Alan McGuckian SJ gave the keynote address at the second Faith and Life Convention on Saturday, 26 September in Our Lady and St Patrick’s College, Knock, Belfast. The theme of the convention was ‘What hope for Faith?’ and the one day event was a forum for people from across the diocese of Down and Connor, and beyond, to gather together and to take part in a range of conversations about the meaning of faith and its relevance to everyday life.
In his address Fr Alan reflected on how faith is always influenced by the surrounding culture. He described the culture of faith that traditionally existed in rural Ireland where “there was a prayer for everything: for making the bed, lighting the fire, for before starting work, for finishing work.” The culture in which we are called to live the faith today is vastly different he commented – it is a culture of immediacy which prompts us to know what we want and to want it now. “We are bombarded with advertising telling us that there are a million things that we might want. And we want them fast. We don’t want to wait”. It has led to a trend in consumerism that you can do it all yourself, you don’t have to talk to anybody and you can complete purchases as fast as you like.
Alan then referred to how the traditional spiritual landscape has changed.“In our time in Ireland we have seen many people drift away at least from the regular practice of the faith”, he said. He outlined how we trusted so long in the traditional practices that weren’t cognisant of the erosion of real religious experience. “We didn’t notice the emergence of a real spiritual hunger that was not being met. It is in the individual’s own heart that this hunger, this emptiness exists and it is in and through their own experience that God will feed the hunger and fill the emptiness”, he remarked.
He made reference to Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke during the recent Year of Faith about ‘Pedagogy of Desire’ – learning to be in touch with our deepest and most authentic desires. This “pedagogy” would remind us to relish “the authentic joys of life”, to see family, friendship, the beauty of nature and the privilege of standing in solidarity with those in need, as gift. The challenge for us as a Living Church said Alan is to consider, “Are our Catholic communities places where the Pedagogy of Desire goes on?”
Looking to the future, he encouraged those in parish ministry to change the conversation so that the call to go deeper is heard, so that they allow God find rich soil in which to plant the seed. According to Alan this concretely means that, “We must privilege things like Adoration, Lectio Divina, Prayer Guidance, Spiritual Direction”. Referring to the numerous resources of the Church which “Are capable of putting us in touch with the depths of mystery and leading us into personal encounter with the living God”, he encouraged those present “to take the personal responsibility of reaching out and inviting people to explore the riches of our Catholic heritage starting with those we know and love”.
The theme of the conference ‘What hope for Faith?’ was also explored in a wide range of workshops, including one given by Brendan McManus SJ where he discussed a pastoral response to suicide. He identified the typical issues that a bereaved person or family face after a loved one’s death by suicide and outlined some helpful approaches to those issues. Meanwhile a panel discussion with Nuala O’Loan, Fr Tim Bartlett, Thérese Ferry and Dr Johnston McMaster centered around the topic of how the Church, and people of faith can position themselves in current debates and engage more readily in the public square. Bishop Noel Treanor gave the closing address of the conference.