Clarendon Street (St Teresa's) Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin, Republic of Ireland Wikimedia Commons

Comment: ‘Little things’ of life feed spiritual growth

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  • September 14, 2017

DUBLIN, IRELAND - The homilist at St. Teresa’s Carmelite Church on Clarendon Street spoke of the need for small steps toward changed hearts.

“The one who needs change the most is often the one least willing to hear about the need to change,” he said. “So, correct a little at a time. Let little things come to light as needing the mercy of God.”

His words addressed the day’s Gospel teaching on what it means to love our neighbour when our neighbour is behaving badly. They were an expression, too, of St. Teresa’s charism of spiritual growth through attention to the “little things” of life: changing our habits daily rather than trying to change the world in an hour.

As Christians, we are increasingly confronted by neighbours who treat us with derision, outright hostility and now what some perceive as the early stages of persecution.

St. Teresa’s is a quick walk from the sites where modern Ireland was born in the “terrible beauty” of the Easter 1916 rebellion. Proximity to the doomed six-day rebellion served to remind of the historic reality of Catholics being oppressed by alien ideology. It renewed awareness of how deep the suppression of Catholic freedoms can go. It provided troubling proof of what it can take to recover our rightful place.

To be clear, even those who go so far as to prophesy an imminent era of Christian civil disobedience as the response to contemporary secularism would never compare our 2017 situation with the plight of pre-1916 Irish Catholics. Nor, for that matter, was the Easter Monday Rising a wholly Catholic phenomenon. Rebel leaders were driven by concerns of class, labour and feminist justice. Others were nationalists pure and simple.

Yet the great orator Padraig Pearse, the brilliant organizer Seán Mac Diarmada and the charismatic Michael Collins were deeply Catholic. Pearse famously spoke of the Rising as a “blood sacrifice” imitative of Christ’s willingness to die on the Cross. Sacrifice, he believed, was an essential step to correcting centuries of suppression of Catholic freedoms.

If we are far from what those Irish Catholics suffered — and we are — we must remain vigilant to the history that beset them. We must not, obviously, exaggerate our plight. And we can’t be oblivious to increasingly alarming assaults on our rightful place in the world.

In recent days, for example, British Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has been excoriated as a “bigot” by media for an interview in which he professed Church teaching on abortion and gay marriage. And Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett was pummelled during a Senate judicial confirmation hearing for her avowed personal fidelity to the Magisterium. In both cases, their very fitness as Catholics for public office was challenged, though each insisted they would not let private faith impede civic duty.

Writing of the Senate mistreatment of Coney Barrett, The Catholic Thing’s Robert Royal called the only right response from Catholics “holy anger” at such an outrageous threat to religious freedom.

“No Catholic … can let this pass without pursuing every avenue to make sure (such) naked bias never shows the cloven hoof again,” Royal wrote.

Royal lists some avenues to follow, fortunately stopping short of taking to the streets. One he misses is found in the words of St. Teresa’s homilist. We can do “little things at a time” to correct first ourselves, then our neighbours. We can correct with resolute, though always charitable understanding, when others misstate Church teachings. We can refuse to ever let anti-Catholicism pass. And, following the example of Michael Collins, we can correct our Catholic brothers and sisters who express the faith with all-ornothing hardness of heart.

This last is critically important. It requires us to bring to light within ourselves the things needing the mercy of God. For as the homilist concluded: “Let’s catch ourselves out and change, not change because another has caught us out and forced us to.”

The snares of history, after all, show what can arise when change becomes a matter of force.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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