Friday, December 11, 2009

Robbie on Prayer...


Sharon Commins' testimony on the support she received from prayer during her captivity in the Sudan was very impressive.

Robbie Williams, who was raised as a Catholic, also spoke briefly in an interview with The Irish Times about prayer recently. It's impressive for its honesty...

"I'm an atheist up until the sh*t hits the fan, then I'm on my knees faster than anyone else....I pray a lot to St Michael the Archangel."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Power of Prayer


Sharon Commins, an aid worker with Goal, was kidnapped in Sudan earlier this year. On her return to Ireland, following her release, she wrote a letter of thanks to those who had prayed for her during her captivity.

Here is her letter with the references to the power of prayer in bold...



A Thank You Letter To The People Of Ireland For Their Prayers
From Sharon Commins

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for the prayers throughout the very difficult and dark time experienced by my dear friend Hilda and myself. We both survived because we had the strength and willpower and love of our families stored in those deep caverns of our souls. And we had the love of God.

We now know that we were the beneficiaries of thousands of mass cards, novenas, candles and prayers in churches across Ireland, which consoled my family, and helped to ease the heavy sadness and worry which had descended on our home. I have since become aware of the many thousands of people who just prayed in their own special way and hoped for our safe return, and I am so grateful to them.

Hilda and I sought sanctuary in prayer during our 107 days in captivity. Prayer gave us the strength to cope with the despair and loneliness on the mountain. Prayer sustained us when virtually all hope was gone, and protected us from the crippling fear and deep sadness.

Every morning we prayed for the strength and courage to get through the hours. We and knew the God we shared would help reunites us safely with our families. After our first failed exit attempt, we said novenas to Saint Jude patron of hopeless cases and Saint Therese, "the little flower". We prayed to Saint Anthony, patron of lost items, that we would soon be found. Before settling in to sleep, we prayed that guardian angles would remain with us throughout the night and watch over us until daylight. We are both safe today - and I have no doubt in my mind that our combined prayers made a difference.


Out thoughts and prayers are now with Fr Michael Sinnott. And I will also remember the many people who took huge risks and showed so much courage, patience and determination to assist with my safe return. To them I will be eternally grateful.
Bless all our hopes for the future.

Thank you
Sharon Commins

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mass Appeal - Church Attendance in Ireland


It's not all about numbers but no one could argue that measurements of weekly mass attendance are not, despite their limitations, of some value in assessing the state of the Catholic faith among the Irish people.

The Iona Institute has just released details of an opinion poll conducted on its behalf by Red C. Red C is the company which conducts the monthly Sunday Business Post political poll.

The new poll is best read as one in a series over the last number of years. The goal of this update is to provide a one-stop-shop for those polls.

My Conclusion:
Mass attendance in the nineties fell at the rate of about 3% per year. [From 85% in 1990 to 60% in 1998]

Towards the end of the nineties into the early years of the new millennium, the decline continued at the rate of about 2% per year. [From 60% in 1998 to 50% in 2003].

Since 2003 the rate of decline appears to have slowed to about 1% per year. [From 50% in 2003 to 45% in 2008].

Warning:: One must readily concede that these polls are of limited comparative value for several reasons- different interview methodologies; some companies poll 15-18 year olds, others poll only 18+; some figures refer explicitly to mass attendance among the Catholic sample whilst other refer to mass attendance in the general population, whilst others refer to general church attendance in the general population. All of these can influence results by a point or two when contrasted with other polls. Thus trends over a good spread of years is about as much from which one can draw conclusions.

Digest of Church Attendance Polls since 1972.

1972/3: Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics: 91%
(source: A Survey of Religious Practice, Attitudes and Beliefs in the Republic of Ireland 1973-1974, Research and Development Unit, Catholic Communications Institute of Ireland, 1975). 2.6% said they "never attend". 3.4% said they attended more than once per month.

1981: Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics: 87%
(source: European Values Survey)

1984: Weekly Mass attendance: 87%
(source: not available, quoted on pg. 250, Louise Fuller's "Irish Catholicism since 1950"; Gill and MacMillan 2002")

1988/9: Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics: 82%
(source:Religious Practices and Attitudes in Ireland 1988-1989, Micheal Mac Greil, Survey and Research Unit, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, 1989.) A further 5.6% claimed to attend more than once per month and 2.5% reported "never".


