Maynooth College reflects on Covid-19: New Realities in Uncertain Times
Ed. Jeremy Corley, Neil Xavier O’Donoghue and Salvador Ryan, foreword by Archbishop Eamon Martin (Messenger Publications, €9.95/£8.95)
I write this on a morning when queues are forming outside Penney’s department store as people seek madly to mark what many are bound to see as the end of the Covid-crisis. The idea of moving on too quickly has to be resisted. Ireland as a society has to take time to reflect on what this last year and more has meant to us personally, and socially as a community – and this is what these sixteen essays presented in this book from the faculty at St Patrick’s College Maynooth attempt to do.
Historians and sociologists are doubtless at work already preparing explorations of these recent events in the light of their disciplines.
These essays which are intended for a wide readership and not just academic discussion explore what the Covid-era has meant to the Church, and more vitally perhaps what it may mean for the future.
The essay by Salvador Ryan, ‘The Final Rupture? Covid-19 and Popular Religious Practice in Ireland’ connects with earlier work he has done and may be the most important piece in the book. It explores issues that weigh heavily on the minds of many involved in parish life.
Can we pick up where we left off? It is very unlikely. But what develops could all too easily be allowed to be affected by the trends of society rather than the parish trying to affect life in the district round it.
That point strikes one in other places too. The parishes have perhaps been too closely absorbed in themselves. Perhaps they need to see themselves as a part of the wider community it ways it never did before.
The full effect of what has happened over the last year or so will only slowly become apparent. There is a moral reckoning to be made about many aspects of the period, especially the strangely uncivic opinions and acts of many of our neighbours. But was the reaction of the some in the Church appropriate either?
There was much talk about ‘freedom’: and that is something that needs to be opened up to better understanding. As Yeats once said, “In dreams begin responsibilities”. Many call to be free but also free from social responsibility. That is something that needs to be discussed. Citizens have rights, but also duties. The ideal of mutual aid fades away in sterile controversy.
And also, as is so often the case these days, all too many people, and especially all too many Catholics, are happy to accept what they read online from the US. Or more often than not they pay no attention at all to the source of the information they accept.
Indeed that may well be the core of the matter for the future: our relations with ‘the truth.’ When the infections cease and the last individuals have been inoculated the moral reckoning will continue.
The essays in this book are designed to aid and abet those living and working in parishes to develop ideas and strategies to get the parishes through the next period of change. It ought to be widely read; discussed and used for there can be no return to the old, perhaps too comfortable and unchallenged ways for many.
One of the pleasant surprises in this book was not the essays that make up the book, but the introductory conversation between Austen Ivereigh and Pope Francis.
This, in a few pages, was a revelation of the character, mind and caring skills of Pope Francis. He quotes from Virgil several times, and refers also to I Promessi Sposi, that key book of modern Italian culture, the book which in its way helped create the very Idea of Italy, a classic novel which hardly anyone on this small island will be aware of.
Rather than rely on worn out clichés of the daily preacher the Pope adverts to works of the imagination which are really alive in his memory and those of many Italians. Wonderful. The reader may well exclaim out loud almost, “What a man! What a mind!” It is no discourtesy to the other writers to say his few pages are really the beating heart of the book, his words the touchstone of reality and possibility.
“Take care of the now, for the sake of tomorrow,” he says, “always creatively, with a simple creativity, capable of inventing something new each day. Inside the home that’s not hard to discover, but don’t run away, don’t take refuge in escapism, which in this time is of no use to you.”