“We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal with a sense of denial,” he said.As a product of more than that time spent in the school system one nation removed from Ireland, and who started a few years after the conclusion of Vatican II, I watched as nuns gave up their habits, in more ways than one, and then left, as priests suddenly disappeared, and as many of my classmates drifted off from the Church over time. We are the last to recall, outside of traditionalist enclaves, an American practice, derived often from Ireland, of indulgences, spiritual bouquets, novenas, rosaries, Mary Day, benediction, going to confession behind a screen in the dark, and lighting real candles. Many of my teachers were Irish, direct or a generation or so distant, and the ties were strong and lasting to this ancient way of life, where we identified ourselves by what parish we were from, and Mass going was as automatic on Sundays as was crossing ourselves, or praying to so many saints, or a Marian litany.
“I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.”
Sure, sometimes I miss that, but do I miss the fear I still wrestle with in the dark, middle-aged, about sin, about my mortality, about death? That was all instilled in me at a formative age, and even if I was born as Vatican II commenced, I am old enough to carry the pre-conciliar, Tridentine legacy of doom.
So, I wish my Irish friends well. It's a sign of how in my own lifespan, the leap from a blinkered to a bright acceptance of gays and lesbians in partnership and equality has happened in a country that still in the Nineties was bound, far more stronger, to the Church. I do wonder, however, if the lurch to secularization and massive consumerism, as the boom years showed to Ireland's weakness, reveal that whatever has replaced the Faith of Our Fathers leaves many with their own search, amid the gap opened by the loss of trust in the clerical establishment and its dogma, for meaning that can reward us without pointing to supernatural intervention, clerical suppression of thought, and a cowed laity. Blessed with more liberty and abundance than our forebears, how do we conduct ourselves wisely?
That, to me, is the struggle that we confront. The Pew survey, as I blogged this week, shows an 8% drop between 2007 and 2014 in Christian identification in the U.S. That is massive. As in much of the developed world, the decline in faith is balanced, all the same, by the upsurge in poorer regions. So, we will face a richer North, and a poorer but more pious South, it seems, in the century ahead. And, I suspect that many of us, and our children from whatever arrangement biology and the law allow from now on, will ask the same Big Questions as me and my ancestors. But at least now, we have choices.