1990: Weekly Mass attendance: 85%
(source: European Values Survey)

1995: Weekly Mass attendance: 64%
(source: Sunday Independent/IMS)

1996: Weekly Mass attendance: 66%
(source: Irish Times/MRBI)

1997: Weekly Mass attendance: 66%
(source: Council for Research and Development, Maynooth/IMS)

1998: Weekly Mass attendance: 60%
(source:PrimeTime/MRBI)

2003: Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics: 50%
(source:RTE/MRBI; to commemorate 25th anniversary of Papal Visit)

2005: Weekly Mass attendance among general population: 44% Or
Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics: 45%
(source:The Sunday Tribune/IMS: 1100 people interviewed at 100 locations, age 15+, face to face on 11th April 2005 (3 days after the funeral of Pope JP2). 7% never attend, 12% once per month or more.

2006: Weekly Mass attendance: 48%
(source: RTE/Amarach. 19% monthly attendance.)

2007/8: Weekly Church attendance among population: 42%
Weekly Mass attendance among Catholics: 44%
(source: ESRI in The Challenge of Indifference, Micheal Mac Greil, 1000 18+ face to face interviews, Nov. 07 - Mar. 08, published 2009).

2008: Weekly Church attendance among population: 45%
(source: Irish Examiner/Red C; telephone interview of 1005 people, 18+). Figures refer to attendance at mass, church or other services. 13% never, 11% monthly.

2009: Weekly Church attendance among population: 46%
(source: Iona Institue/Red C; telephone interview of 1000 people, 18+). The question is slightly different to other polls. In this case, people were asked "When was the last time you attended a religious service in a place of worship?" as opposed to the more typical "How regularly do you attend a religious service?"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beware of Burn Out


It's no surprise that many teachers and people involved in ministry are prone to occupational burn out. RTE Radio's DriveTime programme recently addressed the issue. Here is clinical pyschologist, Marie Murray, discussing the topic with presenter Marie Wilson. http://www.rte.ie/news/2009/1104/drivetime_av.html?2642873,null,209

Progress We Can All Celebrate...

For the past 15 years Church personnel have been working hard to develop and implement vigorous and robust child protection policies. It has been a long, long road but it appears as though those who have devoted huge time and resources to this issue are at last receiving some recognition.
Here is the Front Page article from The Irish Examiner, 24th October 2009 and also the Editorial of the same date...

Praise for Church over child protection policies
By Claire O’Sullivan

Saturday, October 24, 2009

THE author of the damning investigation into clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne has applauded the Catholic Church for having undertaken "a truly remarkable" journey to a place where it could yet become a champion of child protection.

Chief executive of the Catholic Church’s National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), Ian Elliot robustly defended recent efforts by the Church to right its dismal record describing an "increasingly evident" sense of purpose and commitment to child protection.

"There are champions for children in the Church that deserve the highest praise. They are at all levels of the Church and many are within the hierarchy. The aim of establishing the Church as an exemplar for best safeguarding practice has gained major support. We are in a very different place to where we were two years ago."

He said over the past two years, those in authority within the Church had learnt that "vital lesson" that "the safety of the child must be put first before all other considerations".

Mr Elliot cautioned however that this was "a positive start" and that the Church has a "great deal" more to do. He also admitted there "was an element" of the Church "being forced" to address its failings in the face of public anger. "I don’t think this change is happening just because of the inquiries. They have slowly recognised this problem is solvable. The NBSC is also trusted now by the Church. They now see it will treat them in a fair way."

"I do feel we can achieve the aim of being seen as an exemplar for best practice in the field of safeguarding children."

Mr Elliot said that earlier this year, one of the cardinals and up to 12 bishops immediately signed up for a child protection training course he organised. "This would not have happened two years ago," he said.

The former social worker told those gathered at the Biennal Children Protection and Social Work Conference at UCC that the NBSC’s document ‘Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance for the Children’ was a groundbreaking document as all the 184 constituent parts of the Church agreed they would implement guidelines fully and agreed to auditing and review by the NBSC.

"Nothing of this nature had ever happened before and this achievement represented the single most valuable development that has taken place during the short but eventful life of the national board, and also for me as its chief officer."

Noting that the Church had previously attempted to develop a uniform approach to child protection in 1976 he said the new guidance had to be supported by a verifiable commitment to implement it or else it would suffer a similar fate.

Describing the enormity of implementing uniform child protection he said small and poor dioceses often suffer due to a lack of resources and said he wanted to ensure resources were directed at them.

He also called for further recruitment of experienced child protection professionals across the Church and a continued effort to "build trust" with abuse survivors, priests, the faithful and all members of the hierarchy.

