Sunday thoughts: May 2021

By Monsignor John Devine

‘The Best Catholics in the World: The Irish, the Church and the End of a Special Relationship’ is an account by Irish Times journalist Derek Scally of how revelations of sexual abuse have toppled the Catholic Church in Ireland. Drastic falls in Mass attendance and vocations mark the end of a ‘special relationship’.

Irish bishops and priests had been on a pedestal but revelations of abuse have released a torrent of cynicism and resentment which had fomented for decades. Sexual abuse, with its shame, degradation, secrecy, darkness and denial, has left countless broken lives.

‘Avoidance of scandal’ has denied victims justice. A cosy alliance with government has allowed the imbalances of power and privilege to go unchallenged. The Beatitudes do not sit comfortably with power.

And how much thought did ‘respectable’ Catholic Mass goers give to the misery behind the closed doors of ‘Magdalen’ laundries as they dumped their dirty washing each week? (Do I allow my own love affair with Amazon to be disturbed by reports of workforce exploitation?) 

This year, I celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper alone. Peter asks, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answers, ‘Later you will understand.’ Will I ever fully understand?

‘Special relationship’ suggests competitive advantage, a share in power over others. The temptation is to follow these same instincts – ‘for the good of the Church’. The mother of James and John thinks along the same lines: ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your Kingdom.’

We are indeed invited to a ‘special relationship’ with the Lord: ‘I shall not call you servants any more … I call you friends.’ But the invitation is uncompromising: ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink?’