Thursday, March 10, 2011

A People Set Apart

Carnival is over, the great fast has begun, and yesterday all over the world Catholics line up to be marked with the ashes which symbolise their resolution to do penance and seek to conform our lives more to Christ's.  The traditional joke we often hear is that we are now marked men and women.  However those words from Scripture come to mind - today as we wear ashes in public we see the truth of those words that we are a people set apart - set apart to praise and serve the Lord.  An opportunity to bear witness to our faith.

Yesterday, also, our new government in Ireland was formed (is that an omen?  the Ash Wednesday Administration?).  I noticed that all the heads, new and old, were bright and shiney and clean - not a mark of ash anywhere in the Dail chamber.  At one time you would see TD's (Irish MP's) going about their daily toil with the ashes on their heads.  Indeed our former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who left office under a cloud, was famous for his big dollop of ash, proudly displaying the fact that he was a sinner like the rest of us.  Perhaps the day being so busy, our Catholic politicians did not get the chance to go to Mass or to a service of ashes. 

So I have an idea for next year.  Brother priests who read this (particularly those of you in Dublin), we'll grab the ashes, a good supply now, and park ourselves outside Leinster House and Government Buildings and do the needful for our public representatives as they hurry about trying to give our ailing ecomony the kiss of life.   It would great fun.  We could keep the ashes in brown envelopes to entice them over and when it's too late for them to flee we could do the "Tango" with a good splodge of ashes: "Remember, Deputy, that thou art Dust, and unto Dust thou shalt return."

All that said, seriously, Ash Wednesday can be a difficult day for some: in a secular country like Ireland  is it "permissable" to be seen wearing the ashes anymore?   Public witness to the Catholic faith is getting harder all the time, many tend to feel the need to blend into society.   At one time public processions were the norm - now they rarely happen, and yet when they do they can attract a good crowd.  I remember a few years ago I took part in the Rosary Rally in Dublin, and as we processed from O'Connell Street to  the Carmelite Church in Clarendon Street I looked back and saw a huge crowd praying the rosary as we made our way along.  The crowd was bigger than many public protests.  That certainly gives one confidence. 

With Corpus Christi in a couple of months, and with the Eucharistic Congress coming, it might be a good idea to restore the processions to the streets of our towns.  I know some may be nervous of protests, but confining these processions to enclosed gardens and church grounds where the public cannot see them is not a good idea.  If the Hare Krishna can dance on the streets, and fair dues to them, so can we. We cannot live under the shadow of the dark side of our history forever.    We must bear witness.   The death, and possible martyrdom, of Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan, a politician himself, should inspire us: he offered his life in witness to the Gospel, for the right to live and proclaim the Gospel in public, even in a society where the majority do not share our belief.  His sacrifice should push us out into the world again.  His heroism, I hope, may inspire Catholic politicians also: he did not push his faith out of his public life, but rather it helped him serve his people, gave him the strength to remain true to what he believed.

1 comment:

  1. There is much more rabid anti-Catholicism in the Republic than in the north. I live in NI and I'd be happy to wear ashes, whereas in Dublin... well, I might be a little anxious.