Editorial, Saturday, October 24, 2009:
Protecting children - Progress we can all celebrate

"The journey over the last two years has been truly remarkable. There are champions for children in the Church who deserve the highest praise. They are at all levels ... There is a sense of purpose and commitment which is increasingly evident ... We are in a very different place to where we where two years ago." - Ian Elliott, CEO, NSCC

AS we await, with considerable dread, the publication of the report into how allegations of child sex abuse by priests in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin were dealt with by the State and church authorities it is wonderful that we have reached a point where members of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy can be described as "champions of children".

That they are so described by someone with the record of impartiality and integrity of Ian Elliott, chief executive officer of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, is doubly reassuring.

Coming so soon after the publication of the harrowing Ryan report it is wonderful that we might begin to believe that the future will not be like the past.

The pace of change within Irish Catholicism has, according to Mr Elliott, been remarkable. Indeed it has, this time last year he had not published his report that exposed the failure of the Diocese of Cloyne to pass on abuse complaints to the HSE or gardaĆ­.

The 15 years since the Fr Brendan Smyth case have been extremely painful for Catholics. Very many individuals were denied the comfort of their faith.

Just as many victims were scarred for life Irish Catholicism has paid a very heavy price for its behaviour. Its influence has been greatly diminished and its active membership has been decimated.

Vocations have collapsed. Just last week Bishop of Kerry William Murphy predicted that, within a year, some parishes in his diocese might not have any priest.

Though Mr Elliott’s primary assertion is very welcome he made several points yesterday that we should embrace with equal enthusiasm.

He acknowledged that for the first time all 184 constituent parts of the Catholic church in Ireland had given power to an independent body to monitor their practice. This is an exceptional change for a church once so aloof and hostile to intrusion much less supervision of any kind. He pointed out the obvious but not always recognised fact that protecting children is a matter for us all, not just the church.

It would be foolish too if we focussed all of our efforts to safeguard children on events in the past. The Catholic church has lost influence in this society but that influence has been assumed by others. Maybe we would be wise to be as suspicious of those forces as we were forced to become of the Catholic church.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Power of Prayer


A thank you letter to the people of Ireland for their prayers

From Sharon Commins

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for the prayers throughout the very difficult and dark time experienced by my dear friend Hilda and myself. We both survived because we had the strength and willpower and love of our families stored in those deep caverns of our souls. And we had the love of God.

We now know that we were the beneficiaries of thousands of mass cards, novenas, candles and prayers in churches across Ireland, which consoled my family, and helped to ease the heavy sadness and worry which had descended on our home. I have since become aware of the many thousands of people who just prayed in their own special way and hoped for our safe return, and I am so grateful to them.

Hilda and I sought sanctuary in prayer during our 107 days in captivity. Prayer gave us the strength to cope with the despair and loneliness on the mountain. Prayer sustained us when virtually all hope was gone, and protected us from the crippling fear and deep sadness.

Every morning we prayed for the strength and courage to get through the hours. We and knew the God we shared would help reunites us safely with our families. After our first failed exit attempt, we said novenas to Saint Jude patron of hopeless cases and Saint Therese, "the little flower". We prayed to Saint Anthony, patron of lost items, that we would soon be found. Before settling in to sleep, we prayed that guardian angles would remain with us throughout the night and watch over us until daylight. We are both safe today - and I have no doubt in my mind that our combined prayers made a difference.

Out thoughts and prayers are now with Fr Michael Sinnott. And I will also remember the many people who took huge risks and showed so much courage, patience and determination to assist with my safe return. To them I will be eternally grateful.
Bless all our hopes for the future.

Thank you
Sharon Commins

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Music

The Magnificat arranged by Andrew T. Miller and sung by Amy Mahoney. Enjoy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Catholic Vote

While the election of Barack Obama was no surprise, the popularity of the website CatholicVote.com was. It received some 3.7 million visits. The most popular item was this powerful 3 minute video...


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Benedict in Time magazine

As we're on the subject, it's interesting to note that Pope Benedict has appeared on three front covers since his 2005 election.


May 2005 - The New Pope



November 2006 - Regensburg and Turkey





April 2008 - First Visit to the United States

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Papal Times

Pope John Paul appeared on the cover of Time Magazine some sixteen times during his twenty six year Pontificate.

Note how the media are mesmerised by John Paul Superstar in the early years but the mood changes in the mid-eighties and John Paul becomes an out-of-touch conservative.

But by 1994 John Paul is Man of the Year and there is a realisation that the pensioner with white socks might have something useful to say after all.

The Jubilee pilgrimage of the Year 2000 catches the imagination of the media but is a prelude to the Long Lent of 2002.........and finally the unforgettable days of April 2005.....



October 1978 - Habemus Papam






June 1979 - First Visit to Poland





October 1979 - The Pope comes to America





May 1981- Assassination Attempt







June 1982 - Papal Visit to United Kingdom






March 1983 - Pope in Central America





June 1983 - Pope visits Martial Law Poland




January 1984 - Pope forgives Agca






February 1985 - Dealing with dissent




September 1987 - Second Visit to United States




February 1992 - The Hidden History of Our Time




December 1994 - Man of the Year





January 1998 - Papal Visit to Cuba





April 2000 - Jubilee Pilgrimage to Holy Land





April 2002 - Scandal





April 2005 - Rest in Peace, Rise in Glory

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pope in Boston 1979

Flashback to Boston, October 1979





Homilies and delivery like this earned Pope John Paul his third Time Magazine front page and a glowing lead article.....

Read all Time Magazine's articles about the Papal Visit here.



Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ireland to host 50th International Eucharistic Congress in 2012



In what is the most significant development for the Church in Ireland in recent decades, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that the 50th International Eucharistic Congress will be held in Dublin in 2012.

More details at RTE


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brilliant article about a brilliant Pope.....


Radicalism at the heart of this brilliant pope's reign

Benedict's whispering of ancient truths through the megaphone of his enemies is invaluable to the modern age, writes John Waters
IF WE care to contemplate the irrelevance of chronological age, let us consider that last week marked the 81st birthday of the most radical voice in modern Europe. Benedict XVI, now three years into his papacy, has already confounded his enemies and delighted his admirers in a pontificate that glitters beyond all expectations.
How recent seem those momentous spring days of 2005 when his predecessor both saddened us by his going and uplifted us with the dignity of his dying, reminding that only in faith can humanity see past the ineluctable frontier.
And then the moment of succession, the emergence of the resolute figure of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to take the baton of St Peter in a time of unprecedented doubting and growing terror. Benedict was, by the secular media analysis, a stop-gap and a throwback, a "reactionary", a "right-winger", an obscurantist.
But what has emerged is what was implicit in his magisterial writings over several decades: a supreme intellect mounted in a most animated humanity, a man who in his lifetime has watched mankind lurch between great good and the greatest evil, and seeks to reconcile these observations with the truths he has inherited. One of the many paradoxes of being pope in the modern world is that you must speak through a megaphone controlled by your enemies. If John Paul II was an actor who communicated by disarming the megaphone-holders with charisma and charm, Benedict's strategy is determined subversion.
From the outset he has eyeballed the culture of the age, his first two encyclicals confronting the two most pressing issues of our time: the haemorrhaging from public language of, respectively, love and hope. "In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence ... I wish in my first encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others," he wrote in Deus Caritas Est. God is love, not hate.
This subtle and brilliant pope has struggled to be heard in a media climate characterised by sabotage and diversion. Repeatedly, the media sought to distort or reduce his statements, to make them fit with prejudices unfurled on his election. But Benedict has emerged from the episodes of Regensburg and La Sapienza as a man of courage and grace, his status enhanced.
A standard ploy of the megaphone-holders is the opening gambit that the pope has "risked a rift with the Islamic world" by saying or doing something that will later emerge as having been grossly misrepresented. But the media, after several defeats, now appears to have perceived the futility of this game. During the Easter vigil at St Peter's last month, Pope Benedict baptised Magdi Allam, a Muslim journalist who describes Islam as intrinsically violent and characterised by hate and intolerance. There were a few desultory media attempts to revive the spirit of Regensburg, but it didn't wash, because the truth radiated from the event itself.
I have met Magdi Allam several times, two years ago sharing a platform with him at a conference in Italy. Next day, I went to greet him in a restaurant and was immediately surrounded by the half-dozen armed policemen who accompany him at all times.
Allam is a supremely courageous journalist who has been under police protection for five years, having been handed a death sentence for criticising suicide-bombings. At baptism, he took the middle name "Christian", and afterwards wrote that his soul had been "liberated from the obscurantism of an ideology which legitimises lies and dissimulation, which induces murder and suicide, and blind submission to tyranny". He had, he said, joined "the authentic religion of truth, life and liberty" and discovered "for the first time the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason".
The baptism of Magdi Christian Allam is an example of Pope Benedict's radicalism, an event worth a hundred million words, a symbol of the new Enlightenment spearheaded by this most disarming of popes. Benedict's project is the restoration to western culture of an integrated concept of reason, the re-separation of the metaphysical from the physical. The unarmed coup of the 1960s, which sought to install scientific rationalism as the guiding light of the age, has failed to convince even its own adherents, who, alarmed by the listlessness of their children and the imminence of the darkness they have themselves summoned, now cry out for reassurance to Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Meanwhile, many of the same pseudo-rebels seek to mollify and court a very real form of obscurantism because it happens not to be Christian.
As the ideologies of the 1960s "freedom" project shatter on the rocks of reality; as the proponents of these ideologies begin to admit that they do not, after all, have answers to the most fundamental dilemmas of humanity; as we slouch towards what Magdi Allam has called "the suicide of our civilisation"; we may hope and pray that Benedict remains with us through the next crucial decade, whisperingly conveying his ancient truths through the megaphone of his enemies.© 2008 The Irish Times

