The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Call to Christian renewal in the Church in Ireland
Since the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin there have been calls for renewal of the Church in Ireland, renewal in knowledge of the Gospel and of Christian teaching, and renewal in the full practice of the faith. This call has been renewed after the visit of Pope Francis in 2018. Reflection on the Letter of James, providing the second readings these Sundays, gives us a good idea of what is involved.
Faith is a mirror in which the Church can view the true image of itself. That faith be for believers such a mirror requires that they have a good knowledge of Jesus and Christian life as put before us in the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, in the New Testament Letters read at every Sunday Mass, and Church teaching. There we can see the true image of what Christian life should be. As believers in Christ, and in a world often hostile to Christian values, believers should look on this their Christian heritage not as a burden but as (in James’s words) the law of liberty, a heritage that gives direction to our lives, and as a guide towards true human and Christian living. Christian life is not just intellectual belief. Faith is a gift of God, an implanted word in our souls, which with Christian devotion inspires action. It is a word that can save our souls.
True faith comes alive through practice. Being hearers of the word, knowing the doctrine, is not sufficient. In James’s words again, to hear only without ensuing action, is like looking in a mirror, seeing our (Christian) image, but soon forgetting what it looked like. Viewing without action, without a true Christian life, may have a person enter “Roman Catholic” in a census form but have little contact with Christian faith otherwise.
What does renewal of the faith in Ireland mean and require? An initial requirement is recognition of the actual state of practice and faith among Catholics. In the census of 2011 84% entered themselves as Catholics, a percentage that may be adjusted ethnically upwards. That percentage was reduced to 78% in the census of 2016. Regular weekly Mass attendance is estimated at 34%; monthly attendance higher (say 50%).There is decrease in practise among the young, which need not necessarily mean lack of basic belief in God, in the divinity of Christ, in the Church. Renewal requires efforts to get the message of Christ across to the young, to convince them of Christ’s call to them to feed their faith through the sacraments and frequent attendance at Mass.
The central role of prayer and devotion. Jesus presented himself as the Bread of life, come down from heaven. Yet he reminds us that no one can come to him except through grace from God the Father (John 6:65). As James reminds us (James 1:5; 3:13-18) there is a wisdom, a manner of evaluating things, that comes from God, and a wisdom that is of human origin, with secular interests. Christianity is the pearl of great price, to be understood as such.
Prayer for vocation to the priesthood and ministers of religion. Only through a living faith in the community will this come about. Pope Francis has publicly commented on the shortage of vocations to the priesthood in Ireland. Vocations should be prayed for and fostered.