JOHN O’MEARA LECTURE 2010
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Later in life I was sent to Rome where lectures were given in Latin but interestingly there was a strong movement to abolish the use of Latin and this movement was led by Italians. I had indeed hoped that my Latin would be a help for me to learn Italian, but I found that Latin and modern Italian are not quite as close as I had imagined. Arriving in Rome, without a word of Italian, I tried to instruct the taxi driver in Latin but without much progress in arriving at my destination.
When I began to study theology in Dublin times had begun to change in Catholic theology. Our Latin text books, after Vatican II, were beginning to gather dust and the flood of new theology came from Europe and America written or translated into English. Professor O’Meara probably noted with horror a decline in the interest in Latin on the part of ecclesiastical students at that time. And once again his horror may not have been far off the mark.
Arriving in Rome I found that the enthusiasm for Vatican II was not of the same intensity in the Roman Universities. I signed up for what looked like an interesting course – in Latin – on the Ecclesiology of Vatican II only to find that the most used phrase in the course by a French Dominican was to be “Concilium Vaticanum Primum”. You did not need much Latin to know in which direction he was looking.
Newman and his idea of a University are linked especially with this city where Newman attempted to put into practice his ideas of liberal education at the Catholic University.
For various reasons the project was to fail. Newman’s University was not recognised civilly. Cullen became anxious. The differences between Cullen and Newman began to grow. Newman was unhappy not to find to find a pool of Irish intellectuals who would become the building block of his university. No wonder, I might add, since Irish Catholics had for generations had only limited access to higher education.
I do not believe that Ireland has lost its soul. There is too much goodness and generosity to be found in many different sections of Irish society, within and outside the Church, to come to that conclusion. It is necessary, however, that we recognise that the ethos of self-giving, volunteerism and good neighbourliness which contributes so much to the well-being of Irish society would be threatened if our growing preoccupation with wealth and consumerism were to lead people to a more calculating concern for their own individual interests. Ireland has not lost its soul, but it must continually search to find and understand that soul.
What are the most important characteristics of the New Ireland where the Church, which must always be in renewal – in the process of rinnovamento e aggiornamento to use the buzzwords of Vatican II, is called to proclaim the message of Jesus? What are the characteristics of the New Ireland that could be said to offer a fertile ground for the Gospel? The French Canadian theologian, Rene Latourelle, spoke of “points of insertion” for the Gospel. Where are the “points of insertion” in Irish society? Where are people most receptive to the message of the Gospel? What are the moments in the lives of individuals where they are most in need of the words and presence of Jesus? Are there such collective moments when the Church may have something unique to say to the nation? What are the characteristics of the New Ireland that make it particularly difficult to speak of God and to touch the hearts of Irish men and women?
This challenge of discernment and verification of values begins for young people today at a much younger age than heretofore. It occurs at a moment in which parents and teachers today often feel that their efforts are not having success. It is very often precisely at this age that many loose their nerve in speaking with young people about faith. In such a situation it is easy to revert to playing safe. Yet faith requires risk; enhancing freedom entails risk. Rather than engaging in dialogue with young people, people can feel that it is best to leave it up the young person alone to find his or her way regarding faith.
Parents loose their nerve, perhaps also because the Church has let them down by providing very few services to help them in their task or because society adopts a policy of hostility or at best agnosticism to the fundamental questions about truth. A society which looses the nerve to educate can easily find itself adrift.
A truly pluralist, multi-cultural society will be genuinely tolerant and respectful to all forms of search for the truth. It has to do so not within the cultural of the past, but in the context of the new challenges and opportunities of today.
Newman set out a vision of University whose validity is a strong today as in the nineteenth century. I hope that in this year of Newman’s beatification that vision will receive renewed attention. But if that attention remained in the level of lip-service, then I for one will be disappointed. We all need to talk to each other about the future of education. Dialogue damages no one.