Monday, April 7, 2008

Denominational Education

The text of the talks given at Friday's Iona Institute/The Word Conference on Denominational Education are available at the Iona Institute website.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008





IN DEFENCE OF DENOMINATIONAL SCHOOLS




Denominational education is under growing pressure as Ireland changes.
Faith-based schools are increasingly being attacked as ‘sectarian’, or
‘segregationist’.


The Iona Institute in conjunction with The Word magazine is holding
a half-day conference on Friday April 4, to examine these claims.
The conference will look at how these accusations have been answered
in England and Scotland. It will propose a positive argument in favour of
State-funding of denominational schools.


Venue: TARA TOWERS HOTEL, Dublin, D4 (near the Booterstown DART station)
Friday, April 4, 2008


9.30 Registration
9.45 Welcome and introductory remarks:
David Quinn, Director of the Iona Institute.
10.00 The situation of Catholic schools in Scotland:
Michael McGrath, Director, Scottish Catholic
Education Service.
10.50 Coffee break
11.10 Denominational schools and religious freedom:
John Murray, Mater Dei.
12.00 The Situation of Catholic Schools in England &
Wales: Oona Stannard, Director of the Catholic
Education Service England & Wales.
12.40 Questions and Closing Remarks: Fr Vincent
Twomey, SVD, Editor in Chief of The Word.
13.00 Conference ends

Please book your place call 01 6619204
or email info@ionainstitute.ie

RTE Discussion on Denominational Education


It's an issue which won't go away.

RTE Radio 1's "Spirit Moves" hosted by Susan McReynolds devoted the edition of Sunday 30th March 2008 to Denominational Education.

The panel included:
David Quinn - Director of the Iona Institute
John Carr - General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation
Bishop Leo O'Reilly - Chair of the Episcopal Commission on Education
Sarah Carey - blogger and columnist
Paul Rowe - Chief Executive of Educate Together

Listen HERE

Thursday, March 27, 2008

RCIA - An Easter Tonic


I had my most meaningful experience of Easter three years ago when I was living in the Parish of Our Lady’s Nativity in Leixlip. My parish priest, Father Michael Hurley, a native of west Cork, placed inter-county rivalry to one side and invited this Kerryman to act as sponsor for a young Nigerian doctor who had asked to be received into the Catholic Church. In fact, four young adults were preparing for baptism on Holy Saturday night that year in our parish.
(Right: Our Lady's Nativity, Parish Church, Leixlip, Co. Kildare, Ireland)



Those who wish to be received into the Church follow the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) programme. In Leixlip we met every Saturday evening for almost a year before the Easter Vigil. It was a great experience as it forced one to reflect deeply on ones own faith while assisting another on their own faith journey. The programme also had a positive impact on the parish community who witnessed the commitment of these young adults each week.

The experience was so positive that I would recommend that it be given much greater pastoral priority in Ireland. We often hear about the need for evangelisation and this can often seem to be a vague and abstract concept but the RCIA programme is a wonderful practical expression of that.

In addition, it is a powerful source of hope and encouragement for the Church. I was working in the United States after the Long Lent of 2002 during which, day after day, a new clerical scandal seemed to appear in the media. Imagine the boost which the Church in America received when, on Holy Saturday night, despite all the negative publicity, over 60,000 adults were baptised as Catholics.

