Sunday 17th March 2019
Second Sunday of Lent
(Weekday readings - Year C)
1st Reading Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
2nd Reading Philippians 3:17-4.1
Gospel Luke 13:31-34
Sundays sermon was preach by Father Bob.
There has been a lot about Ireland in the news this week: 47 years after Bloody Sunday, a soldier is to be prosecuted for his part in those events in Derry; the Taoiseach visited America, giving Donald Trump the opportunity to opine unhelpfully on Brexit. That takes us to the Irish border and the Irish backstop but I’m not going to talk about Brexit this morning. Neither am I going to talk about the Patron Saint of Ireland, St Patrick, whose Feast it is today as frankly we know little about the man who, according to tradition, brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5thCentury. Rather I want to talk about the rapid decline of Christianity in Ireland in recent years as I think that there is much we can learn from it.
I first visited Ireland several times in the sixties. Coming from the relatively comfortable and rather secular suburbs of north west London, two things left powerful impressions: the first was poverty, particularly as one got further away from Dublin; and the second, again most obvious in the country areas, was the deep faith of the people. I saw a devotion to Christ and the Church which, other than at great pilgrimage sites, I have never seen since.
Over the past 20 years I have visited a very different Ireland. It is a far more affluent country now thanks, in part, to its membership of the European Union. But the practice of the Christian faith is a pale shadow of what it once was. The Bishops, who once dictated how people should behave, are now ignored on moral issues, as we saw with the result of the abortion referendum last year. Now it would be wrong to ascribe these changes to just one cause. Increasing affluence and a general secular trend across most of western Europe will have played their part. But I fear that the Church has itself to blame for most of the damage.
There have been two areas in which the clergy have brought the Church into disrepute. Child sexual abuse is not just an issue in Ireland as we have seen with the jailing of Cardinal Pell in Australia earlier this month, however the scale of offences in Ireland is particularly monstrous. We have also learnt of the horrendous way in which unmarried mothers were treated by priests and nuns in the so-called “Magdalene laundries”. Some of you may have seen the film “Philomena” or read the book by Martin Sixsmith.
In that second reading this morning, we are warned about those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ and we are called to stand firm in the Lord. For, if we lead good lives, we show others the way to Jesus but, if we lead bad lives, we can equally turn them away. So “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”.