16 March 2011

Ireland needs St Patrick's prayers to rediscover the Catholic faith

First Holy Communion at Holy Family Home, Bacolod City

Kevin Myers is a columnist for the Irish Independent who often says things other won't say. At times he can border on the crude and can go 'over the top' - an expression now widely used in Britain and Ireland that comes from the trench warfare of the Great War or World War I on which Kevin is an expert - often in a funny way. He was born in England of Irish parents and educated in a Catholic school there. As far as I know, he is not a practising Catholic but he has a deep respect for what the Church teaches, though not always for what some of its members do.

On Tuesday 8 march he wrote a column under the heading We boast about how much alcohol we drink, but if outsiders agree they are called racists. He began, ALL right; so now we've got a Government. Therefore let it hit the ground running, as promised, by ending the hideous and demeaning farce of St Patrick's Day. He goes on to write about the tendency of many Irish people to drink to excess, particularly on St Patrick's Day, giving grounds for the stereotype of the drunken Irishman.

Then he writes, we have already informally established the caricature elsewhere, with the transformation of First Holy Communion into an excuse for girls to be draped with huge Joan Collins wigs, fake tan and make-up.

And the Catholic Church, as broken as a Mormon lap-dancing club in Afghanistan, is speechless at this whore-mongering degradation of the consecration of bread and wine into the living body and blood of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of mankind. And no, I'm not saying that -- it's what the Catholic Church actually believes. Yet it nonetheless allows the parents of a seven-year old girl to dress her up like a trollop in order to celebrate this momentous day, and then to spend the aftermath getting paralytic, courtesy of the special bar-extensions. Men once gave their lives to keep the faith alive: now it's an excuse for alcoholic comas.

I know that some bishops, priests and teachers have tried to curb some of the excesses that go with the celebration of the sacraments but on at least some occasions have been met with hostility by parents who want to put on a show.

The girls in the photo taken some years ago in Holy Family Home, Bacolod City, come from backgrounds of extreme suffering and often of real poverty. The excesses of contemporary Ireland would be beyond their comprehension.

A few weeks earlier, on 22 February, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, gave a talk to the Cambridge Group of Irish Studies, at Magdalen College, Cambridge, England on the topic 'KEEPING THE SHOW ON THE ROAD' Is this the future of the Irish Catholic Church?

Here are some extracts from his speaking notes with my emphases added:

I am thus in a situation where I have near monopoly control – at least in theory - of primary education in the Archdiocese of Dublin. What are the results? In Ireland we have a fully State-funded system of Catholic education. We have wonderfully dedicated teachers. There is access for clergy to schools which also look after the programmes of preparation for the sacraments. First Communion and Confirmation are major events in the life of each school. The question is: how far are these events really faith-filled events today? It is above all good Catholic teachers who express their concerns to me in this regard. Admission to the sacraments is not something which is automatically acquired when one reaches a certain class in school.

A few weeks ago a very angry survivor of sexual abuse by a Dublin priest came to me to express his disgust and horror at what the Church had done to him. He wanted nothing more to do with a corrupt Church or any of its agents and listening to his story one could well understand his anger. Leaving me he thanked me and added: “I believe that you will be confirming my little lad later this month”. For many the sacraments are the social events of a civil religion rather than celebrations of the Church.

Young Irish people are among the most catechised in Europe but apparently among the least evangelized. Our schools are great schools; our young people are idealistic and generous, but the bond between young people and Church life ends up being very weak.
This is due to the fact that the religious education and sacramental preparation became over the years more and more assigned almost exclusively to the school. Parents were not formally involved in the education process. The parish was content to leave the task of religious education to competent teachers. Should there be political moves or moves by teachers’ organizations to remove sacramental preparation from schools, then the parish structure of the Church in Ireland would be totally unprepared.

Kevni Myers and Archbishop Martin are, in slightly different ways, saying the same thing about the celebration of the sacraments, especially First Holy Communion. Three or four years ago an Irish judge commented, when someone was looking for a temporary licence to serve alcohol on the occasion of a First Holy Communion celebration, remarked that the sacraments had come to be linked to alcohol. He told of one defendant brought before him who had been driving under the influence of alcohol. The man's excuse was that he was on his way to confession!

