When the senior pupils of both schools come to Mass, I usually take some questions at the end of the session after Mass. They like to ask questions perhaps because it inevitably delays their having to go back to class. One of the pupils who recently made their confirmation in last month asked me a very difficult question; “why did the nuns kill all the babies in Tuam?”
Before I tell you how I answered this, let me tell you that in Ireland, the church has been really under the cosh these last few months. It’s been hard to be a minister of the gospel today. I’ve felt it, the other friars have felt it, and my colleagues in ministry - religious and laity have felt it. It’s as if once again, the institutional church is making a success of scoring spectacular own goals. I’m not looking for sympathy either because most people in the real world have – you people - have their own struggles; family, relationships, financial, illness, and bereavement.
I saw a post on social media yesterday to do with the proposed relaxation of the licensing laws on Good Friday from next year. It read something like ‘the pointy hat brigade are slowly losing their grip’ accompanied by a picture of a pint of Guinness. I met a neighbour on Jervis Street who showed me a picture of himself drinking a pint in one of the train stations yesterday too. Do we seriously believe that the bishops are the reason why the pubs are closed on Good Friday? ‘Oh, I can’t have a jar on Good Friday because the Catholic Church won’t let me.’ That’s one less excuse now then. I await the fanfare next year on Good Friday when the media descends on pubs all over the city to celebrate the people’s liberation from the Pioneers and Father Theobald Mathew so. I further imagine we will shortly see the end of the Angelus on RTE at noon and 6.00 p.m. And I wonder will there eventually be a call to ban Christmas and Easter since they are Christian feasts. After all, there are non-Christians and non-believers in Ireland now. Bye-Bye St. Patrick’s Day. Is there a minority out there shouting above the silent majority? Is the tail wagging the dog? For fear I am beginning to sound cynical I better move on.
There are intelligent secular commentators in the media today calling for a total separation of church and state in Ireland. They resent the policies of some schools in asking for baptismal certificates as a means of entry into primary schools. There is a call by the many of our legislators to stop this practice as it is discriminatory. Mind you, it doesn’t happen in our schools in this parish. There are children from Catholic families, Muslim families, Orthodox families, and Christian families attending and we call on families of prospective pupils to contact the schools ahead of the September enrolments. And I have baptized children from the schools in order to fulfil a parent’s desire for their child to make their First Holy Communion. We don’t refuse anyone.
Across the world, we are seeing the dreadful scenes of children gassed in Syria and in Sept 2015, we gazed in horror at the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beaches of Bodram, Turkey. Last week, many Coptic Christians were killed in an attack in Egypt by IS and we remember the lines of Christian martyrs being killed on beaches by militant Islam. We also hear that the cause for the Beatification Fr. Jacques Hamel, martyred last year in Rouen, will soon begin in France. All over the place, in great and small ways, ordinary people are suffering dreadfully and it’s impossible to make sense of it all. We are hearing of people suffering day after day because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Still, its ordinary people who are making a difference all the time. Ordinary people’s kindness to us here in the parish. Ordinary good people who don’t take a blind bit of notice of what the minority in the papers say. People who still come to Mass here. People who will cross the world to bring their new baby living in a new country back to have it baptized. People who come in numbers to the Novena of Grace. People who always return to remember a loved one on their anniversary or their month’s mind. People who kindly invite me to bless a house or a Garden of Remembrance, or to say a prayer over the mortal remains of a deceased nana or mammy laid out in their home. This is how we know Jesus Christ is alive. This is how we know Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday. And while I guess it is inevitable that we will probably lose the Angelus bells on RTE sooner or later. We will still ring our church bell here and many other church bells will ring out too. We will doubtless see the end of the prayer said at the start of the daily Dáil session. I suppose the minority will get their way in secularizing the public square too because we are at the end of Christendom here in Ireland. Christendom is the political, economic, and social order of our nation inspired by the gospel ethic, and this is at an end. It is not the end of Christianity. Too many people have a deep faith in and love for Jesus Christ and this is thanks to the parents and grandparents we love who gave us the best years of their lives. We believe in Jesus Christ because of their faith.
Finally, I answered that lad’s question; - a powerful question by saying the nuns didn’t kill the babies in Tuam. There were indeed bad priests and brothers and nuns. But there were and are far more good and kind and generous ones. Sr. Consillio, Sr. Stan, Fr. Peter McVerry, Br. Kevin, Merchant’s Quay, and the list goes on. These people, members of religious congregations, have a track record of beginning what we now know as the homeless services, the social housing services, and addiction services today. And they are not the only ones. They are assisted by generous volunteers, many of them young people, who roll up their sleeves day and night to help those who are homeless. In forty years’ time, in a different Ireland, when another government calls the very few religious congregations to account then about how they tried to help homeless families in the second decade of the 21st century this will be our answer.
Jesus Christ is risen and the message of the gospel is and always will be a message of hope for all the world. Amen.