In her famous annus horribilis speech in 1992, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II described the fading year as one which “is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure”.
Queen Elizabeth was reflecting on the fact that 1992 had seen her son the Duke of York separate from his wife, the Princess Royal divorce Captain Mark Phillips, a series of lurid revelations about extramarital affairs of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Duchess of York being photographed in a compromising situation.
Just days before the Queen gave the speech, her ‘horrible year’ was capped when her home – Windsor Castle – caught fire and was extensively damaged on the 45th anniversary of her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh.
What was remarkable was the fact that the Queen faced each tragedy with courage and dignity.
As we begin a new year, many people in Ireland will easily identify 2018 as a terrible year. History will certainly record it as a catastrophic year for the unborn since a huge majority of the people voted to remove their constitutional right to life.
The abortion referendum was a crushing blow for anyone who puts a value on all human life – regardless of what stage. The fact that the margin was so huge in favour of abortion surprised even pro-choice activists.
While disappointment and sadness are inevitable and understandable, it cannot paralyse us from speaking up.
Catholicism thrives when it is counter-cultural. For a long time, Catholicism was embedded in Irish culture. This had good points as well as bad points. Now, our starting point must be the realisation that the wider culture in Ireland is not Catholic in the way it once was. Even many people who attend Mass regularly have become profoundly secularised in their world view. Even some of our faith-based institutions have become secular and in some instances hostile to religion.
Leo Varadkar’s speech in Dublin Castle to Pope Francis seemed to signal that the political establishment was grateful for the Church’s extraordinary contribution to building up modern Ireland. But the remarks also indicated a ‘we’ll take it from here’ mentality from the Taoiseach.
The wake-up call that Catholics need is to understand that the future of the Church here will be in self-assured Christian communities who know what they will be about.
Karl Rahner wrote that the “Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all”. I would add that the Christian of the future will be an intentional one or he will not be.
In a culture where many people are indifferent to Faith, we cannot expect that Catholicism will continue simply because it has been in Ireland for so long. People who are serious about their faith will have to gravitate towards like-minded people to build self-consciously Catholic groups of believers.
This current period may seem like a time of exile for people of Faith, but it’s worth remembering from the history of the Israelites that times of exile were also times of growth laying the foundations for a new beginning.
Michael Kelly is co-author of a new book with Austen Ivereigh How to Defend the Faith – Without Raising Your Voice – it is available from Columba Books .