Next weekend will be the last weekend that Fr. Dick Sparks will be with us on the parish staff. He will preach at all the Masses next weekend, and there will be refreshments served in Hecker Hall following each Mass. Please take this opportunity to thank him for his three years of hard work and service here at St. Austin’s. I know that many of you will miss his insightful homilies, contagious energy, and great sense of humor.
On another note, I have been thinking about the recent vote, a month ago, in the Republic of Ireland on the constitutional provision prohibiting abortion. It was an unexpected landslide in favor of repealing the constitutional provision. The great majority of commentators saw this not just as an embrace of a more liberal position, but a rebuke of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Ever since the terrible clergy sexual abuse scandal broke in Ireland, the people have been turning away from the Church, no longer going to Mass, voting to accept same-sex marriage, and now rejecting the strong anti-abortion provision of the constitution. This phenomenal change in Irish culture is a reaction to the overly strong, at times oppressive, role of the Church in Irish culture.
I am reminded of what happened in Quebec, Canada. There the Church also played a very dominant and controlling presence in Quebec culture. In reaction, people rejected the Church once they had other options, and Quebec is now among the most secular societies in the world. We see that process of reaction occurring in Ireland. It is beginning in Poland, and it will eventually come to the Philippines. Wherever the Church had a dominant and controlling, indeed stifling, position there is now rejection. It will take a long time and tremendous work to evangelize these places anew.
Fortunately for us, our American experience is different. While the Church as an institution has had social power in this country, it was never to the extent or force that it had in predominantly Catholic countries. Hence the Church here has had to learn to use more of its effort to persuade rather than to coerce. While in the short run this is harder and less effective, the results are much more long-lasting. And this method is much closer to the approach of Jesus. It is a great blessing that in this country we never had the power of the secular state to enforce our religion.
Father Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists, greatly valued the freedom of religion in our country, because then only by genuine faith and commitment would people become Catholics. While we have suffered from terrible scandals and cover-ups in the country, we are still beneficiaries of the blessing of religious freedom. It is a genuine good that we do not accept grudgingly, but value as a positive benefit. It is another reason to celebrate our national independence next week.