‘It depends’, declared professor Siobhan Garrigan of TCD on Saturday October 11th in the Regency Hotel, Dublin – addressing members of the ACI.
She specified four necessary characteristics of a relevant Irish Catholic church of the future: it will be theologically curious, knowledgeable and critical; it will initiate a discussion on what it means to be Irish; it will create a vision of what it means to be truly “Catholic”; and it will develop a vibrant, joyful sacramental life that connects vision with action and mission.
To become theologically educated, access to theology must be improved for all, Professor Garrigan insisted. An undergraduate program in TCD was one step in that direction, but she really prioritized the need for access for ALL. A critical theology will address the question of what is to be done about the wide range of social issues that confronts us. It will also offer access to non-academics in a range of ways. Professor Garrigan asked for feedback on that from the audience, asking whether a theology blog, or other online resources, would be useful. Feedback can be given via her email address in TCD ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Secondly, a relevant Irish Catholic church will promote a discussion on what it means to be Irish, challenging narrow interpretations that derive from historical Irish nationalism and facing the issue of the growing diversity of Irish society. What about, for example, the children of asylum seekers now growing up in the direct provision system? What of the drug takers on our streets we tend to be ashamed of? What of returned Irish people born abroad? Too often hurtful assumptions can be made in this respect. The Catholic church has huge potential for opening up this question of who is to be included in ‘Irish’.
Thirdly, a relevant church will address the question of what it means to be Catholic – in the sense of being open to the world and to diversity while preserving a core identity that all can share. Open also to the full range of Christian witness, and even to those currents hostile to Christian belief. It is only thinly understood that ‘catholic’ must also mean ecumenical and welcoming of all. We need to recover the inclusivity of the claim ‘catholic’ – and the realisation that Catholic means engaged in the world, as well as prophetic. (Far too few of us know anything much about Catholic social teaching.) To be truly Catholic must also be to be loving and nurturing of all, not just those in need of social justice.
Fourthly, a relevant Irish Catholic church will be sacramentally adventurous and joyful – responsive to the varieties of personality of all it wishes to involve, and aware that all of creation is sacramental. It will be in the sacramental life of the church that participation will become possible for all, and that the social mission of the church will be discovered and developed. It is through liturgy that we become theologians, responsive to the critical needs of our society. Those currently estranged from the sacramental life of the church need to experience something more vibrant, more varied and more sensitive to their needs if they are to become re-involved – and this liturgical renewal mustn’t simply be confined to the Eucharist.
There was insufficient time in the Regency for discussion of the wealth of ideas presented in this lecture. The full audio is available from Eist Audio Productions at: http://www.eist.ie/catalog/index.php
In the meantime a discussion can occur here as well, via the ‘Comment’ facility below. N.B. – comments do not need to be confined to Professor Garrigan’s conclusions: everyone needs to have their own ‘take’ on this critical question of what it will take to make our Irish Catholic Church relevant again.