A Son of Ireland Reflects on Catholicism in Ireland

A lot has been and will continue to be written about the vote in Ireland last Friday in which over 65% of the Irish voters approved the legalization of abortion in Ireland. I hope to add some distinctive comments about the outcome of the vote.

One commentator, Fr. Dwight Longnecker, has expressed the opinion that it’s a good thing that what he calls “cultural Catholicism” has died in Ireland. What he means by cultural Catholicism is a faith that is deeply imbedded in a culture but without vitality and deep conviction, something that everyone takes for granted. Now, Fr. Longnecker writes, people in Ireland can make a conscious, purposeful decision to be Catholic as opposed to just doing what everyone is Ireland has always done.

I understand what Fr. Longnecker is saying, and I agree that there is some merit and logic to his perspective. However, as someone of Irish descent, I can’t help but be saddened and even angry about how quickly something that has been in place in Ireland for centuries to the point of being a key element in the Irish identity has been destroyed in such a short time.

I don’t know the full history of the Sullivans in Ireland, but I would guess that the Sullivans in Ireland have been faithful Catholics for many, many centuries. Our Catholic heritage means a great deal to me and to my sons. We have every intention of honoring that heritage with our own lives and passing it on to our children.

My father, Bernard Sullivan, was a devout Catholic his entire life. I well remember taking a short trip with him to Coffeyville, Kansas to see the home where he lived and the church where he was baptized. During our visit to his first parish, Holy Name Church, I walked up to where my dad was looking at one of the beautiful stained glass windows. He was weeping. When he saw me looking at him, he could only point to the window in front of him. At the bottom of the window was a marker indicating that the stained glass window had been donated by Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Sullivan. They were my father’s parents. His gratitude for having been raised in the Catholic faith by his parents was very deeply felt.

In 2008, I moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Newark, New York, which was situated in the Diocese of Rochester. While I hadn’t thought of it at first when my wife and I decided to relocate to New York, it meant a lot to me when I realized that my great-grandparents, Jeremiah and Norah Sullivan, had moved to what is now the Diocese of Rochester when they came to America from Ireland in the 1850’s. My wife and I made a pilgrimage to Addison, New York to visit the graves of Jeremiah, Norah and several of their children in the Catholic cemetery there.

What is particularly distressing to me is how many people in the last 50 years or so have walked away from the Catholic faith without much thought for the sacrifices made by their ancestors to maintain their Catholic faith. In many of the cases I am aware of, the decision to leave the Catholic Church was made for weak or even casual reasons.

I can’t help but wonder if many of today’s Irish people who have rejected Catholicism would be more comfortable with the Anglican Church, which has been much more accommodating to the modern tendency to dismiss traditional moral standards. The Irish have a historical dislike for anything British. Perhaps what we’re seeing in Ireland today is not just a rejection of Catholicism but a rejection of Christianity.

Without getting into the ugly details, there is no question that a big part of the move of the Irish away from the Catholic Church has resulted from the failings of the Church in Ireland. One can understand a disenchantment with the Church in Ireland, but that would not explain overwhelming support for abortion rights.

We need to pray for Ireland, that somehow and soon the Catholic faith will flourish there. If it doesn’t, the Irish people won’t even know who they are anymore.

101 Years and Filled With Joy

It was a Thursday night. I had been asked to bring Holy Communion to the home of a man named Joseph Macri. All I knew about Joseph is that he was on hospice and was expected to die very shortly. His daughters wanted him to receive Jesus in the Eucharist one last time.

When I entered the home, Joseph was asleep on a bed in the living room. His daughters told me something about his life. He was 101 years old. Born in Italy, he came to the United States at age 11  when his parents finally had enough money for him to join them in Indiana.

He worked in an auto plant (Studebaker) until it closed, then found work in other factories. He built his own home in South Bend, Indiana by himself. He ushered at Notre Dame home football games for almost 40 years.

After his daughters woke Joseph up, he and I had a long conversation. Despite being so close to death, he had a gleam in his eye and a joyful spirit. He spoke lovingly of his wife, Gina, with whom he had shared 70 years of marriage. He said he had never raised his voice to her and that he always tried to fulfill every one of her requests. About his employment over so many years, he said simply, "I worked hard."

At around 3 a.m. on the following Saturday morning, I woke up and reflected on Joseph's life. I thought of how I would summarize the beauty and simplicity of his life. Here's what I came up with:

1. You do what you're supposed to do in every aspect of your life.
2. You do it as best as you can.
3. You experience the joy that comes when you follow steps 1 and 2.

A good prayer is that all of us would be inspired by the life of Joe Macri to live as he did. In our final moments on earth, may we, just like Joe,  have a gleam in our eye and a joyful spirit.


Mary the Stealth Evangelist

We know that our Blessed Mother has made dramatic appearances all over the world, Fatima, Lourdes, and so on. We need to be attentive to what she has done and said in those appearances, as her messages are very relevant and important to us even today. However, in this brief blog posting, I want to mention how active Mary is below the radar and how effective she is as an evangelizer.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a women's retreat, and during one of the lunches I asked a group of the women at the table how those who had not been raised Catholic were drawn into the Catholic Church. One woman said that she and her husband really had no religious affiliation when they married. They decided to at least do some investigating. She went online and looked specifically for what she called "structured prayers," thinking those might be particularly helpful. She came across information about the rosary, ordered a rosary and started saying the rosary on a regular basis. She did not tell her husband about her new prayer resource.

After some time went by, the husband said it was time for them to make a decision. His wife blurted out that she had been saying the rosary, so they might as well become Catholic. And so they did. As more time went by, they learned even more about the Catholic faith and became even more committed to their new religion.

Another woman at the same table had a similar background. I can't remember all the details of her story, but she apparently was something of a jewelry maker as a hobby. In addition to the other products that she made, she for some reason started making rosaries and selling or distributing them. When she also reached the point of wanting to choose a specific religion, she thought how peaceful she felt whenever she made a rosary. That sense of peacefulness she experienced when making rosaries brought her and her husband into the Catholic Church.

These aren't particularly dramatic stories of conversion like Paul getting knocked off his horse and blinded, but they don't have to be. Mary can be very subtle and still be effective. I think there's a lesson for all of us in that.