by PAULA DAVIES
SUPERIO R-looking gentleman marches along a street as though he owns it. Suddenly, surprisingly, he raises his hat. No one acknowledges his salute. Then you a church. This is Ireland. you a church. This is Ireland. A tractor driver sings to himself as he drives the milk churns to the creamery. A bell rings in the distance. He crosses himself. This is Ireland.
You are liming a picnic near a beautiful lake when a commercial traveller stops his car and pops into the nearby chapel. In five minutes he is out and on his way, having paid his respects to God.
Ireland is a Catholic country. almost, you feel, with a vengeance, but how refreshing it is to feel yourself one of the crowd and not just the odd one out. Marvellous too to hear your family of four children described as a nice "little"
The roadside altars are strange, yet also happily familiar and provide a telling reminder of the faith. The statues of Our Lady with Bernadette at her feet may not be the highest examples of sculpture but they leave you in no doubt of the traditional Catholic devotion to the Mother of God.
When you go into the shops the collecting boxes will be there. Not for the big general charities which you find in England but for an orphanage in the area, a mission in Africa or even just for the parish funds. It may savour of the chauvinistic, but there is a certain satisfaction (almost guilty today) in helping specifically Catholic charities. Again, although this shouldn't matter, when you go to Mass you can more or less understand the language, impossible now in Europe except for the linguist.
After spending three weeks on holiday in the south-west we came home refreshed in body which we had expected. The unexpected was to find ourselves refreshed in spirit and faith too. No continental Catholic country has quite the same atmosphere. an atmosphere compounded of love and respect for the faith which is shown daily and outwardly in such small but significant ways.
Some of the Irish themselves, perhaps because they live with this. do not seem to appreciate its value. Only the other week Gabriel Fallon in his Dublin Diary quoted a speaker at a meeting of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Kilkenny as saying that the Irish have an abundance of supernatural virtues but lack the natural ones.
He seemed to be saying that the Irish attachment to the outward forms of religion, going to Mass regularly. blessing themselves when passing a church and so on, blinded them to the real needs of their fellow human beings.
What he forgets is that the outward forms are an expression of the inner faith and that. oddly enough. the outward forms can help inner faith and not merely be just sterile. ritualistic trimmings.
Absorbing the religious atmosphere of Ireland is a moving experience to the Catholic who has to live his life in a nonif not anti-religious country. It can have a salutary effect too by reminding him of the importance of. not only practising his religion, but of being seen to do so.
Justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. Faith must not only exist but be seen to exist. Anyone leading a Christian life is a good example to us all. but when that life is guided by a firm faith, the impact is doubled if not trebled.
Many such examples
demonstrate a true way of life. It would be tragic if, in searching for ways of bringing the IriSh church out into the world. the Irish forgot to bring with them their outward expressions of faith.