ONE of our national pas times in Ireland is apologising for ourselves before the nations, but an increasing amount of travel abroad—while it has given me a renewed appreciation of our faults and failings— has equally convinced me that we have a great deal less to apologise for than is generally suspected.
It is pleasant, too, when this necessarily subjective and instinctive judgment is confirmed by an objective fact, and this happened with the election of Dom Placid Murray, O.S.B., a monk of Glenstal, as first president of the newly-formed Societas Liturgica in Holland. Something of Ireland's witness may also be gauged from the fact that the Church of Ireland Dean of Lismore, the Very Rev. Gilbert Mayes, was elected the society's first secretary.
The society itself, which is international and ecumenical in outlook, was formed at a meeting held in the Netherlands Reformed Church seminary at Driebergen, and among its principal aims are to show the relationship of worship to the world we live in. For this they could have no better president than a monk of Glenstal, the Benedictine community which has, during the past decade, contributed more to the liturgical and ecumenical movements in Ireland than almost any other institution. Its annual liturgical conferences are usually published in book form, with Dom Placid as editor, and they all have a strongly pastoral emphasis.
There was a time when liturgical renewal in Ireland was described cynically as "saying the Rosary facing the people," but times have changed since then, and anybody who takes the trouble to make a full-scale survey of liturgical practice throughout the country will find a heartening enthusiasm among both clergy and laity for a liturgy that is increasingly relevant, increasingly articulate, and increasingly in tune with the needs of our times.
It was in Cilenstal, too, that last month's ecumenical conference — the fourth in the series that has been held there annually — was brought to a successful conclusion. 'I here were over 100 participants at this year's conference, including a small group of Non-Subscribing Presbyterians : although the Salvation Army and the Society of Friends were not represented, the conference is still essentially an open-ended one.
The theme for this year's discussion was "Sacraments," and the proceedings showed, if anything, that the ecumenical movement in Ireland is moving into what 1 might describe as Phase Three. The first phase, in which mutual suspicions and lack of knowledge played a large part, was mercifully short. The second phase saw the beginnings of dialogue. The third phase has brought us all immeasurably closer together, and it is impossible not to stress how much prayer in common has helped this to happen.
Glenstal and Greenhills have both known prayer in common at the beginning of each day's session, it is true, but of itself it has never grown stale or become a routine: it has emphasised the divisions as well as expressing our unity as brothers in Christ, and it has been an unforgettable experience for those who have participated in it. At Glenstal this year there was a particularly memorable service of Vespers in the Abbey church.
Sister Eunan Ward of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Ireland, was among 136 doctors who became members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, last week.
The mother house of the Order, which was founded by Mother Mary Martin in 1936, is in Drogheda, Ireland
The conference also saw a hardening of spirit, an increased sense of the urgency of the ecumenical movement, and a desire for social commitment on behalf of all those involved in ecumenical work. This feeling in the conference — which was almost tangible — was matched by a homily delivered on the last day by Bishop Gerard van Velsen, O.P., a Dutch missionary in South Africa, who warned those attending the conference in quite unambiguous terms of the dangers of "professional" ecumenism and quoted, with telling effect, St. Matthew's phrase: "I will tell you, then, that the Kingdom of God will be taken from you, and given to a people that will produce its fruit."
While most people have been setting off for their holidays, Mr. Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), has been doing a tour of the Common Market. He was on business, of course, not pleasure, but there is every indication that his journey was really necessary.
On the international front, the cold truth of the situation is that for as long as General de Gaulle persists in his attitude towards Britain, Ireland will be out in the cold as well. It is not as if he was objecting to Ireland for the same reasons as he objects to Britain: but since Britain is Ireland's biggest customer for agricultural produce, we are inevitably bound up together.
The sneaking sympathy we have in Ireland for at least some of President de Gaulle's strongly independent attitudes towards the United States is a bonus we shall have to keep to ourselves, At home, however, Mr. Lynch's peregrinations have had a much more marked effect, The man who was described as "the reluctant Taoiseach" when he was elected as Sean Lemass' successor before Christmas last year is acquiring a stature and a confidence which few people inside his own party had expected to see in him. The reluctance has disappeared, and indeed there are even doubts as to whether it was ever really there.
This may yet have important repercussions, especially on the leadership struggle within the Government Party itself, which has shown little sign of abating. Mr. George Colley, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, seems to have fallen back considerably in the running, but the position of his erstwhile chief contender, Mr. Haughey, is by no means as secure as it used to be.
The ramifications of the leadership dispute at the time of Mr. Lemass' retirement, and the publicity that these brought, has given other people the taste for power as well. The future should he an interesting one.
For the past few years this column has been a more or less regular forum for comment on, and news of, the Irish scene in at least some of its complexity and depth. Of late, however, as doubtless readers will have noticed, it has become less regular, not more, due to a combination of circumstances on the Dublin end of the wire and, more specifically, to a growing number of commitments which have made deadlines increasingly difficult to meet,
This is, then, a valedictory column, ending at least in formal terms an association with the CATHOLIC HERALD that began over five years ago, under Desmond Fisher's editorship, in the offices in Fleet Street (they've been rearranged since then, and if I went back there today and sat down in the newsroom I would no longer he able to tell the time from the Daily Telegraph clock). This is written, however, with no sense of finality, There's work to he done everywhere, and I don't doubt that my successor will see his share of it.