life I have found myself pulled this way and that! I studied Hamlet as a schoolboy and how appropriate for me. There can be value in deferring a decision. It is the antithesis to impulsive living. It took me nine years before I decided to leave religious life and my path to the priesthood. Yet, I do not regret the time I spent in the Marists. I taught for five years in London, when I might have left teaching earlier to become a full-time writer. Yet, had I left, I would never have met my wife or had our two lovely children. So, I’m open, ever open, to considering possibilities. Then again, once I make a decision, a considered decision, I tend to be confident that it is the right one due to the time and care I take in reaching my decisions. And it is not as if I deferred leaving religious life for nine years. On the contrary, I chose to stay in religious life for nine years. Nor did I defer leaving teaching for five years. I choose to stay for five years. Decision-making keeps us alive. So long as we engage in the process and are true to ourselves, whatever we decide, we thrive.