Every evening at 6pm, since time immemorial (or at least since broadcasting started) in Dublin, the Angelus precedes the evening news, which starts at 6:01. There was a bit of a row (pronounced like the ow sound in “cow”) a few years ago when RTE considered removing it due to the changing religious sensibilities in Ireland and well, the Western world. Interestingly enough, the populace that would vote a few years later to overturn the law prohibiting abortion had an absolute fit at the prospect of nixing the one minute pause before the news. Keep in mind that it’s called “The Angelus” but it has devolved from the traditional triple invocation of Our Lady found in Scripture and three Hail Marys into the public school equivalent of a generic moment of silence. Even still, it was unthinkable that something so time-honored would be plowed over so the news could start one minute earlier. This little vignette illustrates my first impression of Dublin.
It’s a beautiful ancient-yet-new city. It’s as if a teenager is realizing for the first time that responsibility comes after registering to vote and even more accountability is heaped upon one’s shoulders when it’s legal to buy (and drink) alcohol. The image is admittedly American since the drinking and voting age are the same in Ireland. Nonetheless, the city is young, the republic is relatively young, and as it emerges onto the world stage as a Eurozone member, Ireland has a great opportunity to be a Christian witness to the West and not just another economic player in a wider cooperative of nations.
It’s well known that the bishop Palladius, Catholic monks, and Saint Patrick introduced the Faith to the Isle. It was that witness that would spread (even to Iceland!) and provide the framework of education, health and welfare, family life and most certainly the proper orientation of one’s life: first in the duty owed to God, then to others, and to self. So many of the institutions in the West were not sullied by the introduction of Catholicism, but rather fail to find identity and direction when faith is moved aside.
It’s my impression that not 21 years following the conclusion of “The Troubles” in Ireland, whereby the Catholic and independent South was partitioned from the Protestant and British North, a young Republic of Ireland is poised to make the truly independent choice not to lose its fresh, progressive identity by becoming part of the largely atheistic world around it. It has literally fought battles for the right to practice religion, despite the political element present during the war. But, like the dichotomy between the keeping of the Angelus on TV and the national referendum on abortion indicates, a crisis is at hand that holds no one at the other end of a rifle. No, this battle fought by vote and not by bayonet is a spiritual one. And much like the teenager who goes off to college and finds no one to shake him into consciousness on Sunday morning, a young Ireland is finally awake and looking out upon the horizon searching for what to do with the First Day of the Week.
In talking to some of the older people inside St. Theresa’s Carmelite Church in Dublin, their tones of concern echo this search. “We’re glad that the pope is visiting in a few weeks,” they say in reference to the World Meeting of Families taking place at the end of August. “We could use a shot in the arm after the recent troubles.” The use of the word “troubles” wasn’t lost on me.
It’s no coincidence perhaps that the reliquary that debuted in Dublin just a few days prior to my arrival is not only the oldest traveling reliquary of St. Therese of Lisieux, known as The Little Flower, but it is also the one holding a single vertebrae of her “vertical” as the Irish say – her backbone.
Side note: I was shocked to find this particular reliquary in this wee extension of Carmel. As I walked up to it, I knew it immediately from 2009, for I had been selected seemingly at random to bear this very ossuary of St. Therese when I was in Ars, France for the worldwide clergy retreat on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney.
In the same way that priests and bishops must be endowed with a strong “vertical” to preach the truth whether it is convenient or inconvenient, so the laity of Ireland (and indeed, Christendom) must pray that a strong backbone – a renewed confession of faith in Jesus Christ – be given anew to the families of this republic. Otherwise, it will become yet another nation of the spiritually consternated like the rest of Europe and America.
What’s heartening to see, is that the Catholic Identity of Ireland isn’t missing, by any stretch. Right next to our hostel is a building set into the rows of shops proudly stating “BLESSED SACRAMENT CHAPEL”. Eucharistic Adoration takes place there daily, as does the Mass. Likewise in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the main altar, while a scattering of elderly and homeless sat in The Lord’s presence. The Mass is available many times a day in the Carmelite church tucked in the middle of the commercial center of Dublin. I’m certain that there are strong families and young Irish men and women who proudly represent their Catholic Faith, but my prayer is that the national pride doesn’t just consist of those heroes at the turn of last century, but rather in the Saints of the centuries to come.
I hope to return to Dublin, and indeed to the rest of The Emerald Isle, to drink in the culture and its expression of faith. I also hope to drink. May I encounter all three upon my return. Until then Sláinte!