There has been a colossal falling away from the Catholic faith in Ireland in the last few decades. I am not sure of the reasons why. Some say the rot had set in long before. That may well be true. Some try to gloss over the reality by speaking of the undoubted generosity of many young people.

Earlier in his talk Archbishop Martin noted: Ireland is today undergoing a further phase in a veritable revolution of its religious culture. Many outside of Ireland still believe that Ireland is a bastion of traditional Catholicism. They are surprised to discover that there are parishes in Dublin where the presence at Sunday Mass is some 5% of the Catholic population and, in some cases, even below 2%. On any particular Sunday about 18% of the Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Dublin attends Mass. That is considerably lower than in any other part of Ireland.

For the second time since I became Archbishop of Dublin there will be no ordination to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Dublin this year and the coming years indicate only a tiny trickle of new vocations.
Holy Family Church, Aughrim St, Dublin, the parish in which I grew up and where I celebrated  my First Mass.
In theory, the Archdiocese has about 1,100,000 members, about 84 percent of the population of the area it covers and is by far the largest in terms of numbers of Ireland's 26 dioceses. The parish I grew up in had five priests when I was young and the church used to be packed for Mass on the weekdays of Lent. Now it has three priest,s two of them diocesan, the third a returned missionary who is not in good health. The pastor emeritus also helps out. The parish I now go home to has three priests, including a religious priest in his 70s and a retired parish priest. When I first went home there in 1981 it had four priests, as I recall, all from the diocese and three of them much younger than any of the priests there now. Since last year St Brigid's has had a full-time lay parish pastoral worker, a young man named Kevin Mullally.
St Brigid's Church, Blanchardstown, where I go home to now. It is just north of the city of Dublin and has many Filipino parishioners, mainly because of James Connolly Memorial Hospital.

The interior of St Brigid's. When I was young Blanchardstown was essentially a rural village. Now it has become a huge suburb of Dublin. many of its parishioners, like me, grew up in Holy Family Parish.

St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest, was probably like many young people in Ireland today when he was kidnapped and taken there, probably from Wales, at the age of 16. Here is the opening of his Confession with my highlights and [comments]:

1. I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. [Was he 'catechised' but not 'evangelised', as Archbishop Martin described the young people of Ireland today?] And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

2. And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. [Maybe it's appropriate that St Patrick's Day always falls during Lent.] And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

May St Patrick, patron of Ireland and of Nigeria, patron of churches in every continent, obtain a renewal of faith for the descendants of those who kidnapped him and to whom he later brought the Gospel. May he also obtain God's very special blessings on the people of Japan who are suffering so much at present.

Lúireach Phádraig  Saint Patrick's Breastplate

Críost liom,                                                 
Críost romham,
Críost i mo dhiaidh,
Críost istigh ionam,

Críost fúm,
Críost os mo chionn,
Críost ar mo lámh dheas,
Críost ar mo lámh chlé,

Críost i mo lúi dom,
Críost i mo sheasamh dom,

Críost i gcrói gach duine atá ag cuimhneamh orm,
Críost i mbéal gach duine a labhráionn liom,
Críost i ngach súil a fhéachann orm,
Críost i ngach cluas a éisteann liom.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,

Christ below me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,

Christ in my sleeping,
Christ in my waking,

Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Christ in the mouth of all who speak of me,
Christ in every eye that looks at me,
Christ in every ear that listens to me.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig faoi mhaise daoibh!
A Happy St Patrick’s Day!



Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Excellent post..happy Feast Day dear Fr Sean!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I can't stand Kevin Myers. His columns are so horribly moronic and make my blood boil with rage. He has never struck me as even remotely Catholic. Church and State had an editorial on him a few years back which you can read here.

I have only the most intense contempt for the Irish media. The single worst Irish newspaper is the Sunday Independent. Thank heavens for the internet. I suspect the Irish Times and the Irish Independent will soon go the way of the Irish Press. The Sunday Tribune (INM) is now recently desceased.

