The Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare has highlighted the vital importance of how we conduct this decade of historic commemorations because “history is not simply what happened, but the way what happened is remembered”. Bishop Pat Storey was speaker at the Annual 1916 Commemoration Ceremony on May 6, at the Church of the Most Sacred Heart in Arbour Hill, Dublin.
In her address she commended the “courageous and generous decision” to invite “a female, Northern Protestant to speak at a Catholic, Republican commemoration.
Bishop Storey spoke of this time of commemorations being an opportunity on this island for “not only remembering the past but creating and shaping the future”. In remembering lives lost she spoke of commemoration being a time for three things in Ireland.
She talked of how reflecting on our history was a time for mending our broken and wounded relationships. She said, “… if Ireland is about anything, it is about relationships … yet how often we have specialized in welcoming the tourist and the outsider, and deeply wounded one another”.
She also said it was a time for generosity, saying “… (1916) is not a part of my story. But I want, and I need, to try to understand it. I need to walk in your shoes generously. That means listening when I would rather speak; hearing your story when I would rather tell mine; relating to the commemorations of your community when I would rather remember wrongs done to mine”. She continued “Could we, together, commit to walking in each other’s shoes for a time? Could we vow to be generous when we commemorate? It would take personal sacrifice, especially when you have endured personal loss, but perhaps this is the time to mend, and the time for generosity”.
Reflecting on the many live lost in Ireland, in 1916 as well as more recently, the Bishop said commemoration was also a time for shaping the future, saying I believe that this era in our country’s history is a time no longer for death, but for resurrection”.
Bishop Storey concluded her address by quoting President Obama’s words “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek” before some final words of her own “Are you willing to be the change that Ireland is waiting for?”
The Annual 1916 Commemoration Ceremony takes place on Wednesday May 6 at 9.45 am at the Church of the Most Sacred Heart Arbour Hill, Dublin. The ceremony is hosted by the Minister for Defence and consists of Requiem Mass and ceremonies at the Grave for the 1916 Leaders.
Below is the full text of Address by Bishop Pat Storey at 1916 Commemoration Mass at Arbour Hill on 06 May 2015.
President, Taoiseach and Distinguished Guests, may I first of all thank the Monsignor very sincerely for his very surprising invitation to speak at today’s event? I am wondering if he is shaking in his boots right now, having asked a female, Northern Protestant to speak at a Catholic, Republican commemoration? It is a courageous and a generous decision and I want to thank him for his trust! He also entrusted me with speaking for less than ten minutes, which for a Protestant preacher, is really just goading!
Three preachers are in a boat far from land. They decide they are going to confess their shortcomings. One asks another, ‘what is something that you have a problem with?’ The first one says: ‘well, I have a problem with alcohol. I like to take to the bottle sometimes.’ The second one says ‘well, I have a problem with lust. I desire every woman I see.’ One of the others asks the third one, ‘Well, what is something that you have a problem with?’ The third preacher replies, ‘Gossip- and I can’t wait to get back to shore!’
If it is true that ‘history is not simply what happened, but the way what happened is remembered’, then it is vitally important how we conduct this decade of historic commemorations. I believe too that it is vital that every part of the Church on this island takes its place in not only remembering the past, but creating and shaping the future. Since we have all been a part of the problem, we should all be a part of the answer. And I believe, although you would expect a Bishop to say this, that the Church is in the business of hope. The Christian faith is built on relationship, and in particular, the restoration of broken relationship. And if Ireland is about anything, it is about relationship. Tourists sing our praises – how warm and welcoming we are; how friendly and outward-looking; how we invest in community and family – and indeed all these things are true and they are what I love about my country. Yet how often have we specialized in welcoming the tourist and the outsider, and deeply wounded one another? Relationship is in our DNA, and yet relationship is what has been at times in our history, obliterated. Perhaps though, it is also that very commitment to relationship that will heal us.
The reading from Ecclesiastes talks about there being a time to do this and a time to do that, and specifically ‘a time for tearing down and a time for building’ and a little later ‘a time for tearing down and a time for mending.’ Commemorations are vital for two reasons – the first in this instance is to remember what took place 99 years ago at the Easter Rising. We do indeed want to pause and reflect on lives lost. For relatives here, this is a vital and a poignant moment. We come to remember our loved ones, and indeed the manner in which they lost their lives. We remember too the women and children who died in the same event and who are often left out of the story. We remember with sadness all lost lives. And we come too, to mend, and to take our part in mending. How do we do that? Thank God, the time for tearing down in our country has virtually finished, but the time for mending has really only just begun. Again I repeat that I believe that one step forward is through relationship. Broken and wounded relationships can mend. So firstly, I believe that this is a time for mending.
Secondly, as Christians, it is vital that we take the time and the energy to generously walk in the other’s shoes. I will be honest – it is difficult for me to imagine what it is like to be a relative of someone who died in the Easter Rising. It is not a part of my story. But I want, and I need, to try to understand it. I need to walk in your shoes generously. That means listening when I would rather speak; hearing your story when I would rather tell mine; relating to the commemorations of your community when I would rather remember wrongs done to mine. Could we, together, commit to walking in each other’s shoes for a time? Could we vow to be generous when we commemorate? It would take personal sacrifice, especially when you have endured personal loss, but perhaps this is the time to mend, and the time for generosity.
And this is where I am afraid, as a Bishop, I get religious! For thirdly, I believe that this era in our country’s history is a time no longer for death, but for resurrection. This is our opportunity to shape the future, and the Church of all brands needs to be involved in that. We were involved in making our past, and we absolutely need to be involved in shaping our future. What could that look like? Like many of you, I am old enough to remember waking up every morning, particularly through the seventies, to death. Every morning. I do not believe that there is anyone who wants to go back to that. We reeked of death. I passionately believe that this is a time for resurrection. In the original Easter Rising of our faith, Jesus showed us a different way – one of hope and healing. Yes, there was death, and it is to be mourned and remembered, but death is not the end of our story. The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives power to His followers to be resurrection people. Death does not have the final word. We are dealers in hope. We know there is more; and we want to shape the future to look a lot better than the past. It is time for resurrection. Pragmatically, leading the way forward is not going to be easy. If we want to do what Jesus radically instructed in our gospel reading this morning: ‘love your enemies, and do good to those that hate you’; you will be aware, I am certain, that it is the most difficult thing on earth to even be willing to forgive past wrongs done to you. But whether we like it or not, and even whether or not we are ready, we are in relationship; we want more; and we are in the business of resurrection.
So there are three ‘there is a time for’s that we might consider today in the midst of commemorating. Firstly, it is a time for mending; secondly, it is a time for generosity; and thirdly it is a time for resurrection.
So are you in? Or are you out? Will you be in the business of mending? Will you commit to listening generously to the other? As we go forward, will you be standing at the point of resurrection, or at the point of death? We can choose what our future will look like. We can shape it. It is up to us. I am deeply sorry for the lives lost in our country’s history – for lives lost in the Easter Rising and in more recent years. But I do not want to end our history there. I cannot let death, or even Commemoration, have the last word. I am in this for the long haul: mending; generosity; resurrection. And that is what it will take.
These words of Barack Obama seem supremely appropriate for us at this time, and here I finish:
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Are you willing to be the change that Ireland is waiting for?