After having “studied” abroad for a year in Galway, it had been such a joy to travel back there with my husband. Once an insecure twenty-year-old, it was a thrill to return better than ever—twenty-eight, married, queen of my domestic church. And to my surprise, Ireland looked better, too.
The year of my study was 2005, the year the gut-wrenching details of decades of unthinkable abuse of minors by clergy had broken in Ireland. Every day in the news were new reports of abuse or a rehashing of the major cases. The effects in the parishes, I can only imagine, must’ve been devastating. No man in the country entered seminary that year.
It was my impression at the time that the Irish Church was one big open wound. And one got the feeling from some quarters that some people suspected—or hoped—this would mean the end of the Catholic Church in Ireland. As I left in May, I wondered what would happen to the faith in Ireland—how low Mass attendance would get. Over the years, I’ve often wanted to go back and see for myself. The only report I’d heard since being there was from an Irish priest who’d mentioned that his nephew priest back home reported that he and the clergy had been walking around with their heads down.
When, through God’s providence, I found out that Ireland would be in my husband and my travel plans, I was intent on what we’d find.
The morning after having arrived in Galway, my husband and I attended Sunday Mass at the beautiful stone cathedral in the city. As we slipped into one of the pews near the front, I watched as mostly older people, with some young families and the occasional single young person entered and prepared themselves for Mass. There had been about as many people in attendance as I had remembered in 2005. Mass began, and the somewhat older priest led a loving, reverent liturgy.
It was Good Shepherd Sunday, and the priest gave a reflection on his time serving the Church, with all its ups and downs, naturally giving mention to the recent struggles of abuse. But what he concluded, with a quiet joy and certitude, was given a chance to do it all over again, he would. He was a priest of Jesus Christ, and that was a life worth living.
A few days later, we had the pleasure of attending a church in a small town also on the west coast. The bell for Mass was rung, and in walked Father, a younger, very strong-looking man. He celebrated Mass with power, the walls of the church almost reverberating with his words of consecration. My husband and I were caught up in awe of his profound belief of the power of the Eucharist, and later, our youngish concierge—who had helped us find Mass in the morning—noted that that particular priest was really popular with the young people in the town.
As we flew home, my heart was full. The Church in Ireland, though still wounded, still was. People still attend Mass. Young men still enter the seminary. Young and old still believe in the Eucharist. Though greatly in need of prayers as other countries in our very modern world and its culture, the Church in Ireland is still there, offering Christ in the sacraments to a world who needs Him more than ever. And that looked good to me.
Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer