Speaking at Mass for the Feast of Saint Ita in Raheenagh Church, Kileedy, where Limerick’s patron saint set up her community of nuns in the fifth century, Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick said that an example for the future of the Church can be drawn from both the prophetic words of the late Pope Benedict XVI and the lives of Saint Ita and Brigid over 1,500 years ago.
Referencing a radio interview given by Pope Benedict in 1969, Bishop Leahy said, “Pope Benedict, then a young theologian, concluded with prophetic words that are often repeated and certainly speak to us in Ireland today. He said the Church: ‘will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision’.
“He told us that, as a small community, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. This is something we are readying ourselves for, not least through Synodal pathway embarked on by his successor Pope Francis.”
Bishop Leahy highlighted Pope Benedict’s prediction that “the Church of the future would be a more spiritual Church, but ‘the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy’. He said it would make the Church poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process would, he said, be all the more arduous, for ‘sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will’ would have to be shed and he predicted back then that this would take time.
“But the then theologian Joseph Ratzinger ended his interview on a note of hope, highlighting how the Church as a ‘little flock’ will be rediscovered as providing the meaning that so many yearn for and have been searching for in secret.”
Bishop Leahy said that Saints Ita and Brigid offered an example of how the Church lived out its mission in another era. He said, “It’s not that we have to repeat pedantically what was done in any previous era. But we can draw inspiration from the work of the Spirit in women like Saint Ita and Saint Brigid and their communities and pray that today too we open to the renewal being brought about by the Spirit in many small steps but especially in the Synodal pathway that the Church in Ireland is following.
“The future may be smaller. Saint Ita was just one person in one moment of time in a community that was limited primarily to West Limerick. Yet, her example, light and charism live out fourteen hundred years later. Saint Ita dedicated herself to prayer and simplicity. There’s a great message in that for us.”