One government minister has his head in his hands listening to a Bishop speaking about Church teaching at a conference, whilst another minister has asked for more money from religious orders as part of the redress for the mother and babies homes. All this against dark days for the Church, not just in this country but worldwide. There’s no doubt we need a new day, not just in the country but in the Church. It seems that the good old days were not always that good. Yes of course there are lovely things about the past. In some ways things were simpler and more wholesome. Things seemed less pressurized, less rushed. Of course as we now know there was another side to the ‘good old days’. There was secrecy and darkness and power was often abused. Many people have a legacy of deep pain which they carry from the past. Whilst we can see that there are dark days, I think it’s true to say it appears that something is dying and there’s seems to be something new beginning. ‘The times they are a changing!’ Where are we in this? What does the future hold for people of faith?
Change is always challenging. I think this is particularly true as we get older. We like the familiar. We like routine. There’s something safe and secure about the regularity of life. The unknown can really undermine us. Indeed the known can be frightening too, especially if the known is new and involves change. Having said this I think if we are honest there had to be change both in Irish society and the Irish Church. I think this is true of both entities in their own right but I think it is especially true when we examine the relationship that existed between the Church and the State. Whatever about the old idea of Catholic laws for a Catholic country and whether that was ever healthy the reality is that as a modus operandi it is now defunct. The debate around the strengths and weaknesses of our former days may well have a value as the study of all history has, if only that we might learn enough not to repeat mistakes.
In a nutshell my position on Church State relations, is that it is time to call it a day. It is a soured relationship. We need a divorce or an amicable separation, though I doubt that’s possible. It is long past the time for us as Church to let the State be the State. At the core of this is respect for our Muslim sisters and brothers, the Jewish Community, other members of the Christian family and of course many people for whom this island is now home and who do not belong to any particular faith. I am wondering how gracious we can be in letting go? It’s hard to let go. It’s really hard to let go of power. It’s hard to let go of prestige. It’s tough when you see the end of your comfort zone. Maybe the question is can we die well?
Where is the hope in that, you might ask? You might say to me ‘Father you are a priest, do you believe in the resurrection at all? Well actually I do have hope, though it’s often a delicate flower. It’s definitely not a triumphalist hope. It’s fragile. It’s born in suffering. It’s a hope that is as poor and small as the crib. It’s a hope that is as bloody and shameful and horrible as the Cross. Yes my hope is in the Servant King who got down on his knees and washed dirty feet. Will there be a new Irish Church? Yes, I think so. Smaller, leaner, vibrant and prophetic. It’ll be more humble. Collaborative rather than didactic, though not a soft touch, not a Rollover Church. We may well need heroic courage and to cultivate real gospel bravery in the face of adversity. Maybe we’ll start by asking ‘will it be ok to be Catholic in the New Ireland’?