Wednesday, 10 August 2011

500 (h)

I think I'm getting near to the end of what I want to say about Ireland. There is a very interesting comment by GOR in the last post which provides me with a good link to this comment, which I promised some posts ago.

The parish priest in Ireland was more than just a religious functionary. In many ways he substituted for local government. Different nations react differently to occupation. The French, for instance, either resisted or collaborated. The Irish (as I have suggested some time ago) simply circumvented, and went on with business in their own way. The parish priest, their own man and public figure, in many ways became the mayor and the magistrate of a town; someone whose authority all the local Irish acknowledged. In some places, he was the 'clerk'; the one who could read and write, who could speak up for the local people and if necessary represent them to higher authority. The Irish preferred not to deal with the English establishment except where it was necessary: the parish priest, with his mutually accepted authority, performed almost all the necessary functions of government. As for religion; well, as I have suggested, the people did it themselves, except for the necessary administration of the Sacraments.

With the coming of independence, Ireland had its own governors, and the parish priest no longer exercised civil authority. But his moral prestige remained as it had always done. It's just that he didn't have so much to do. From the Renaissance onwards, the notion of pastoral practice was increasingly becoming important. No doubt it would be interesting to do a post some time on what is really quite surprising; pastoral work on the part of priests is quite a new phenomenon, championed by figures such as St Vincent de Paul, St Philip Neri and others. I'm not convinced that this aspect of priestly life ever really took hold in Ireland. When the business of government moved from the Parochial House, all that there was there to fill the void was the G.A.A. and the golf course.

Hence the anger of the Irish people. The prestige of the priesthood has been enormous in Ireland. Now people are asking just what those priests have done to earn it, and to some of them it seems that as a body they have treated the Irish people very badly. Again, of course there are exceptions, many many exceptions, but there are more than enough of those who barely deserve the name of pastor.

In the early autumn, the breviary sets out at length (it seems to go on for ever) the great sermon of St Augustine De Pastoribus, On the Shepherds. In this sermon Augustine excoriates those people called shepherds who take the sheep's milk and wool but deny those same sheep the care that they need.

Beware, they say, the wrath of the lamb!


Ttony said...

Father, this series has been both instructive and fascinating: many thanks. Mary Kenny, in Goodbye to Catholic Ireland, explores the sociological consequences of the relationship between the Irish people and their Church, but some of your suggestions about the roots of Catholic practice provide real food for thought.

It might be interesting to look at the how and the why of the way in which the Catholicsm carried by emigrants to the UK (and the US and Australia) was transmuted into something significantly different to what you describe.

Again, many thanks.

Philly said...

"When the business of government moved from the Parochial House, all that there was there to fill the void was the G.A.A. and the golf course." Succinct but comprehensive.

Returning to the religious/secular Priestly divide, I once heard a friar declare in despair that "seculars don't like saying Mass and they really don't like hearing confessions". That's obviously a broad statement but it seems truer to me with every passing day.

GOR said...

”The Irish (as I have suggested some time ago) simply circumvented, and went on with business in their own way.”

That comment Father sparked something else which has been bothering me. It hasn’t to do with the Church per se, but with the Irish attitude generally. I was happy when I read about the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger years. Finally, I thought, we’re getting on our feet and making our own way. Foreign company enterprises, attracted by favorable tax regulations, were providing good-paying jobs. Young talent no longer had to emigrate to be successful. Education was more readily available and affordable – or free. I remember the straitened times of the 50’s when emigration soared and was the only alternative for young people. It was a sad time as families were broken up due to the lack of opportunity at home.

But my joy at the new atmosphere was tempered by a fear of what ‘prosperity’ would do to the people. As time went on I saw things developing much as they had here in the US in the aftermath of World War II. Here in the 50s it was a time of rebuilding and increasing prosperity. The WWII veterans came home, started families, got an education, worked hard, built homes and provided a good living for their families. It was the children of those families that gave us the excesses of the 60s. They had grown up in peace and comfort and let loose when they got to their teens. I feared the same for Ireland – and it has come about in the materialism, self-centeredness and secularism that is now rampant in the country.

You mentioned that under occupation people ‘circumvented’ the rules – and they did. It was considered patriotic to ‘get around’ the occupier. Fair enough then, but with independence that should have changed. It hasn’t. There is still a penchant in many Irish minds to ‘get around’ as much as possible – whether it be tax avoidance, less work, the Dole, the black economy or just not feeding the parking meter - many people are avoiding responsibility. It is not just at the personal level, but also at the corporate level. I was shocked to learn the percentage of companies with unpaid water bills. People may feel they ‘got away’ with something but their actions are hurting themselves, their neighbors and the country as a whole.

It used to be said that the Irish always worked harder when they emigrated than they ever did at home. There’s some truth to that and generations of Irish emigrants have made good in many foreign countries. So, why not at home? I was further shocked to read Kevin Myers’ repeated exposes of the waste and laziness in the public sector. The abuse of sick days in the HSE is a scandal and has probably resulted in deaths due to lack of coverage and timely care. That social services operate on a ‘business hours’ basis is hardly credible today – resulting in tragedies as people can’t get help ‘after hours’ and commit suicide or murder.

The political scene is hardly more encouraging and probably contributes to the attitude of many people. Greed, graft, cronyism, nepotism, jobs for the boys and other abuses of power by politicians hardly provides the right example - resulting in everyone being out for as much as they can get. Many years ago my mother used to say: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…” That, apparently, hasn’t changed much.

Granted, all of this is not confined to Ireland and variations can be found in all countries. But, given our history, we should be better than that. And, given our history of religious faith, we should be a lot better.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father,

Very many thanks for taking the time to compile and post this thought provoking and informative articles.

I reallt think that you have clearly identified some of the chief problems associated with Irish Catholicism. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any effort to improve things here.

Perhaps a new generation of eager and "pastoral" priests would begin to set things aright. Provided of course, they recieve the formation required to meet this challenge. Alas, thats another story altogether...

I'll say a prayer for you. Thanks again from Galway.

JTS said...

Father, I've really enjoyed your analysis of Ireland and France - enjoyed because it is comprehensive and insightful - although sadly all too true. Like the Shakespearian tragic hero, the seeds of our destruction are sown in our predominant virtues.

I'd be interested to see what you think about the Diocese that still calls it "what is termed the Latin Mass in which the priest had his back to the people". Is it me or are the new titles for the Latin Mass getting longer and longer?