IS IT OK TO BE A CATHOLIC? 09.07.2017

Happy Holiday!! Believe it or not this phrase is causing considerable annoyance amongst some Americans and indeed some Irish people. In itself it is of course harmless. The trouble comes when it is promoted as a politically correct way of wishing someone Happy Christmas, or Happy Thanksgiving. It is designed to ensure no offence is caused. It is promoted as a sensitivity to those who do not believe in Christmas. In fact it is an attempt to show a sensitivity to people who do not believe in a whole range of things. I knew it was becoming a problem to wish someone a Happy Christmas. I only discovered the other day that it is worse than that. I knew the problem was with the word Christmas, because of course it contains the word Christ, I now discover there is a problem with the word ‘holiday’ because for some the prefix ‘holi’ – apparently has its origin in ‘holy’… I find it amazing that there seems to be an increasing number of people who spend a lot of time shouting about the need for tolerance. We are reminded of the evils of discrimination. We are urged to be more inclusive. Needless to say I agree with all of these. These values are not only at the heart of being a follower of Christ, they are also the core tenets of a modern democracy.

However I have noticed that this tolerance, this mutual respect is increasingly somewhat one sided. For example I agree that all women should be treated with absolute respect, but I would like to include in this respect, the few thousand nuns or religious Sisters in the country. We should never make comments, even under out breath, about women, or men, in Muslim dress, but I would like to include a young, or indeed older man dressed in a priest’s clerical dress. I readily acknowledge that some of the ingredients of the so called, ‘Catholic country for a Catholic people,’ were far from gospel based or Christ like. However I am beginning to wonder what will the new secularist Ireland look like? Specifically I am beginning to wonder how tolerant and inclusive it will be? Will we hear more about the men who live in terror of the woman who beats him? Will it be ok to bless oneself before eating, or passing a church? Will a clerical shirt or a religious veil be deemed offensive? Could you be brought in for questioning because you were heard humming Our Lady of Knock in a public place? Will the seminary go underground? As we remember Oliver Plunkett in these early days of July, hung drawn and quartered for his faith, do we need to ask, will the Mass once again be celebrated in the dead of night up the back field? Will those in our society who very correctly spoke up, and rose against a narrow tight clergy- ridden country in turn become the new oppressor? Could you have an intolerant liberal? An inflexible atheist? A militant secularist? Surely not?

What has begun to dawn on me, and I am sure many of you reached this point long ago, is some of what might actually be involved in the New Ireland. I thought the desire might be for a compassionate approach to abortion that might argue for a woman’s right to abortion in very limited and highly unusual circumstances, actually what is sought is very liberal access to abortion as a lifestyle choice. I thought that there might be a desire for a greater choice of schools reflecting various faiths and none, actually what is sought is that schools will have no place for religion. I thought that we were being asked to embrace an Ireland that was increasingly respectful of all faiths, actually we are being asked to build an Ireland that wants no public expression of any faith, but rather an Ireland that insists that all faith, and expressions of it, must be kept in the private realm. I thought we were being gently nudged towards a more colourful Ireland, actually we are being buffeted into a desert. It is a desert because it is not a place of many faiths but rather it is a place of no faith. In addition to it being a place of no faith it looks increasingly like a place that will be hostile to soul and spirit. It strikes me that we are losing more than the freedom to shout Happy Christmas or even Happy Holiday to each other. It looks like it could prove difficult to celebrate it at all. The question arises: what to do when the one who acclaims tolerance is intolerant?

On the question of holiday a little footnote occurs to me. I recently was not well received by a group of Religious when I suggested to them, among other things, that there should be no holiday from Religious Life. My idea was that we may well retire from teaching, nursing, or indeed Parish Life but in fact we ought never retire from being engaged in the work of ever deepening our relationship with Jesus. What do you think? Do you go on holiday from God? Or faith? Or is holiday time a great opportunity to spend a little more quality time with Jesus?

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