Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that example for the future of the Church can be drawn from both prophetic words of the late Pope Benedict from over 50 years ago and the lives of Saint Ita and Brigid over 1,500 years ago.
Speaking at the Feast Day of Saint Ita at Mass in Raheenagh Church Kileedy, where Limerick’s patron saint set up her community of nuns in the fifth century, Bishop Leahy said that there is a collective example from both regarding the direction the Church is taking.
Bishop Leahy said that Pope Benedict foretold, in a radio interview as far back as 1969, the era of rapid transformation and secularisation that would be embarked on.
“In that radio interview Pope Benedict, then a young theologian, concluded with prophetic words that are often repeated and certainly speak to us in Ireland today. He said the Church: ‘will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision’.
“He told us that, as a small community, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. This is something we are readying ourselves for, not least through Synodal pathway embarked on by his successor Pope Francis.”
Bishop Leahy remarked how Pope Benedict predicted during that interview that the Church would be a more spiritual Church but that it would be difficult for the Church, ‘for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy’.
“He said it would make the Church poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process would, he said, be all the more arduous, for ‘sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will’ would have to be shed and he predicted back then that this would take time.
“But the then theologian Joseph Ratzinger ended his interview on a note of hope, highlighting how the Church as a ‘little flock’ will be rediscovered as providing the meaning that so many yearn for and have been searching for in secret.”
Bishop Leahy said that Saints Ita and Brigid, too, offered an example of how the Church lived out its mission in another era. “It’s not that we have to repeat pedantically what was done in any previous era. But we can draw inspiration from the work of the Spirit in women like Saint Ita and Saint Brigid and their communities and pray that today too we open to the renewal being brought about by the Spirit in many small steps but especially in the Synodal pathway that the Church in Ireland is following.
“The future may be smaller. Saint Ita was just one person in one moment of time in a community that was limited primarily to West Limerick. Yet, her example, light and charism live out fourteen hundred years later. Saint Ita dedicated herself to prayer and simplicity. There’s a great message in that for us.”