Friday, February 1, 2013


Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Bríde! (or Lá ‘le Bríde) -see the interesting post over at the Irish Language blog.

I am not a fan of 'Celtic Spirituality' unless it is Celtic Christian (as in Catholic) spirituality. Those were orthodox people and Brigid no less than the rest of them. The above cross is one of those traditionally associated with her. The story is that she wove it while tending her pagan father is his last illness, a man who had cost her no end of grief. So this simple straw cross is a symbol of the power that the Christian faith brought to Ireland: the grace of Christ which enables to forgive and truly love our neighbour. Perhaps that is why Christianity took such deep roots so quickly in Ireland. Perhaps our ancestors had already come to realise the shallowness and impotence of paganism. Perhaps that is why Irelands first official martyrs on Irish soil were to be those of the Reformation?

Any way I post today because as I was praying the Office of Readings, there being as yet no official texts for the Feast save the prayer, I was reading the passage in the Common from St. Cyprian when it struck me that the numbers of religious in general, and the women religious in particular, are an indication of the spiritual and religious health of the nation. St. Patrick himself wrote:

So, how is it that in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God; the sons of the Irish and the daughters of the chieftains are to be seen as monks and virgins of Christ. And there was, besides, a most beautiful, blessed, native-born noble Irish woman of adult age whom I baptised; and a few days later she had reason to come to us to intimate that she had received a prophecy from a divine messenger [who] advised her that she should become a virgin of Christ and she would draw nearer to God. Thanks be to God, six days from then, opportunely and most eagerly, she took the course that all virgins of God take, not with their fathers' consent but enduring the persecutions and deceitful hindrances of their parents. Notwithstanding that, their number increases, (we do not know the number of them that are so reborn) besides the widows, and those who practise self-denial.
(verses 41-42 of the Confessio)

The abundance of vocations in the past and the collapse in vocations in the last forty years should cause us to pause. I have written on this recently here. In this Sunday's Gospel (Luke 4:21–30) Jesus reads a passage from Isaiah and then enters into conflict with the people he grew up with. The issue is obedience to God as an expression of faith. Faith is only faith when it is obedient. That is why Jesus sites two examples, both of pagans who showed their faith by obedience to the great prophets of Israel. The Sidonian widow shared her last food with Elijah in faith and was saved, Naaman the Syrian bathed in the Jordan in obedient faith and was cured and converted to Judaism. Their obedience brought them a blessing. Likewise the disobedience and lack of faith of the Jews in Nazareth denied them the blessing of Jesus. He would work no miracle because they would not believe, they would not acknowledge God by their actions.

Is the collapse in vocations a sign of a profound disobedience in Ireland? Are we deserving of a curse because at heart because, despite the generosity of some to the poor, our hearts have wandered away from the path our ancestors took when they chose to abandon paganism and embrace Christ? I believe it is. I believe that in embracing contraception, Ireland has made a deeper commitment to an alternative faith. We have erected in our land the idols of self-indulgence and self-centredness. This has not been done consciously. Like the Israelites of old we have not thought it strange to bow down both to God and Baal. Other Christians over the centuries have bowed both to Christ and to Jupiter, or Wotan or Liberty or the State. This unreflected, passive idolatry is poisoning us. It has seeped into every corner of our land. It comes not just through the TV, radio or the net but in conversations, films, books, and through the more direct workings of the enemy. What Cyprian calls the 'joy of the Church' is dying because the Church no longer puts her entire hope in Christ. We have watered down our faith and made it soft and bland. We like the fuzzy pantheism of 'Celtic Spirituality' and not the raw demanding self-sacrifice of the real, Christian thing. God help us if we ever go back to paganism - human sacrifice anyone?

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