“It was real, it was raw and it was what life is all about.” The words of parish priest Fr Harry Bohan in reaction to the opening talk in the Meaning to Life programme underway in Sixmilebridge.
That opening talk was given by Billy Fox and Gerry Roche of Al-Jeff, a centre based in Limerick committed to assisting individuals and families affected by addiction. Both men spoke of their own personal experiences – in Billy’s case alcoholism and for Gerry a life of drugs and crime after three of his siblings committed suicide.
“The attendance was representative of all strands of the community and people who want to journey in the spiritual life in a most practical way.
“ It was a night about spirituality and recovery from addiction but the message applied to all of us,” added Fr Bohan.
“What we are trying to do is to accept that the Church is about nothing if it isn’t about the people. The church building is simply a sacred place in the middle of the community to facilitate a lot of that.
“What we are trying to develop is a church we call a Christian community, connecting with the reality of people’s lives,” he remarked.
During the discussion, Billy spoke of his own life experiences, his time as part of a religious order, his battle through the addiction of alcoholism and how that addiction impinged on his family and the feeling of emptiness it creates.
He said that asking for help isn’t a sign of failure and he spoke about the difference between religion and spirituality and how spirituality helps to determine in their own minds their real purpose in life.
Similarly, Gerry explained how three of his siblings committed suicide and how at 10 years of age he was drinking, doing drugs at 16 and how his addiction precipitated a life of crime and prison.
Four years ago he reformed after spending time in rehabilitation and treatment centres. Through spirituality he began to look into himself and he realised he wasn’t the person he should be or deserved to be. Gerry has been able to turn his life around and is helping others to do likewise.
Fr Bohan admitted that for too long the Church institution has been an end in itself, giving answers to questions that people are not asking at all.
“In that, it has fast become irrelevant in the real world and became a place that fostered the clerical culture, which lacked accountability. It did not reach out to people.
“It concentrated heavily on organised religion but with very little emphasis on nourishing the word of the spirit and there is a huge demand in our world today for meaning to life.
“The talk was about all of that, bringing the church to connect with the reality of people’s lives in the community.
“It will be followed this Thursday night with Fr Michael Rodgers on the theme of spirituality and next week by The Celtic Tenors, who focus on the same theme through music,” he explained.
Fr Rogers, a native of Killanena, went to Kenya, got cancer, came back to Ireland and set up a spirituality centre in Glendalough. He will define spirituality and the spiritual in real life terms and his talk is about hope, positive thinking and living life to the full.