The last months have seen our whole civilisation thrust into the unknown, sojourners in a strange land. It might be said that any crisis contains opportunity for growth. For the discovery or rediscovery of purpose. And a great crisis may prove a veritable school of strength and leadership. We pray that this may now be the case for the Church in Ireland.
It has surely been a strange time. Our work, our prayer, our extended family lives, our neighbourliness and friendships, our familiar routines of living. All disrupted. These are the occasions when the liminal, the cliff-edge quality of mortal life becomes startlingly obvious.
Because the recent pandemic has, if nothing else, given us a chance to take stock. To see the value of health, of rest, of quiet, of time spent with others, of mutual consideration and that invaluable blend of kindness and expertise which characterises the ‘frontline’ professions. We have a chance to feel the good earth under our feet and be grateful for it. Agreed, it would be naïve to expect that this will transform us all for ever after. That said, nobody really seems to expect a simple return to the ‘old dispensation’. Too much has happened and the danger, we are told, will not so easily go away. At the very least, whether better or worse, we are now a people wide awake and perhaps more appreciatively living.
For the Church in Ireland this has come at a time of weakness unparalleled in its recent history. And yet the challenge was met. Parishes organised Masses on webcam and radio. Many priests and bishops took to the internet with flair and creativity. A tired Church, wearied by relentless change, found new strength in a context of general human emergency. And now, like so many other organisations, it faces a slow, tentative return to something like normality. A new normality, because things cannot possibly revert to being just as they were before. Are we up for it? Are we still in the greatest game of all? Are we able for yet another cultural and spiritual journey? To find out, we could do worse than remember our beginnings. Our setting out. Our believing genesis.
The central question facing us at this time is the only one worth asking. No matter that our numbers are dwindling and our resources accordingly sparse. No matter even that vocations are down to a trickle. These problems dwarf beside the one we face if we cannot answer this crucial question. And if we can answer it then these lesser problems can all, in God’s time, one way or another, be solved. It is the question asked of any catechumen at the brink of baptism:
Do you believe?