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The Parish Mission
Growing up in the Ireland of the 1950’s and 60’s the high point in the spiritual life of our parish was the mission. We had one every three years or so; it lasted for a week and it was a celebration of our faith. It was a time when we thought about the deep things-the things that mattered most, like life and death and what it was all about. It was a time to reflect on the key points of our Catholic life-on mass, forgiveness, marriage, family and the community. A mission was also an occasion of joy. The words of Pope John Paul 2 now come to mind:  ”A mission is an occasion of truth, hope and joy. It is so relevant. Nothing can take its place for renewing the faith of our people. It calls routine Christians to the life of the beatitudes” .The literature circulated to the parishioners in the weeks before the mission told us that “The heart of the Gospel would be preached in a new and vital way. The mission would be a rediscovery of Christ”.
The erection of a row of stalls adjacent to the church grounds was the first sign that our mission was at hand. On arrival for the opening ceremony, we noticed that the tents’ awnings were now open, revealing the bric-a brac within. Those temporary structures were bulging with religious curios of every colour and hue- rosary beads, First Holy Communion Prayer Books, holy pictures, Statues of the Child of Prague, Our Lady, The Sacred Heart and of course St. Martin, miraculous medals and mementoes for every religious occasion you could think of! We peered bright-eyed across the counters to the innermost reaches, eyes feasting on what was on offer, while at the same time, knowing full well that our purchasing power was limited by the contents of our not-so-bulging pockets!
The mission began each morning with 7a.m. mass, followed by a 10a.m. mass and an evening ceremony at 8p.m. Confessions could be had after each service and were availed of by many who perhaps hoped for the clemency of the missioner! The Sacrament of Penance was always a feature of the mission. The mission sessions were always well attended. If you decided to absent yourself, there was the possibility of a visit from one of the missioners and this was to be avoided at all costs.
The plan in this parish was that three missioners came for two weeks. The Redemptorists were the most popular choice, but on one or two occasions, we were served by preachers from the Sacred Heart Order They spent two weeks in Dunmore- one week for the men and one for the women, while at the same time Kiltevna and Garrafrauns had one week each allotted, with a mixed congregation .These priests were fluent, impassioned and learned speakers, each one having his own personality. One was known as “the quiet fellow”. He usually kept his counsel and seemed to pick less contentious themes for his homilies. He trekked his way through the Commandments, often touching on social injustices and love of your neighbour.
We should remember that in the Ireland of the 50’s and 60’s, efforts by different governments to set out a roadmap for Irish society were tentative at best-a road map to ensure that people were protected, and could retain their hope and optimism for the future People struggled to make ends meet. The stress caused by getting by on low incomes and coping with life events like unemployment, disability and loneliness must have been significant. They needed hope for a better future and to this end they turned to a very influential church for guidance and hope. The priest, in his homilies, stressed values like those contained in the Irish proverb-“Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine”::people depended on one another. Being a good neighbour was very important. Good deeds should be reciprocated. But there was always the problem of trying to keep your self- respect and dignity in very difficult circumstances.
The second preacher was more vocal and usually pinpointed morality and transgressions against the sixth and ninth commandments as the focus of his sermons. You could hear a pin drop in the crowded church as he swung into his homily. He depicted, with grim precision, the fate that awaited those in the next life, who did not respect the parameters laid down by the aforementioned commandments! Everything that was seen as leading to immoral behaviour was denounced-dancehalls, cinemas, immodest fashions and literature, all came under the cosh. The third member of the team was the one who told the funny stories and put all of us at ease. However, he could decide to walk down the aisle, stand at a certain seat ,and alert us to the seriousness of the topic by raising his voice and, with pointed finger, posing a question , which we hoped didn’t require an answer from any of us. Then with a tug at the cross around his neck, he slowly returned to the pulpit and answered the question himself. What a relief!
In the interest of fairness and balance we must again return to” the times that were in it”, to put the themes of the homilies into context. Irish censorship regulations were ludicrous. Only two people needed to object to a book to have it banned. The banning of “The Tailor and Ansty”-a benign and funny book,-comes to mind. The banning of Edna O’Brien’s “The Country Girls” prompted book-burning on the streets but didn’t prevent it becoming a best seller.
I know that hindsight is 20/20 vision but perhaps the missioners could have done a little more to highlight the plight of Irish women in society, fulfilling a role that was traditionally servile and auxiliary, supportive, silent and undervalued. It was also an age when children saw their parents as being tough and repressive, with strong and controlling values and consequently saw their own spontaneity and initiative suffocated.
However, I now look back on those missions with a certain nostalgia and gratitude. The priests who conducted them are probably now gone and most of their values may be past too. It would be nice to think though that we still retain some sense of spirituality because of them. I will finish now with the mission prayer which we recited during the mission week and knew off by heart by the time the mission was over.                               Pat Kielty
Mission prayer
Jesus,loving Saviour, open all hearts to the grace of this mission. Come and save us from our sins. Open our minds to your word. Move our hearts to repentance. Pour your love into our lives. Bring us closer to you. Bring us closer to one another. Dear Mother Mary, pray for our parish and for every home. Bring peace to every soul. Mother of Perpetual Succour, pray for us. Amen.