Cultural Catholicism and displays of faith

I was impressed by an item on The John Murray Show, RTÉ Radio 1, Tuesday of last week. Murray spoke to actor Frank Kelly, herbalist and former Meath manager Sean Boylan and harpist-singer Mary O’Hara about what their faith means to them and it was most inspiring.

Frank Kelly’s faith meant a lot to him, he was a regular Mass-goer where the consecration was the focus for him, and he wasn’t keen on anything getting in the way of that.

Years ago in London he had drifted, but obviously the solid foundation was there. He told of his parents’ devoutness, but it hadn’t been a hectoring holiness. Sean Boylan  had wanted to become a priest for many years but had found meaning and vocation in his other work. May O’Hara had a strong faith and prayer life, but she also stressed the need to nourish the Faith. All in all a fine item and a good start to the week

On the Wednesday The People’s Debate on TV3 had Vincent Browne hosting a debate on same-sex marriage and homophobia in Ireland. Though numbers-wise it seemed that the pro-same-sex marriage side was in a considerable majority (partly, I believe, because they found it hard to get people on the other side) I found the debate much more balanced and reasonable than I expected. Browne pursued hard questions with both sides, which was welcome, though I didn’t like him calling the views of one anti-same-sex marriage woman ‘nonsense’. Also, I thought it was loaded of him to use the term “equal marriage” (adopting the preferred language of one side).

All in all I felt it boded well for what could well be a fractious debate when it comes to referendum time.

Last Saturday RTÉ Radio 1’s Documentary on One series had a religiously themed offering, Mairead’s First Communion, in which Anne Wayne, Mairead’s mother, explored how she and husband Joe Moran supported their daughter’s decision to receive her First Communion though they weren’t religious. It was a warm and enjoyable documentary, as we saw Anne and Joe move from ambiguity and discomfort about the decision to an enjoyment of the Communion Day and the liturgical events leading up to it.

They felt a greater sense of community because of it but it didn’t bring them back to regular religious practice. Whether Mairéad will continue to attend was unclear but she was a most articulate young girl as she explored her own motivation – not wanting to feel left out, feeling good learning her prayers by heart, enjoying the prospect of walking up the aisle, feeling part of the Catholic Church.

The programme raised challenging issues about cultural Catholicism, whether a feel good factor is enough or just the start of a journey, and there was an issue conspicuous by its absence – a relationship with Jesus.

Meanwhile the Tuam babies controversy gathered momentum in the national media, though they had originally ignored it when local media publicised it last autumn. There are serious and troubling questions to answer but media coverage smacked of a yet another rush to judgement. Two examples of excess: on Newstalk’s Lunchtime Show on Thursday, Fr Brian D’Arcy, in an otherwise nuanced interview, said what we were hearing was as “shockable as something that happened in Germany in the war”… really? On the same show on Friday, journalist Michael Clifford thrashed the Catholic Church and Irish society for a while and then said: “We don’t know the first thing about the facts here”!

Finally, I really enjoyed Eamon Dunphy’s stint on The Meaning of Life (RTÉ 1) last Sunday night. Dunphy came across as thoughtful and sincere and became quite emotional when speaking of his parents who were very devout.

He wasn’t currently a practising Catholic, but he believed in God, prayed a lot (in his chair at night after watching Vincent Browne!) had a strong sense of injustice and regarded secular atheism as ‘barren’ as it discounted all that was beautiful and precious about the people we know. He had been turned off the Church by a negative encounter with a priest when he wanted to marry a Protestant, but, I think, wrongly identified the priest’s bigotry as the Church’s teaching. 

Best moment – his emotional recital of the guardian angel prayer: “O angel of God, my guardian dear…”