Bishop Michael Router: Homily on Synodality – St Patrick’s Day, 2021,
Our Lady Star of the Sea, Boher, Co. Louth
Text of Bishop Michael’s St. Patrick’s Day Homily
It’s hard to believe that we are facing into our second consecutive St Patricks Day in lockdown. This time last year we were getting used to restrictions that were somewhat novel and that we thought would be relatively short lived. I don’t think anyone would have believed that 12 months later we would still be in the same situation. Yes, the vaccines have brought hope and a sense that there is an end in sight, but our patience is wearing thin and we just wish but we could get back to some sense of normality.
St Patrick’s Day is usually a great day of colour and pageantry around the country with parades, sporting occasions, concerts and many opportunities for socialising. It is, perhaps, true that St Patrick’s Day in normal times has moved well away from its religious foundations and become a very secular celebration. I suppose one of the spiritual benefits of this day being severely restricted is that we have a little bit more time to reflect on our Christian faith and its growth and impact on our island over the past 1600 years. In that sense the last year has had a deep reflective quality about it and most people, both inside and outside the Church, realise that we are on the cusp of a time of change and challenge.
We as Church, like every other organisation in this country and in the world, will have to adapt to that change and assess and reflect on the long-term effects of this pandemic. It is fair to say, however, that long before this pandemic, the Church in Ireland, and the practise of the faith, was coming under severe pressure. There is an obvious need for reform so that Church structures will become more fit for purpose in the 21st century.
At our spring meeting, held last week, the bishops of Ireland decided to embark on a synodal process for the Church in Ireland. Already I can hear many people saying ‘What on earth does a synodal process mean and what difference could it possibly make?’
In the past the Church has been very hierarchical with those at the very top making all the decisions and handing them down to those below with little discussion or consultation, particularly with those who were marginalised because of gender or social status. The great council of the modern Church, Vatican II, which took place in the 1960s, opened the possibility of changing the structures to allow for greater participation of the lay faithful in all aspects of Church life. The message and the model proposed by Vatican II has, unfortunately, been very slow in getting off the ground. There have been great strides made at local level over the past 30 or 40 years but we still remain quite a hierarchical Church with limited formal channels for wider consultation and cooperation between bishops, clergy, religious and laity.
The synodal process that the bishops have announced is similar to that which is underway in Australia and Germany at present. Yes of course we will have a gathering, an assembly, at a national level within five years but that won’t be the beginning of the synod, or the end of it, or even the most important part of it, because synodality is a way of being Church where everyone walks the path together and that journey begins now.
Over the coming years there will be widespread consultation with everyone inside and outside the Church, those who are faithful and committed and those who have turned their backs and walked away. There will be much more information released as we go along, but the announcement is an exciting moment for all of us who value and love our Christian faith and who know the importance of the sacraments provided by the Church to nurture and nourish that faith. So, on this St. Patrick’s Day let us rededicate the Irish Church to the care and protection of our patron saint who set out on a missionary journey in a difficult and challenging time with little more than faith and hope in his heart. St. Patrick discovered, however, that faith and hope were all you needed. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint Patrick achieved a miracle in this land and planted a seed off renewal in the heart of all Irish men and women.
May the journey we undertake together into the future, uncertain and challenging as it may be, plant the seed of faith and renewal once again in our country. The Church will never be the same as it was. We are not trying to re-invent the Church of the past, but we are beginning a journey to somewhere new and, hopefully, to somewhere where people can rediscover the joy of being part of the family of God.