We need to reach out to those who, though baptised, have drifted away from faith
Percentage of parents committed to Catholic schools is lower than imagined
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: “We would be foolish not to recognise that among many young Irish people the process of distancing themselves from the faith begins very quickly after they leave school or even while they are at school.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
An analysis of the data of the 2011 census – collated parish by parish and for the geographical confines of the Archdiocese of Dublin – indicates that almost one-quarter registered as “other” than Roman Catholic.
We would be very foolish to think that of the three-quarters who ticked the box “Roman Catholic” on the census form, all are really committed Catholics. What does that tell us?
These statistics give many reasons to be discouraged. Taken alongside the information gathered directly from parishes, we see that numbers regularly attending Mass have gone down. The indications are that the percentage of parents who would be fully committed to sending their children to a Catholic school is considerably lower than we often tend to imagine.
The information that we gather on Mass attendance gives a fairly accurate picture of the numbers who attend Mass regularly but it provides no indication of their age bracket.
We would be foolish not to recognise that among many young Irish people the process of distancing themselves from the faith begins very quickly after they leave school or even while they are at school.
In the current situation of the church and of belief in Ireland today we can very often be tempted to think that we can find some quick fix.
We can be tempted to blame external factors for our situation and think that if we could put aside the problems of the scandals and if we could relativise the influence of negative media comment and make the church a little more relevant to the signs of the times of Irish culture,
then within a short time we would be back to where we started.
The signs of the times are not, however, to be found simply by sounding out and then reacting to the public opinion of the moment. Jesus did not spin his message to respond to the trends of the day.
Reading the signs of the times means immersing ourselves deeply into the word of God . . . to discern where we find the signs of God’s action within the realities of the times we live. The way of renewal for the church is God’s way, not ours. We are called to witness to that gift of faith in a doubting and uncertain world, but also a world which is searching and seeking for something deeper in life.
We need to reach out to those who, though baptised, have drifted away from faith. We need to reach out to those for whom – even though they lead a good life – the church has somehow become marginal to the way they live and how they understand the world.
Confrontation of ideas
We find that the answer of Jesus to the confrontation of ideas in which he finds himself is quite a surprising one. It is said that when the crowd wished to stone him to death: “he eluded them”; then we hear that in the face of the controversy around his teaching and identity: “he no longer went about openly among them” and that “he left their district”.
Is the believer simply to opt out of society? Are we to become a sort of cult or a sect? Jesus is teaching us something else; he is actually showing us a way in which, through uncontaminated faith, we bring something original and new to society.
In a remarkable talk by the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury at a recent synod of bishops, he spoke about the place of holiness and contemplation. He talked about how our faith contributes to our living more humanly.
It begins not with us doing things, but with us forgetting ourselves; it begins with stillness, forgetting the hectic and the consumerism of the moment.
If we do not do this, the archbishop warned, then we run the risk of trying to sustain our faith on a purely human set of values where: “the church comes to look unhappily like so many purely human institutions, anxious, busy, competitive and controlling”.
The church is not just another human organisation.
Let us not put our faith just in the statistics, but in that quiet yet omnipresent and loving presence in our world of Jesus the Lord.
This is an edited version of a talk given by Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the recent Tine Catholic Leaders Network conference in Tyrellestown, Co Dublin. The full version is available at dublindiocese.ie