Bishop William Crean
on the Celebration of the Centenary of the Dedication
of St. Colman’s Cathedral,
Cobh, Co. Cork.
It is more than 60 years ago now since Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian Philosopher and Educationalist gave us the term “Global Village” for the first time. McLuhan was an astute observer of cultural change across the centuries. He reflected deeply on the impact of print and the way it influenced our thinking and perceiving. So, turning to the development of technology in the 1960’s he predicted the advent of the Internet and its potential to change our society so much. How prescient he proved to be!
The world is a small place, much like a village now whereby whatever happens on one end of the street is conveyed like lightening to everyone. It has transformed how we experience and view the world. Globalisation is the norm; it is our reality.
A hundred years or so before Marshall McLuhan was writing Bishop William Keane was Bishop of Cloyne and began working on realising a long-held aspiration to build a cathedral for the Diocese. The chequered history of the previous centuries prevented its realisation. As the historical notes indicate the French Gothic style was in vogue in 19th century church building. However, with this project it took on a greater scale and decoration. The location was providential in elevation and landscape. It never fails in its mission to raise our eyes to the heavens.
There is no need to rehearse its details other than to point out that the totality, the whole that is St. Colman’s Cathedral is immeasurably greater than the sum of its parts. That is evident for the many parishioners for whom this is a haven of peace and a wellspring of strength, inspiration and hope. Thanks to tourism and cruise development it has never had so many visitors, Christian and non-Christian alike who are touched deeply by crossing its threshold because this sacred space exudes a contemplative aura that enables entry to the divine.
Pope Benedict XVI when reflecting on the nature and impact of beauty to artists in the Sistine Chapel in 2009 stated “Beauty, whether that of the natural universe or that expressed in art, precisely because it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery of God.
Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality”.
So, it is in this place dedicated to God that the prayer of Solomon (1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30) has been realised for the parishioners in Cobh and the people of Cloyne. From this sanctuary the entreaty of the faithful continues to be heard and the Lord’s providence is felt as we seek to live under the shade of God’s wings. (Ps. 36)
Images of a sound foundation and careful construction serve St. Paul well to convey to the Corinthians the nature of the temple the Lord was building in the lives and hearts of the community that has Christ Jesus as its foundation. “You are that temple of God and the Spirit of God is living among you” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
That declaration of Paul itself rests on the key question posed by Jesus at Caesarea Philippi “But you” he said “who do you say I am?”. His affirmation of Peter’s response “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” would serve to introduce Jesus’ declaration of the relationship between him and his church.
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it” (Matt 16:13-19). This promise of Jesus is an ongoing consolation for the Church as it faces trial and tribulation in bearing witness to the light and truth of the Gospel. We remember today our sisters and brothers in Christ who are suffering persecution because of their fidelity.
When Bishop Robert Browne celebrated the Mass of Consecration in 1919 both the country and Europe had come through many years of violence and war with the “war to end
all wars”. We wish it were so. The reality was one of great social turmoil encapsulated so poignantly in the words of W.B. Yeats.
‘All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born’ (Easter 1916)
One hundred years on an unimaginably different Ireland, Europe and Global reality prevails. In the north of Ireland, the ancient divisions have eluded resolution. In the south a liberal secular worldview seeks to suppress the Christian narrative. Europe struggles, through the E.U, to maintain the harmonisation of peoples intended to banish to history the nightmare of World War II. Apart from other regional conflict and tension the Earth itself is threatened by the spectre of catastrophic extreme weather patterns due to Global warming. This is without speaking of the extraordinary intrusion of technology into the tiniest detail of our daily living, both positive and negative.
So, we might rightly ask what of our future?
Where is the individual person in this sea of change?
What of our inner spiritual dimension?
How can the spirit move in such a cluttered society?
“Without vision / imagination the people die” (Proverbs 29:18)
For anyone devoid of vision and aspiration life becomes dark and difficult. It is alarming when bizarre and extreme violence ceases to shock us or when suicide is perceived as acceptable and almost normal. Equally is it not disconcerting when Euthanasia is seen as a positive option? In making these observations I am deeply conscious of the pain and loss of the families involved. My concern is to raise the question about the nature of the society we are creating which we are keen to describe as modern and progressive. We owe it to a new generation to offer a vision of life that goes deeper and is more wholesome than “I’m worth it”. Life is precious. It is indeed the pearl of great price.
In terms of Church and State a new covenant is promised. We welcome the prospect. Too often the Church’s involvement is represented as an exercise in control and indoctrination. Judging by the recent decades it has failed miserably. But that is not its goal.
It is one of service to humanity through its understanding of the human persons unique dignity before God. It is in that spirit that those of us in leadership wish to go forward. Not to control but to serve. We respect diversity while remaining firm in our convictions of the richness of Christian faith. We hope our ‘bona fides’ will be reciprocated.
