Ignoring the aggressive secularism and demonizing of the Catholic Church in Ireland and listening to the true message of religion at Christmas.
Modern Ireland is now a place where aggressive secularism holds sway and the Catholic faith is almost demonized. This is an incredible turnaround from decades ago and one that would be a bitter irony to our forefathers (and mothers) who clung to their faith and suffered for it, holding secret masses in Penal Times and whose whole world revolved around the Church and its rituals.
Granted, there are two major reasons for this turnaround. One is the abuse scandals which had long been suspected but which, on full disclosure, represented a major breach of trust. The other was the dominance of the Catholic church teachings in Irish society.
But even these two factors do not fully explain the dramatic and huge decline of worship and indeed the current aggression towards those who still wish to practice their faith. Surely, being liberal and 'progressive' is about 'let and let live' and respecting the rights and beliefs of others?
This intolerance is especially acute in Ireland which is a juvenile, over-reactive way feels the need to play 'catch up', with the fads of elsewhere. Nor has our society reflected in any deep philosophical way on this dramatic decline. We just soldier on, as if Ireland had never been a beacon of Christianity and as if the churches had never been packed, with almost every family producing a priest or nun.
We also want it both ways and secular Irish people still want to use the full rituals of the church for weddings, Communions, and funerals, often without even paying cursory respect to the actual beliefs. It is somewhat the same with Catholic schools. Ireland is only now building a secular school system, but in the meantime, many parents want a free ride on the existing and impressive Catholic school system.
We especially see this 'duality' at Christmas, when many people who wouldn't otherwise go to church find themselves doing so, and with great pleasure. They attend carol singing, and Handel's Messiah and bring their kids to the crib – these are Christmas activities as seasonal as the parties, the shopping, and the letters to Santa.
However, in my case, because of my children, I not only find myself enjoying all of this – but enjoying it beyond Christmas. This is because my boys attend a Catholic school: Catholic in a nominal way: 60 % of the children are non-Irish, as they have been the way now.) But they have been making their Communion. Ciaran (aged 10) has already done this sacrament, much to his pride, and Alex (8) is about to do so.
So now I find myself visiting the church on a much more regular basis. My boys thoroughly enjoy the whole religious experience, and so do I, much to my surprise. They have brought me right back into it. Now it's not so much me showing them the Christmas crib as the two of them showing me the all-year-round shrines, candles and rites of Communion. I have to say I am very grateful for this re-introduction. And I know many other parents feel the same.
My kids are aware of the broader secular hostility thing, but they don't understand it. They just see the big old St Peter's Church in Phibsborough, in north Dublin city, with the Harry Clarke stained glass windows, the lovely children's choir drawn from their nearby school - also named St Peter's - and the organ music, played by their teachers, mostly young modern women.
For me, the soaring organ music is a linkage to the old cathedrals of Central Europe – and to a revered international organization, and to centuries of worship. It is an evocation indeed of the Irish past and the faith of our ancestors. Okay, women are not actually celebrating Mass (yet!), some might say, and yes this is a drawback in an ancient organization which has been challenged by time. But that is another matter and may change.
But the principles endure, and the ideas behind it. Obviously, my kids also enjoy the biblical stories and prayers which they take on face value and find inspiring – and so do I.
I might not believe all the literal detail. But when I am doing tai-chi do I believe that a certain position is the 'black dragon leaping', or whatever Asian myth and posture it is channeling?
Let's face it, I also regard other things - nationalism, Brexit, marriage – as a leap of faith, where I find it hard to accept every detail as factual so let's not take religion task. Why be hard on the parables of an idealistic young man from Galilee who wanted to help the poor ?.
And, after all, it is the suspension of disbelief involved in religion that makes it so liberating, along with the magic of the ceremony. It is a welcome escape from our often-mundane everyday lives.
Like many Irish Catholics, I had been a nominal Catholic. I went to a Catholic school, got married in a church and will probably be buried from one (no humanist ceremony for me, thank you). I drifted away from it for the reason’s others did – a difficulty in accepting literally the rituals of an often-outdated institution and an annoyance at the power of the Catholic church in our Republic.
However, as I get older, and grow weary of our noisy and consumerist modern society, I have come to cherish and value those rituals precisely because they are age-old and shared by millions of people, and which give us solace when times were tough. Also, it doesn't cost anything – you can just walk in and partake in the most amazing ceremonies.
Mass on a Sunday also marks the week. It is something which is bigger than us and a family event to look forward to it. Afterward, we might go for lunch. Our local priests, who are modern and engaging, give brief sermons which are uplifting and sensible. It’s all good. They talk about basic human values, and my kids appreciate that - before they get back to their screens and their Pokemon and Roblox.
And my kids see their friends in the local church and connect with their community. As for me, why am I exploring tai chi or Buddhism if I'm not also open to this ancient and familiar resource right on my doorstep? These days, any spirituality has to be welcome.
So right now, and especially at Christmas, I just ignore the inexplicable annoyance of the detractors and liberal elites and concentrate instead on the special legacy that our forefathers fought for and which gave them solace. And it’s all thanks to my kids and their Communion preparations!
* Eamon Delaney is a Dublin-based journalist, commentator, and former diplomat.