If there is any hope for the Church in Ireland, it must be a revival of catechesis. Bad liturgy and catechesis have done far more damage to popular piety than the sex scandals.

Crux Fidelis said...

I am a frequent visitor to Dublin and while there I often attend Mass at St James's, St Augustine's or St Catherine's - all in the Liberties. Until around seven or eight years ago I would frequently find myself to be among the youngest or even the youngest present at Mass - I would then be in my late forties! Now with the presence of Filipinos and south Indians (who presumably work in the nearby hospitals) the average age has decreased somewhat. Thank God for this new life blood!

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig duit!

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thanks, Jackie, Ixoa and Crux, for your comments. I could see the beginnings of the decline of the faith in Ireland nearly 40 years ago. I've been out of the country most of the time since 1968 and have noticed the changes each time I go home.

I wouldn't be quite as dismissive of the Irish media as you are, Ixoa. There are people such as David Quinn, Breda O'Brien and Senator Rónán Mullen, who I hope will be re-elected, who are witnessing to the faith there.

Crux, you show yourself clearly not to be a Dubliner - I know you're from Paisley - when you refer to 'St James's, St Augustine's or St Catherine's. For some reason, Dubliners refer to their churches by their street names, so the above are 'James's Street, John's Lane or Meath Street'. I didn't know until now that John's Lane church is that of St Augustine and St John the Baptist!

Like you, I hope and pray that the Filipinos, Indians, etc, will bring a renewal of the faith and that their children won't be drowned in the prevailing secular values, even though there's a great amount of generosity among Irish people still, especially the young.

Crux Fidelis said...

Fr Seán: My mother is a Dub (a Liberties Belle, in fact) and refers to those churches by their informal names as I feel she has a right to (She was baptised in Meath St and was married to my father in James's St). As an outsider and one who detests over-familiarity, I prefer to give them their proper names.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Delighted to know, Crux, that your mother was a 'Liberties Belle'. Using the street names for churches in Dublin isn't a question of over-familiarity, but what everyone uses, including the Archdiocese on its web pages listing the various parishes: http://www.dublindiocese.ie/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=27. The website for the Church of St Augustine and St John the Baptist is www.johnslane.ie. The Franciscan Church of the Immaculate Conception is known as 'Merchant's 'quay' or 'Adam and Eve's', names used by the Franciscans on the friary's webpage, which always gives an email address as 'adamandevefriary@eircom.net'.

I've no idea how the practice of calling the Catholic churches of Dublin by their street names rather than by their patronal names began. But it is both the formal and informal practice.

It just strikes me now, growing up in Dublin if I heard 'St Catherine's Church' I, and everyone else, would take it to mean the one belonging to the Church of Ireland, very near to St James's Catholic Church and outside of which Robert Emmet was hanged in 1803. It's no longer used as a church. I never heard anyone refer to Meath Street Church as 'St Catherine's'.

I do appreciate your sense of respect for churches. God bless.

Crux Fidelis said...

Fr Seán: I don't think that practice applies solely to Dublin. In rural areas of Ireland aren't churches referred to by the name of the village or townland rather than by their patronal names?

Incidentally, in Joyce's short story "The Sisters" reference is made to "The Rev. James Flynn (formerly of S. Catherine's Church, Meath St.) aged sixty-five years. RIP."

In May I hope to attend the First Holy Communion of my cousin's daughter in Ratoath, Co Meath. Please God, I'll not encounter any of the excesses mentioned earlier.

I do enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thanks, Crux, for this enjoyable conversation. yes, I think in rural Ireland people wouldn't often use the patronal name, though most towns would have only one Catholic church. Maybe it goes back to the Penal Days. I don't know.

I pray that your attendance at your relative's First Holy Communion will be a truly joyful and faith-filled one for all concerned. This afternoon I 'saw' the confessions of 25 Deaf children and adolescents who will be making their First Holy Communion on Sunday. There won't be any excesses for sure, since most of them come from poor families. Please keep them in your prayers.