For a few days last week, and over the weekend, I was at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin (I know, I’ve been getting around a bit recently…) So much has been written and said about this Congress, so I won’t give you too many thoughts… simply that I was glad to be there, at such a fundamental moment for the Church in Ireland. I’ve heard how wounded the Church is: not only by the abuse scandals, but, it seems, by a decades-long crisis of faith, and of priesthood. Despite all of this, the Congress, along with other recent events such as the appointment of the new apostolic nuncio, are signs of hope: that despite the wounds caused by the Church upon herself, the only thing for her to do is to cling more closely to Christ, her Spouse, and willingly accept this purification.
One thing that strikes me as important: for too long, it seems, parishes, priests, bishops and lay people themselves, have underestimated the extent that people have fallen away. Being among Irish people at the closing Mass in Croke Park – beautiful as it was – made me realise how far from faith many people are. While they are indeed receiving the sacraments, they seem far away from an understanding of what they receive. Close to the means of grace, far from grace. We returned to our seats from receiving Holy Communion (in a dingy corridor, with stewards shouting at the lay extraordinary ministers while 1,000 priests sat in the arena), to find everyone around us, who had also just received Communion, chatting and laughing and even passing around sweets (…at a Eucharistic Congress!) This seems to be a country where to be Catholic has for too many decades simply been a part of being Irish, rather than involving any real assent of faith. I thought of some of our parishioners who were received into the Church at Easter, I thought of those who have just finished the precatechumenate, and even those who are contemplating beginning the precatechumenate – in terms of exhibiting ‘signs of faith’, they are far ahead of these supposedly fully-fledged Catholics.
So, in the process of renewal, priests and lay catechists need to have a full awareness of the reality of the vast majority of Catholics. It is almost as if parishes need to stop the ‘hollow ritualism’ of dispensing sacraments and start right from scratch with basic evangelisation, like a completely new mission territory…
Maybe I’m being too drastic – tell me in the comments if you think so! I am aware that England has more than its fair share of cultural Catholics. And don’t worry, I’m not all doom and gloom. I actually enjoyed the Congress. I am praying more fervently for the Church in Ireland, for the new appointments of bishops which we hope will happen before long. While I was there, I had a great desire to help. Ireland has an eye-wateringly huge need for catechetical leaders to begin the renewal of catechesis in parishes. Naturally, I felt a great longing to give some catechesis. Something on the Real Presence would have been good, for a Eucharistic Congress. Ireland – if you ever need someone to give some catechesis or train some catechists, I’m there!