Church in Ireland: Divining the Future (Part 2)

Maynooth College’s Father Twomey Tells of Reasons for Hope

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MAYNOOTH, Ireland, MAY 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Ireland needs only to tap into the energy of young Catholics and focus on theological study to garner a renewal in that country.

So says Father Vincent Twomey, a moral theologian at Maynooth College and author of “The End of Irish Catholicism?” (Ignatius).

Father Twomey shared with ZENIT how more attention to the sacraments and the liturgy could help bring Catholicism in his native country into a new springtime.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.

Q: What potential does the Church have for renewal in Ireland?

Father Twomey: The potential of the Irish Church is enormous. I am convinced that the Irish Church has not even begun to tap into it.

For two decades, I have had the privilege of teaching seminarians and young Catholic laymen and women of great ability, genuine idealism and sincere commitment to their faith.

The Irish Church has as yet little idea of how to use that talent, or indeed the talent and experience of older generations of laity and clergy, and using it to find ways and means of renewing the Christian life in the cities and in the countryside.

In every area of life — literature, the arts, music, business, technology, politics — Irish people are today leading the world. The one exception is in the field of religion and theology. Why?

One of the main causes, it seems to me, is the lack of original thinking within the Church. Research is the source of new ideas. In Church terms, this means theological research.

Yet there is no serious tradition of theological research in Ireland, no centers of specialized scholarship. Theology is largely limited to training seminarians and catechists. Until this situation changes, the Irish Church will not be able to tap into its own potential.

We must face up to the fact that the reasons for the Irish Church’s theological poverty are deeply rooted in our historical experience. However, creative theology is not simply a scholarly discipline. It must be rooted in a living faith. Theology is a living faith seeking understanding.

I might add that one of the great signs of hope for the future are the many young people who are beginning to encounter Christ through such movements as Youth 2000.

When their faith experience seeks understanding, Irish theology will perhaps be reborn. But there is also a need for scholarly institutes that can provide the technical know-how to enable this theology to find its true expression.

Q: What changes can be made for renewal and future growth in the Church in Ireland?

Father Twomey: The way a Church is structured can affect the Church’s response to the pastoral needs of the day.

The Catholic Church in Ireland, in my opinion, needs to be restructured and the number of dioceses reduced at least by half. One diocese comprises a quarter of the Catholic population and the rest are scattered among 25 other dioceses. Most are simply too small to provide the specialized pastoral care that a modern diocese requires.

Likewise, parish boundaries need to be revised and greater diversity in pastoral ministries created.

Above all, opportunities need to be created for gifted laity to contribute to parish and diocesan life.

Religious life needs to be radically renewed so that the various orders can once again be seen to be truly religious rooted in the contemplative life expressed in a corresponding lifestyle.

Irish missionary congregations, at present apparently preoccupied with justice and peace issues, need to recover also the urgency of preaching the Gospel to those who have never heard of Jesus Christ.

In general, greater attention must be paid to both the celebration of the sacraments and the revival of feast-day celebrations that spill-over into genuine festivities of a more general and public nature, as in the Catholic countries of Mediterranean Europe and Latin America.

The liturgy must become once again an experience of heaven on earth, of the transcendence in our midst, an experience of the “other world” that enables us to take up the tasks and absorb the setbacks of this world with renewed interior energy.

This requires a theological understanding of liturgy, a reverence for the “given-ness” of the sacred text and sacred rites, and a search for a truly sacral art and music that can express the mystery we celebrate.

Sermons and religious education will once again inspire, once the vision of faith is recovered which alone can prevent the Christian message from deteriorating into cheap moralizing and fuzzy spirituality.

The renewal and future growth of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as elsewhere, is only possible on the basis of a rich theological vision of the world and a clarity about its moral message, which is the means necessary for attaining our ultimate goal, eternal happiness.

And so I am convinced that the renewal of the Church in Ireland depends on the renewal of the springs of Irish theology.

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