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Fr Billy Swan

In the second of a ten part series, I explore the features of what a 'New Irish Catholicism' might look like. This week, we highlight the truth that our faith is the friend and not the foe of our true human nature.

In the very first chapter of ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis outlines that ‘those who accept his [Jesus’] offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness’. With these words, Francis captures the truth of what we have held since the time of St Patrick who described faith as ‘that great and life-giving gift’ (Confessio, 36). He proclaimed this truth in continuity with the Gospels, St Irenaeus (‘the glory of God is the human person fully alive’), St Augustine (‘to know God and know myself’) and after him with figures from the great Tradition including Thomas Aquinas (‘grace builds on nature’), Catherine of Siena (‘Their humanity will be conformed to the humanity of the Word and they will delight in it’), Teresa of Avila (‘We must enter by this gate…on this road you walk safely…through the sacred humanity of Christ’), the teaching of Gaudium et Spes (‘For by his incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human being’), St John Paul II (Redemptor Hominis), Pope Benedict XVI and now with Pope Francis – that Christianity enhances our humanity rather than diminishing it. This is true also at the social level where Christian values lend themselves to a peaceful civilization and harmony. Our challenge today is to show unbelievers and skeptics a path to holiness that cherishes all that it means to be human.

We acknowledge that this task is not easy with the historical baggage that Irish Catholicism carries as an institution. With more than a hint of Jansenism and puritanism, many experienced the Church as oppressive, anti-human and even abusive. But while we lament the past, atone for past mistakes and work for healing with those who have been alienated, the present is an opportunity to model an authentic spirituality of what it means to be human at a time when it is sorely needed. At all times, we keep before us the dignity of the human person and who God revealed ourselves to be in Christ – our divine origin and destiny, our filial identity, our need for love, work, food, family, our gifts and potential, our sin and brokenness. These are all the human categories that unite under the aegis of the ‘I’ that finds its fulfillment in relationship with God and others. Our dialogue with post-modernity can only be successful if it is founded on a solid anthropology and a clarity of what it means to be human. This clarity will be critically important as we engage with contemporary issues such as medical ethics, gender issues, human sexuality, marriage, family, new economic models and Catholic education. The renewed humanism called for by recent popes will be critical in convincing people that our faith is the friend and not the foe of the humanity we share in common.[1]

[1] See Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 78; Pope Francis, Meeting with Participants of the Fifth Convention of the Italian Church, 10th Nov. 2015.


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