On Religion – by Terry Mattingly – 3-21-15

As Bono launched into another mini-sermon on faith, justice and love, Father Jack Heaslip did what he had always done for U2 — he stood out of the limelight and prayed.

On this day in 2001, Bono wasn’t standing at a microphone in a packed concert venue. He had slipped into a private gathering of staffers from Capitol Hill offices, a strategic circle of believers who shared his concerns about poverty, AIDS and oceans of Third World debt.

“God is watching. … Forget about the judgment of history. For those of you who are religious people, you have to think about the judgment of God,” said Bono. And don’t worry about “asking God to bless what you are doing. Look for what God is doing and get involved in that, because that has already been blessed.”

That last saying, a Bono standard, was a quote from the Anglican priest standing in the back of the room. As always, the man who had been U2’s behind-the-scenes chaplain for decades declined to be interviewed, but quietly met with people at the edge of the crowd.

In liner notes accompanying its 2014 album, “Songs of Innocence,” the band called Heaslip “our North Star,” perhaps knowing that motor neuron disease would soon take his life at age 71. It was a rare glimpse of the man the U2 quartet knew as a guidance counselor and English teacher when they were boys at Dublin’s nondenominational Mount Temple Secondary School. In the book “U2 by U2,” Bono described him as “a source of inspiration and calm over our lives.”

Heaslip eventually became an Anglican priest with his own flock, while frequently touring with U2. He attended the band’s prayer and Bible study sessions and, once, someone recorded his blessing before the 2001 “Elevation” tour. He began with Isaiah 61, as quoted by Jesus.

“‘The spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,’” said Heaslip, before his own blessing. “What we want God to do tonight is to pour his anointing. And that’s not just a dab on the forehead, that’s a rich anointing of his oil. We’re told the oil would flow down from the top of your head — and in my case into your beard — and down your front and make a mess. But that’s the richness of God’s anointing.

“And what I felt God wanted me to do today was to pour out, in his name, an anointing on everything to do with this tour — everybody, everything. We think of the band, but we think of every piece of equipment and everyone who works that piece of equipment, everyone who packs up, everyone who drives a car, everyone who does the catering, everyone who is responsible for technology, every joint of wire, every plug, every soffit, every light. …

“Come, Holy Spirit, and reign. Pour out your rule and anointing on this tour. Let nothing be an obstacle. Just melt away anything that is not of you.”

Anyone who knew Heaslip recognized those convictions, notes Mark Rodgers, a former top Republican aide in the Senate, who worked closely with U2 on social-justice issues. Before each concert, the priest would walk through the arena, blessing the stage, the equipment and the grandstands that would soon be packed.

“During shows he would often stand with his back to the stage, praying for the people in the crowd and, literally, everything that was going on,” says Rodgers. “He didn’t care that no one saw him doing it. … This was part of his ministry, for the band and for everyone there.”

Father Kenneth Tanner, a Charismatic Episcopal Church pastor near Detroit who corresponded with Heaslip, notes that at the Feb. 25 funeral for their chaplain Bono again read from Isaiah 61.

Even though Heaslip had been with U2 through many changes, including an early crisis when tensions between faith and art almost split the band, he never “talked about U2 as this big famous band,” says Tanner.

“The ties there were not about him knowing U2. For him, it was all about those four boys he knew so long ago and all they went through to become the men they are now. It was all about helping those four guys.”

Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the  project to study religion and the news.



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