It would be easy to assert that Ireland has ‘lost’ its Catholic identity. I, however, argue that this is not so.
Yes, there has been a switch from total respect for the faith to hardly any respect. When the oldest generation of Irish people were at school, they would be given a statue of St Jude for good work. When I was at school, I was excoriated by classmates for having the name Mary. Statues of Our Lady and the saints were yanked from school hallways and thrown into skips like they were causes for embarrassment. A radical change from celebrating the faith to condemning it. In each case, the faith was and is the burning issue.
Even today, as Ireland is being consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady, I am tight-lipped about discussing the Consecration with other young friends who might get cross at my mention of a Catholic ceremony. It would not be such a matter of current controversy had we said “goodbye” to Catholicism.
Disparaging remarks abound, such as the consecration “will do the Church no good” and, “it won’t stop the faith from being forgotten”.
But make no mistake, the Consecration will mark a turning point. It proves that in spite of the stormy troubles of the Irish Church, the leaders still have a reserve of strength. Long dismissed as weak and ineffective, the Irish bishops will stand up and place the soul of Ireland into Our Lady’s hands.
The Primate of all Ireland, the beleaguered Cardinal Seán Brady, will lead the proceedings at the National Shrine in Knock. Surrounding him will be a scattering of his fellow bishops including the formidable Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin. They are the leaders of the Church, but they are bowing before a woman greater than themselves. They are upholding Our Lady’s sovereignty.
The entire process of entrusting Ireland to the Blessed Virgin Mary reaffirms her unique role. It is she who intercedes for us before the throne of God, to ask for blessings on our behalf and to plead our case when we are in difficulty. In other words, Ireland needs it.
It is unlikely to spark a big rekindling of Marian devotion, but who can predict which heart will be touched?
The Consecration may be troubling for lapsed Catholics. But it will also poke the consciences of practising Catholics. Sunday Catholics might regard themselves as better than their lapsed neighbours, and may say, “The Consecration will be wasted on them”. But the haughty Catholics have to ask themselves how much they care for other people, and how much they believe in Our Lady?
She is not just for ‘holy Joes’, and we should want that more people pray to her, that they too, will enjoy the graces that flow from her hands.