LIKE many registered Catholics of my generation, I find myself attending mass these days only when protocol requires: weddings, funerals and Christmas. A visit to St Francis’ Church on Christmas morning to hear the celestial voice of Cara O’ Sullivan raise the roof all the way to heaven has become a family tradition.
Recently, one Sunday, I attended midday mass at the Lough church for the anniversary of a close relative. I was immediately struck by the warmth and conversational approach in which the celebrant delivered the service. Every word was spoken with sincerity and encouragement. This priest was fully present and enthusiastic in his approach.
During pauses in the service as I enjoyed the pleasant arrangements of the Lough Church Choir and the magnificent stained-glass windows behind the altar, I found myself reminiscing about my own Catholic past and education. As a child I had enjoyed religious study at school and by and large my interaction with the Church was a positive experience. Times of course were different, religious practice was very much part of everyday home life and prayer came naturally as a child. For many reasons as I entered my teens and adulthood that relationship became strained and damaged. I was left, like many others, unsure of my position on and within the Catholic Church.
The atrocities of the Catholic Church as an organisation are well documented and unsurprisingly have brought the numbers of practicing Catholics in this country to an all-time low. One must only compare the controversy surrounding the recent visit of Pope Francis to the national celebration that was the papal visit of Pope John Paul II less than 40 years ago.
Ireland as a nation has not only freed itself from the dogma and control of the Catholic Church but somehow has detached itself from a religious belief entirely. Through abuse, corruption and deception the Catholic Church has destroyed the lives of many of its members and alienated many thousands more.
The generation before my own was, and in most cases continues to be, devout. They take comfort in their faith and feel that they always have someone to turn to in times of trouble.
My own generation has largely lost that belief and we grapple with alternatives to help us cope. We practice mindfulness, meditation and struggle try to find peace of mind in an often unsettling world. In the Lough church last Sunday I experienced so much positivity that I became saddened at the thought that so many of us, justly horrified by all that is vile in the institution of the Catholic Church, have also turned our backs on all that is good and positive.
Looking around me I saw little presence of Pope John Paul’s much loved ‘Young People of Ireland’. This caused me to wonder what the future will hold for religious belief in this country and beyond.
Falling into childhood habits and unquestioning my motives, I joined the queue of people lining up to take Communion. My little boy, far too young for Communion himself but wanting to get a closer look at what was going on, joined the queue with me. As we reached the top of the line the priest took the time to silently greet my son with a smile and a thumbs up which was duly reciprocated. This simple and genuinely warm act not only made me smile, but as we turned to return to our seats, I saw the people in line behind us smiling also.
Having already been impressed by the natural and sincere delivery of the mass that this priest had performed, this heart-warming gesture made me feel a glimmer of hope for the future of the church.
Maybe through the works of genuine members of the clergy like this man, people may begin to separate the many horrors that the Catholic Church as an institution has afflicted on its members from the good and the solace that can still be found there.
People of my generation are confused and lost in terms of our religion. We rightly condemn the cruel and abusive element of the clergy and are angered at the subterfuge employed to cover up the institutions’ many flawed ordained.
Yet largely we continue to marry in church, baptise our children and allow them to receive the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
Many of us float in the grey area of not practicing our religion yet not turning our backs on it completely either.
There is little positive media coverage given to the Catholic Church at present, but recently, at that Sunday mass, in my own parish, I witnessed sincerity, warmth and hope for its future.