“Ireland is facing a crisis of culture rather than faith” – Archbishop Brady

05 May 2005


5 MAY 2005





‘Ireland is facing a crisis of culture rather than of faith’ – Archbishop Brady

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening as we begin our latest gathering
of the Inter-Church meeting in this European City of Culture 2005. The Irish
Inter-Church Meeting has its origins in one of the most exciting and at the
same time one of the most tragic periods of the interaction between religion
and culture on our island. In March of 1972, when the troubles in Northern
Ireland were at their most violent, the Irish Episcopal Conference, following
a series of ongoing discussions between both sides, issued an invitation to
the Irish Council of Churches to attend a joint meeting, quote ‘at which the
whole field of ecumenism might be surveyed.’ This initiative in turn established
the first Ballymascanlon Meeting in 1973, later to become the Inter-Church
Meeting which continues to this day. In the words of one commentator at the
time, ‘Never before had the Churches been seen to co-operate together so
openly and vigorously. Rallies in Belfast and other towns revealed many
thousands willing and anxious to follow their lead… The Churches were seen
more clearly in a reconciling role than ever before.’

It was a far cry from the famous faith based riots in Cork in the mid 1700’s
which led John Wesley to write the following words in his famous Letter to a
Roman Catholic:

“Let us resolve not to hurt one another, to do nothing unkind or unfriendly
to each other . . . to say all the good we can, both of and to one another
. . . to harbour no unkind thought, no unfriendly temper towards each other
. . . and to endeavor to help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads
to the Kingdom. So far as we can, let us always rejoice to strengthen each
other’s hands in God.”

It is in that spirit of ‘strengthening each other’s hands in God’ that we
gather here this evening and commit the work of our meeting to the Lord in
prayer. Our prayer during these days will be a very important part of our
activities. After all, we are Easter people – Ascension people – but most
importantly, we are Pentecost people. The Spirit has come – the Spirit of
the Risen Christ who has promised to be with his disciples until the end
of time. That Spirit comes with power – the power to remember Jesus, to
become more like him, to continue his saving and his unifying work. The
Spirit comes with the enthusiasm of love symbolized by tongues of fire,
to set our minds, our hearts and our imagination on fire. The Spirit
enlivens us with a creative power, to enable us to bear witness by word
and deed. The Spirit comes with different languages to undo the confusion
of Babel and to unite what had been divided and separated.

The effects of that coming of the Spirit are seen at once in the address
of Peter in Acts. It is one of the greatest addresses of all time. He is
filled with utter conviction about the identity of Jesus and the mission
of the Church. Jesus is the one and only Saviour of the world and ‘repentance
and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning
at Jerusalem’.

It is this confidence which is the mark of the Spirit and for which we
pray – not a Spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-control –
the Spirit of unity and peace, which brings balance and beauty to the

From this beautiful Church of the Holy Family on Military Hill, we are
well placed to appreciate the geographical balance and beauty which
distinguishes the historical city of Cork. Cork is a city of symmetry
and convergence. Its skyline is silhouetted by the steeples of a vast
array of Churches, representing one of the widest ranges of denominations
in any city in Ireland. Its outline is marked by the circle of its ancient
Norman walls. The sixth century monastic site, on which it was built, now
the Church of Ireland Cathedral of St. Finbarr, is enfolded to the north
and south by the twin channels of its beloved River Lee.

And over the years, within all of this physical symmetry, a wide range
of cultural and religious influences have converged to make Cork a worthy
holder of the title of European City of Culture 2005, a responsibility
which it has lived up to with justifiable pride. I congratulate all of
those involved in organising this year of celebration. I would also like
to express my particular thanks to the members of the Cork Ecumenical
Standing Committee for encouraging the Irish Inter-Church Meeting to
hold this reflection on ‘Spirituality and Culture’ in this European City
of Culture. It reminds us that our discussion takes place in the context
of Europe, with all its diversity of culture and its rich history of
Christian faith. But we are also mindful that we meet in the context of
what Pope John Paul II described as the ‘loss of Europe’s Christian memory…
a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference whereby many
Europeans give the impression of living without spiritual roots.’

Certainly Europe, like Cork, like Ireland, is not lacking in prestigious
symbols of the Christian presence. Yet, with the slow and steady advance
of secularism, these symbols risk becoming a mere vestige of the past.
Many people are no longer able to integrate the Gospel message into their
daily experience; living one’s faith in Jesus has become increasingly
difficult in a social and cultural setting in which that faith is
constantly challenged. In Ireland today, as in much of Europe, it
is sometimes easier to be identified as an agnostic than as a believer.
At times the impression is given that unbelief, or hostility to faith,
is self-explanatory, whereas belief needs a sort of legitimisation
which is neither obvious nor taken for granted.

Hence the importance of our task of reflecting on the series of excellent
papers which have been produced by the Working Party on Spirituality.
Taking up Gerard Manley Hopkin’s theme of giving new freshness to ‘deep
down things’, each contributor has drawn deeply on the richness of her
or his own tradition. They have offered us reasons for living; reasons
for believing and reasons for hope. They have asked us challenging
questions to which we must respond. They have invited us, like the
readings of our Ascension Service, to fix our gaze on the things of
heaven – to be people of prayer, people of the Scriptures, people of
wisdom and theological reflection. They call us to read and interpret
the signs of the times – and at the same time to hear the voice of the
two men in white robes, drawing us back into active, creative engagement
with our surrounding culture.

