Archbishop Brady and the 'New' Ireland

Archbishop Sean Brady, Catholic Primate of All-Ireland, stuck a beam in the eye of the bourgeoisie of Ireland’s newly rich. In a sermon delivered at the shrine in Knock on Wednesday 23 August, he told the listeners that ‘the island of saints and scholars had become the island of stocks and shares’. The Irish Times on Thursday 24 August printed the sermon in full on its Opinion page.

I think he lost it a bit in his comments about trust in horoscopes, astrology and palm-reading as indicating a lack of trust in God. The ‘new Irish superstition’ he called it. Whilst this may be true, these pursuits are hardly responsible for the coarsening of Irish society. But I think his message as a whole bears the mark of a prophetic contribution.

He spoke of the challenges of following Christ in the face of increasing prosperity, and the challenge of witnessing to Christ in the maelstrom of growing secularism.

The essential virtue for those who wish to follow Christ in the 21st Century, he says, is trust.

“Trust in the power of God to do all things. Trust that the Word of God is still alive and active in is church in spite of many earthly challenges which confront us in human terms. Trust is the opposite of fear. Trust is the fruit of perfect love, because perfect love casts out all fear. This is why the call of every disciple begins with the call – ‘Do not be afraid!’”

What really intrigued me were his comments about freedom.

He struck a parallel between the rise in stress and anxiety in modern Ireland with the decline in religious observance, without really linking the two.

“I believe many Irish people have not so much rejected their faith as become distracted from their faith. People are seeking to control their future rather than entrust their future to God’s promise and plan. The result is an increasing culture of insecurity and fear. What often appears on the outside to be a culture of confidence and certainty in Ireland is in reality a façade.”

This desire to control the future is seen in the obsession with international financial markets, property and wealth. The anxiety is measured in a fascination with fast cars and consumption, a lack of concern for the environment and enthralment to image and sexual fulfilment, and in the rising figure of youth suicide.

“The truth is that many of those who claim to set Ireland free from the shackles of religious faith in recent years are now silent in the face of the real captivities of the ‘new’ Ireland: the increase in alcohol and drug abuse; the pressure to work and consume; the pressure to look good and have the right image; the increase in suicide and violence; the constant worry about finance and financial security. It is not religious faith which is leading people to despair, it is those elements of the ‘new’ Ireland which are increasingly empty of meaning. What more and more Irish people are discovering is that a life without God is a heavy burden to bear.”

In response he offers Peter’s comment, recorded in the Gospel at a time when others were walking away, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.’

I’ve been living north of the border for 20 years now…as of 7 August last. I left the South in August 1987 in the middle of an awful economic depression. Though I had a Masters degree in Business Studies I couldn’t get work and couldn’t or wouldn’t follow the huge proportion of my peers at UCD who left the country. It was an awful place to be.

I’ve since missed the legendary Celtic Tiger with its record economic growth. I agree with the spirit of the Archbishop’s comments that Ireland has lost something in the last 20 years. The rising tide of the economy has lifted many out of real poverty, and the difficulties faced by the Catholic church has released people from religious oppression. But we’ve also lost something.

What the Archbishop perhaps hasn’t given enough recognition of is how the loss of trust in the institution of the church has also contributed to despair. And some are making hay out of the Archbishop making his comments about superstition at Knock of all places. Nevertheless, this is an important message from a quiet man who seems so uncomfortable in the glare of publicity and who has been unfairly treated by the Vatican in being overlooked for promotion to Cardinal.

I’m glad he said it. And I’m glad the Irish Times published it.

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