As for the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland the prediction of many is that it is condemned to a dire future. The prophets of its doom are mistaken. The scale of the abuse scandals shocked and disgusted us both from within and without the Church. It’s been a tragedy of immense proportions on many levels. The victims/survivors will take its scars to the grave and we in leadership will always be found wanting in our response to their wounds. We continue to work for healing of memories and hearts. The scale of the loss of trust is immense. This violation of trust along with other cultural forces has made the context for a new evangelisation of the young truly daunting.
Yet we journey together in hope, a hope forged from the good deeds and generosity of previous generations of religious, priests and lay people. Despite the sin and failure of a few, great goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion was shared in difficult economic circumstances for many of our people. We need to give ourselves credit for nurturing a society where humour and neighbourliness lifted the hearts through life’s trial. A certain Dublin born writer was prone to remark negatively about the begrudgers – to put it mildly!
In this year when we celebrate the extraordinary month of Mission, we remember with gratitude to God the outstanding contribution of the Irish Church to the work of evangelisation across so many countries. Priests, religious and lay people of immense faith, courage and generosity gave of themselves in service of the peoples to whom they were sent.
Before their time they conscientized and developed awareness of the plight of people impacted by climate change. They helped to bring it centre stage in the life of the Church culminating in the prophetic document Laudato Si – from Pope Francis, where he invites us to conversion in the service of an integral human ecology. As Chairman of Trócaire, the Catholic development agency of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, it is a source of great pride and satisfaction to work with a deeply committed team for whom this vision is the inspiration for their lives and work.
Tá creideamh againn i nDia. Dá bhrí sin táimid ag leanúint ar aghaidh le dóchas inár gcroíthe. Ta daoine ann a chuireann an creideamh faoi chois, a deireann go bhfuil dul amú ar phobal Dé, go bhfuilimidne aineolach agus ag gabháil thar fóir. Ní bheimid inár dtost mar gheall ar a leithéid de chaint. Tá a fhios againn go maith an cumhacht agus an eagna a thagann chugainn tré n-ár gcreideamh i gcrois Íosa Críost (1 Cor. 1.24). Inniu glaotar orainn misneach chroí a thabhairt dos na deisceabail, faoi mar a rinne Naomh Pól, agus iad a spreagadh chun a bheith dílis don chreideamh (Gníomh. 14:19-28). In ionad a bheith fuarchúiseach,bímís gníomhach i dteannta a chéile, agus in ionad a bheith díomhaoin, tugaimís cabhair agus tacaíocht dóibh san atá bocht ó chorp agus ó spiorad. Cuidímid leo mar tá meas againn orthu agus tá na daoine san tabhachtach dúinn. Is iomaí duine a mhaireann i bhfásach spioradálta agus gan suim acu ach in imeachtaí suaracha agus i gcrsai spóirt. Tá níos mó ná san tuillteanach dóibh. Tá sé riachtanach go gcuirfear in aithne dóibh cad tá barántúil agus fíor. Mar sin is mar an gcéanna é paidir Naoimh Pól agus ár bpaidir féin. Go mbeimís in ann greim a fháil ar fhad agus leithead agus airde agus doimhneas ghrá Íosa Chríost ár dTiarna (Eif. 3:18).
As a people of faith, we go forward in joy and hope. We will not be cowed by those who seek to denigrate faith as a form of ignorance, delusion or extremism. We know well the power and wisdom that comes to us through faith in the cross of Jesus (1 Cor. 1:24). In the manner of Paul, we in our time are called to put fresh heart into the disciples (Acts 14:19-28). We need to encourage one another to move from indifference to engagement, from being an observer to be pro-active in the service of those who are poor, be it in body or spirit. We respond because we care and the needs of people matter. Too many live in a spiritual wasteland living on a gruel of superficiality and games. They deserve better. They need to be put in touch with the real and the authentic in life. So, Pauls prayer is our prayer. May we be strong enough to grasp together what is the breadth and the length, the height and the depth of the love of Christ Jesus, Our Lord (Eph. 3:18).
Despite the lights and glitter that dazzle us every day, be it by way of technical devices, fashion or money, dark clouds hang over many people’s lives. Superficiality, games and gimmicks turn to boredom quickly. The buzz of one addiction or another becomes very appealing and despite people’s best intentions they / we become ensnared. Then life becomes a delusion, a fooling of ourselves. Good spirituality is needed to counter the lure of these evils. Whether this happens within or without the community of the Church is secondary but
it needs to happen if we are to remain authentic and real. Christian joy and hope is the tonic our time needs.
So, my friends, we go forward together in joy and hope. We do not walk alone. We in faith and humility desire to witness to that hope that is within and among us. We make our own today the words of the Psalmist
May your love be upon us, O Lord,
as we place all our hope in you.