It is interesting to note that the Scriptures we have just read reveal
an early Christian community bewildered and preoccupied with the restoration
of the earthly kingdom of Israel. It was a very human preoccupation. Their
own place in that kingdom was in doubt. Yet Jesus called them to trust and
to hope, to wait in prayerful expectation for the Spirit to empower them
with the spiritual gifts, graces and talents to get on with the job. That
Spirit would, in time, broaden their horizons and would eventually drive
them out with humble confidence to the very ends of the earth. Yet it
would also hold them in balance. They were to be in the world, but not
of the world, people who understood their surrounding culture but also
sought, under the Spirit, to transform it. The kingdom would be both
present and becoming.

In her paper on ‘The Way Forward’, I think Frances Bach captures this
balance very aptly. She suggests that, ‘Perhaps doing is not the place
to start. Perhaps being comes first.’ This was the careful balance between
the transcendent and the immanent, between contemplation and action which
marked the lives of the early monastic founders of Ireland. It was because
they were rooted in contemplation, touched daily by the life and energy of
the Blessed Trinity, that they were also intrepid missionaries and exponents
of the highest achievements of Irish culture. We have something to learn
from these early witnesses to the power of being and doing. Without a
careful balance between body and soul, spirit and matter, transcendence
and immanence, culture loses it capacity to see beyond the visible and
to imagine beyond the material.

In this sense, I think may be more accurate correct to say that Ireland,
indeed Europe at the beginning of the third millennium, is facing a crisis
of culture rather than of faith. Most people still believe. There are very
few considered atheists in Ireland, indeed in the world. Yet there is
increasing evidence of a loss of culture, evidence of a loss of sensitivity
to the things of the spirit and the soul. You see it on our roads, you hear
it in our language, and you read it in our papers. People are not so much
rejecting as disconnecting from those things which give life to the soul.
Just observe the level of preoccupation in the lives of those around you,
perhaps even in our own lives. We are in real danger of losing our balance.
Apart from the occasional upward glance at a Church spire or the jolt from
a personal or global catastrophe, we are less inclined to ask eternal
questions, to ponder the human, to contemplate the beautiful. And when
we lose this capacity, we begin to measure the value of things by their
usefulness and expediency rather than by their beauty or their being.
Impatience, aggression and isolation begin to displace the culture of
civility, courtesy and community. There is ample evidence that this
displacement is already underway in Ireland. Yet few of our social
commentators, apart from the faith communities, appear to be concerned
about analysing the underlying causes of this shift or acknowledging
its potentially destructive consequences. Hence the importance of our
current task.

Our task is to help those around us to see in the many prestigious symbols
of Christianity which surround us in this city of culture, the symbols of
new hope. That hope is expressed in our being here together, in the
ecumenical journey we have made, in our continued commitment to the
search for that unity for which Christ prayed. We are renewed in that
hope by Pope Benedict’s identification of the reconstitution of the
full and visible unity of the followers of Christ as the ‘primary
commitment’ of his Pontificate. “Manifestations of good sentiments
are not enough,” he said. “There must be concrete gestures that
penetrate spirits and move consciences, leading each one to that
interior conversion that is the assumption of all progress on the
path of ecumenism.” Our gathering here is precisely such a gesture.
May it penetrate our spirits and move our consciences as we seek,
in the words of John Wesley, to ‘strengthen each other’s hands in

Like Elijah, The Lord Jesus was taken up, and, like Elijah, he cast
the cloak-of responsibility onto his followers. This responsibility
is to be-His dynamic presence in the world. It is a responsibility
that lies upon all of His disciples, in their various ministries,
and in the various sister Churches. Jesus gives the power to become
His presence to those who ask it. That power is called in the Gospels
by different names: The Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate,
The Finger of God.

Jesus himself, in his life and death, embraced the Spirit of the Father
totally and without-reserve. The Father was the Source of his life’s
mission. I think that he would applaud the declaration of St. Theresa
of Avila

Let nothing ever disturb you! Nothing affright you!
All things are passing, God never changes!
Patient endurance attains all things!
Who God possesses, in nothing is wanting!
Alone God suffices!

His intimate union with the Father enabled him to see, judge and act with
authority and wisdom. The struggle to do likewise in response to the
inspirations of his Holy Spirit is the legacy he has left to each one
of his disciples. As we begin this third millennium it is, without doubt,
a moment of truth for all Christian disciples: a call to discern together.

* What is entailed for discipleship of the Lord, and not just for Church
allegiance in a contemporary Irish society?

* What inherited obstacles to better co-operation is the Master encouraging
us all to address and root out?

* What are the signs of the times to which we must be much more alert
and responsive?

* What are the concrete gestures which are required of us?

And finally, are the differences between Christians condoned by the Holy
Spirit, or left there to challenge our love of one another or has the voice
of the Spirit at times been drowned out by other voices – incredible as that

I pray that the Holy Spirit will help all of us to begin to hear the answers
to some of those questions in our reflections, prayers and discussions over
the next twenty-four hours.

In the words of Pope John Paul II, in one of his last exhortations: ‘Do not
be afraid… Be confident… Be certain. The Gospel of hope does not disappoint!
It is the prophecy of a new world. It is the sign of a new beginning. It
is the invitation to everyone, believers and non-believers alike, to blaze
new trails leading to a ‘Europe of the Spirit… Europe [Ireland], rediscover
your origins. Open wide the doors to Christ!’

5 May 2005

Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)

* The Irish Inter-Church Meeting takes place from 5th – 6th May 2005 and
is being held in Cork, as part of the celebrations of their year as European
City of Culture 2005.
* This year’s Meeting is exploring the theme of ‘Spirituality and Culture’.
* The Irish Inter-Church Meeting is the annual meeting of the Irish Council
of Churches (www.irishchurches.org), the umbrella organization representing
the majority of reformed traditions in Ireland, and the Irish Bishops’ Conference.