Yes, I'm writing this at the end of the formal football season at Notre Dame. No, this has nothing to do with that peculiar, cultic ritual that holds us captive from the end of August until the end of November each year.
Far from having to do with the events on the gridiron, this posting has everything to do with what is happening on other green fields – specifically, the fields of the Diocese of Ferns (Wexford) and the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Six years and some change ago, we blessed our first group of graduates and sent them to Clonard, a suburb of the very musical town of Wexford. Year after year, house directors and volunteers have labored intensely – assisting with liturgies, shoring up choirs, gathering musicians far and wide and getting music into their hands.
A few weeks ago, this year's volunteers were formally welcomed into the midst of their Irish hosts. And it was a big weekend, for it coincided with the forty-year anniversary of the founding of the parish wherein they serve.
And what a cast had assembled – parish priests and curates who had served over the years; concelebrants from the surrounding countryside of the Sunny SouthEast; musicians from around the city. And, to preside over it all, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, himself a Notre Dame grad.
There was a victory that October night... and it was not an American victory. It was a victory led by the Irish themselves – led by our old, dear friend Ruairi Byrne and his left-handed guitar; led by Stasia Redmond and Emily and marvelous traditional Irish musicians; led by the sterling voices of the Clonard children's choir, and all the other parish choirs that joined forces – more than seventy of them. Americans were sprinkled in a few spots here and there. But the night belonged to this Irish parish, to Irish leadership, to this assembly. And that's exactly what was hoped for.
Now perhaps you may think this was no big deal, this vigil mass on a Saturday night in a corner of Ireland. But in a land where hymnals are as scarce as hen's teeth, in a land where two whole generations have been disenfranchised from the Church, where a once-proud faith is on the ropes ... this was a big deal. Mass parts sung by everyone. Flutes, violins, guitars, organ and piano – all joined in the chorus, and the chorus was a four-part choir. They sang songs from Ireland, from America – but everything they sang were songs that bolstered their hearts and strengthened their faith.
And at the end, the good archbishop, before the final blessing, looked around at the assembly, and proclaimed: "Never, in all my years of traveling the length and breadth of Ireland, have I experienced a liturgy such as this."
This would be the time to recite the litany of all those incredible young graduates, men and women from Notre Dame, from Saint Mary's College, and now from Marquette, who contributed to the Irish victory that night. But I know that they would simply step aside, with grand smiles on their faces, and simply gesture to their Irish colleagues, insisting that the accomplishments were their own.
In what most professional church observers have described as one of the bleakest landscapes – a Catholic church overrun by scandal, sorrow, and demoralized leaders – there was much hope to be harvested in Wexford on that October night. People would do well to pay attention to the beacon that is beginning to burn there.
And now, another torch has been lit – at Harold's Cross Church, in the city of the black pool, Dublin. More songs to be shared, more hope to be announced, and Irish victories to announce. You'll never see these scores on ESPN. But in the last analysis, I wonder which are the more significant?
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