In fact, large numbers of bishops reported in a recent survey that RCIA has the power to “transform parish life”. Perhaps the implementation of an RCIA programme would be a useful project for the many newly created parish pastoral councils. It would also be a wonderful way to make use of the skills and talents of the many lay catechists with whom the Church in Ireland is now blessed.

Promoting RCIA demands that one has confidence in ones own identity but it also creates great confidence and gives people hope. The challenge facing our leaders at national, diocesan and parish level is to devote significant resources- time and personnel - to this work. For me personally and for our parish community I can honestly say it was a tonic. (c) The Irish Catholic.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday to Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday's message of hope has been obscured
John Waters
Irish Times, Friday 21st March 2008

TODAY IS the darkest day, the day that is all night. It is a remarkable commentary on the power of a Catholic childhood that, despite the movability of the feast and the social changes that have rendered Good Friday largely indistinguishable from other days, at 3pm today it will grow dark all around my head.

In ways beyond metaphor, the clouds will gather and the sun shrivel away. Even if I should find myself sitting in Starbucks in the Dundrum Town Centre, I will shiver a little and feel bereft. The death of the Saviour will assert itself as the remembrance of a real event and I will experience the horror all over again. This is the power of culture.

Remarkably, Easter Sunday does not for me have an equivalent religious power. Somehow, the meaning of Easter, as I have apprehended it, seems to derive more from myth than history. My impression, born of the same culture, is that Easter represents a lifting of the shadow of the Crucifixion, but only in the sense that I feel permitted to cast off the sackcloth and embrace the spring, to live again in the world with a sense of undeserved reprieve.

It's my favourite time, but mainly because it brings this sense of release and relief. I may have caused Christ to be crucified, but somehow He has gotten me off the hook. Whereas Good Friday is unambiguously religious, Easter Sunday in our culture feels more like a secular feast, a celebration of the fact that we have shaken off the guilt and gloom of religion. The chocolate eggs accentuate this feeling: a corrupted symbol of rebirth that diverts rather than deepens meaning.
A couple of years ago, talking to a Puerto Rican priest with an acute gift for simplicity, I found myself embarrassedly asking if he could explain to me the core meaning of Christianity.
He urged me not to feel bad, since about 95 per cent of Christians do not understand Christianity either. He said that, a short time before, while lecturing in a Catholic seminary in the US, he had been approached by a young man, about to be ordained, who asked him a related but more specific question. He wanted to know the meaning of the Resurrection.

The priest took him to a graveyard and picked a grave at random. The headstone indicated that a man named Daniel was buried there. What, the priest asked the young seminarian, do we know of Daniel?
The young man shrugged. We know, said the priest, that Daniel is dead; that his body is inert, his mind a void; that, even if we were to bring 20 dancing girls and have them cavort around his grave, Daniel would continue to display a radical disinterest in reality.
On the evening of that first Good Friday, he went on, this is how it was with Jesus. But then, 40 hours later, something happened that would change everything. Jesus came back to life. Let us be clear, he emphasised, Jesus began to breathe again, grew warm, started to move, re-engaged with reality, became interested in things around Him. Having been as dead as Daniel, He became, once again, as alive as we are.
This, too, is history.

This, he told me, is both the meaning of the Resurrection and the central idea of Christianity: that death has no dominion, that beyond the end there is a new beginning. Christianity, he said, is the announcement to the world of the death of death.

In 50 years of immersion in a Catholic culture, I never heard it put like that. Although none of the story was new, I had never before quite grasped its meaning. In a life spent in Catholic churches and schools, reading Catholic periodicals, nobody had ever succeeded in communicating to me that the central message of Christianity is about hope beyond human imagining.
If you had put me on the spot to explain the core of Christian belief, I would have mumbled something about Jesus dying for our sins. Why? Not sure. I had a strong sense that I was responsible for the death of Jesus, and very little that I was entitled to feel anything other than undeserved relief about Him rising again.

I don't think it's just me. Something in the kind of Christianity we have inherited suggests that the point is to feel bad mostly, but occasionally to celebrate because, though we are unworthy, God is merciful and good.

In its constant reiteration of rules, the Catholic Church has seemed to forget that there is a need to tell people why, rather than out of blind obedience and a perverse desire to be told how to live their lives, they might want to listen to its message.

Very often those who are the voices of the Church fail to emphasise the most important part: that once in history, 2,000 years ago, God came to earth as a man to demonstrate that death is a myth born of the limited human imagination.© 2008 The Irish Times