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Church in Ireland in need of radical renewal, says leading prelate

Catholic World News - November 29, 2010

In a homily commemorating the 30th anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that the Church in Ireland is in need of radical renewal based on friendship with Christ and knowledge of the Word of God.

“The scandals that have been revealed about aspects of the Church’s life have opened our eyes not just to the particular horrors of the abuse of children and of an inadequate response to them,” the Primate of Ireland preached. “They have opened our eyes to a much deeper crisis within the Church in Ireland.”

He continued:

Society in Ireland has changed. Religious culture in Ireland has changed. Religious practice has dropped at times in staggering proportions. There is disillusionment among many believers. Many have opted for or drifted into a more secularised vision of their life. Many have become indifferent and live as if God did not exist.

The significant role of the Church in serving Irish society, a role assumed in good faith and in a spirit of service which was undertaken with great dedication, is now being re-examined. What emerge are not just examples of evident failure and inadequacy alongside vision and commitment, but of a certain sense arrogance and power seeking, which has alienated many from the very message that such a presence in society was supposed to represent.

We face real crisis of vocations to the priesthood. Last Saturday here in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral I remembered at Mass 20 priests who had ministered in the Archdiocese and who had died in the previous twelve months. A further dozen or so priests retired from active ministry in the same period. And yet in the past year I ordained just one new priest for the diocese.

“But the crisis of the Church is still a deeper one,” he added. “It is not about the role of the Church in society. It is not about numbers. It is about the very nature of faith in Jesus Christ. It is about our understanding of the message of Jesus Christ. It is about faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ and about the fundamental question: who is Jesus Christ?” He continued:

The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not a vague moralising agency in society. It is not there to provide some sort of spiritual comfort zone for all comers. The Eucharist and the sacraments are celebrations of faith in Jesus Christ within a Christian community. Allowing the sacramental life of the Church become some just sort of vague social celebrations is allowing the true identity of the Church to become distorted.

I am not saying the active members of the Church community have been authentic followers of Jesus Christ. The Church has indeed been betrayed by its own active members. In the face of such failure the Church has at times given the impression of wishing to be all-embracing and all-forgiving in a simplistic manner.

Where do we go on the path of renewal? Can we be happy to celebrate first communion services which put people into debt for thousands of Euro for empty external expenses, while neither the children nor their parents have been led to a true understanding of the Eucharist and the Eucharistic community which is the Church? Can we be satisfied when confirmation is looked on by many as a graduation out of Church life? In not addressing such issues we are not just deceiving ourselves but we are damaging the integrity of the message of Jesus.

The Church is not a holy elite. It is made up today as always by the humble of heart. Many people with little education have a deeper insight into the message of Jesus Christ than learned theologians or bishops. But in today's society where the message of Jesus is less and less accessible, the Church must become a place where formation in the Word of God resounds in a way that it has not done so in the Irish Church for generations …

Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary in 1921 at a critical moment in Irish history. It was a time of political uncertainty which eventually would explode into civil war. It was a time in which this city was marked by very harsh poverty and also of widespread moral impoverishment. Frank Duff was a man who in the face of a major social challenge did something. He did not write a Letter to the Editor. He gathered likeminded men and women around him into a movement of spiritual renewal, prayer and Christian service. He was not discouraged either by the size of the challenge or by the paucity of his means. He was a man of the Church - misunderstood by many in the Church, including Archbishops of Dublin. Like Mary, his model, he never flinched. Frank Duff pondered the Word of God day by day and through him then the Lord worked great things.

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  • Posted by: mrschips19308196 - Nov. 29, 2010 10:56 PM ET USA

    Frank Duff is an inspiration for our times!

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