Last Saturday, 14 November, was the Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole, the principal patron of the Archdiocese of Dublin. On this patron day Archbishop Diarmuid Martin celebrated Mass in Saint Mary’s Pro Cathedral and held up the example of Saint Laurence O’Toole as one that should influence renewal in the Irish Church.

In his sermon Archbishop Martin highlighted the great cultural change and ensuing violence that Ireland was going through during the life of Saint Laurence O’Toole. Comparing that period in Irish history to today, he preached, “Today the religious culture of Ireland and especially of Dublin is also at a crossroads. It is not the crossroads of martyrdom or oppression. Certainly there is hostility towards the Church from some quarters. The current change in religious culture is inspired more by indifference, uncertainty and at times voluntary rejection. The fact that there are in Ireland today more civil weddings than religious marriage ceremonies is not by imposition. The fact that, according to the last census, “no religion” is the second largest population group after Roman Catholics is the fruit of choice.”

The Archbishop continued, “In some cases, cultural change may be the fruit of disillusionment at how the Church is perceived. The recent report on the former Cardinal McCarrick will have convinced many that the governance structures of the Church have again failed victims. Nearer home, the victims of what was a harsh, authoritarian Irish Church in the past rightfully continues to haunt the Church of today seeking answers. Their hurt will not be healed simply by saying that things are different now.”

Archbishop Martin drew attention to the potential fall off in numbers attending Mass when Covid-19 restrictions lift. He said, “I believe that the challenges of Church life due to the current pandemic are pointing the way towards another challenging moment for the Church. Many whose attendance at Church services before the pandemic was fragile will never return to public worship. When Churches were reopened for public worship for the summer period, numbers were low and the demographics of those who returned were different. Younger faces were noticeably missing.

“The numbers who will attend public worship in the foreseeable future will be significantly lower. It would be foolish to imagine that many of those who do not return to worship will not find themselves also drifting away from wider bonds with Church life. The post-pandemic Church will look significantly different to the Church we traditionally knew.”

In conclusion, Archbishop Martin highlighted the example of the diocese’s patron saint as one that should inspire renewal. He said, “I believe that the extraordinary charism of Saint Laurence O’Toole can serve as a valid model of renewal of the Church in Dublin in the coming years. His personal way of life made him a respected and forceful voice of witness in a time of cultural uprooting. We need a Church that can speak the message of Jesus to a world that is searching and uncertain about faith, and be listened to not because of self-proclaimed status, but through the quality of its care and vision and faith.

“The hearts of the indifferent and of those who feel disillusioned by their experience of the Church will only be reached by a Church marked by holiness, care for the poor and by engagement in bringing an authentic Christian contribution to the common search for goodness and truth. The figure of Laurence O’Toole points the way for the future, but that future must begin today.”

Ends