Monday, March 2, 2015

Throwing Saint Patrick under the lorry

Around 400 A.D., a 16 year old of Roman heritage was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  Though he escaped six years later, a love for the people of his captive land was planted in his heart.  A few decades later, Patrick returned as a bishop to Ireland - to what was then considered the outskirts of Western Civilization - intent on converting her to Catholicism.  Patrick left a lasting impression!
"By the time of his death, or shortly thereafter, 'the Irish stopped slave trading and they never took it up again.' Human sacrifice had become unthinkable....Not only had he accomplished what he'd set out to do - convert the nation to Christ - but in the process he'd retrieved from obscurity the primary objective set by Christ for his apostles: the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth"  (Anita McSorley, The St. Patrick You Never Knew, St Anthony Messenger, March 1997)
Fast forward through Catholic Ireland's medieval hay day of monasteries and shrines to the early 19th century, and we find that religious practice had greatly waned.  Center City's Irish Memorial also reminds us of "Ireland's Great Hunger of 1845 - 1850 when more than one million Irish were starved to death and another million forced to emigrate."
Less well known than either Patrick or the Great Hunger is the mid 19th century religious revival led by Cardinal Paul Cullen, returning Irish religious practice to what had been established by the saint.  As University of Chicago historian Emmet Larkin wrote in 1972:
"In the nearly thirty years that he faithfully served Rome in Ireland, Cardinal Paul Cullen not only reformed the Irish Church, but perhaps what was even more important, in the process of reforming that Church he spearheaded the consolidation of a devotional revolution. The great mass of the Irish people became practicing Catholics, which they have uniquely and essentially remained both at home and abroad down to the present day" (The Devotional Revolution in Ireland 1850-1875, American Historical Review).
Fast forward through mid 20th Century Ireland, and we find that religious practice has again greatly waned in the early 21st Century:
"As recently as the 1970s, 90 percent of the Irish identified themselves as Catholic and almost the same number went to mass at least once a week; now the figure for mass attendance is closer to 25 the 1990s this once-impoverished nation was on its way to becoming the European Union's second-wealthiest nation by capita (behind Luxembourg). Prosperity and secularization weakened the church's traditional hold on the Irish soul; the sex scandals accelerated the process" (How Catholicism Fell from Grace in Ireland, Chicago Tribune, 7/9/06)
The dramatic decrease in religious practice among those of Catholic heritage in Ireland would appear to be at least matched by the Irish American "cousins" (cf, John P. McCarthy, What Happened to Catholic Ireland, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, 3/6/14).  What strikes me as different from the early 19th century wane is an anti-Catholicism exhibited by people of Catholic heritage.  Early 19th Century apathy has been replaced by early 21st Century hostility.  While much of this undoubtedly has to do with revelations of clerical sexual and institutional abuse, Father Tom Forde, OFM Cap suggests that it goes deeper than rejecting miscreants and hypocrites.  He points to an earlier rejection of moral teaching:  
"if one could chart the decline in Mass attendance and the increase in contraceptive availability/ sales (especially after legalization in 1979) I think there would be a clear does not thrive under disobedience....Neither can it be denied that the abuse of children by clergy and religious both in institutions and in private has done immense damage to the Faith in Ireland ....But the Church and the Faith were in decline even before the scandals broke....The rot was already there spreading beneath the veneer of Irish Catholicism"

With Catholic morality chased away on both sides of the Atlantic, isn't it hypocritical to pretend to  "celebrate" Saint Patrick's Day?  He’d be aghast to learn that inebriation and leprechauns first come to many minds for a holy day associated with his name.  Absent another Devotional Revolution, shouldn't we stop pretending March 17th activities are associated with a saint?

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About Me

I am an enormously blessed husband and dad. In regard to my Catholic theological background, I have a certificate in social ministry & a master's degree (moral theology concentration), as well as a catechetical diploma from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (Nope, I am not now - nor have I have ever been - a seminarian, deacon, or priest.). I feel particularly proud to have a mandatum. I also have a doctorate in Christian counseling psychology.

And yup, that's me!

And yup, that's me!
(from page 1 of the NY Sun, 3/22/04)

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12/12/08 Interview with Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. of the National Catholic Bioethics Center

March for Life 2010