Today, I greet you, dear Reader, from the rural northwest of Ireland. It is where, by the Grace of God, I now live ― although fifty-two years ago I started out in Los Angeles as an (unbaptised) American child of British parents.
The fact that I am now writing this for Angelico Press, who has just published The Gentle Traditionalist – my book on Catholic Apologetics – amply demonstrates that a great deal happened between my secular American upbringing and my life now in Ireland. Or I might even say: my life amidst the embers of Christendom, still present on this little island, lying at the far shores of Abendland of old . . .
That ‘great deal’ (sometimes words fail utterly!) was my conversion to the Catholic faith which began when I was thirty-four and thoroughly, thoroughly immersed in the New Age movement. Indeed, I had even lived in Findhorn, which many regard as the leading New Age centre on the planet. As the Vatican document Jesus Christ The Bearer Of The Water Of Life tells us:
The two centres which were the initial power-houses of the New Age, and to a certain extent still are, were the Garden community at Findhorn in North-East Scotland, and the Centre for the development of human potential at Esalen in Big Sur, California, in the United States of America.
Findhorn and the New Age: I would orient my entire life to them for nearly twenty years. And to my mind that fact owes much indeed to my secular environs in America (and later England). For I inhabited a world utterly bereft of any sense of the Catholic Mystery.
And how many Americans (or English) are just like I was: hungry for spiritual mystery and seeing no other option in modern culture but the New Age movement?! And even though – after decades! – I finally discovered the Holy Church, how many of these hungry souls never do?
Alas, we have no statistics for these people, but I imagine they number tens of millions. This is because Anglophone culture, generally speaking, has rendered Catholicism either invisible or so badly stereotyped that many a spiritually sensitive soul sees nowhere else to turn but the New Age – especially as evangelical Protestant Christianity is likely to appear dull and literalist to many who feel famished for the numinous.
Historically, however, there was always one major exception to that depressing situation in the Anglosphere. I speak, of course, of the Emerald Isle. In Ireland, the Catholic Mystery was not invisible, but proclaimed everywhere!
Even very recently what existed here in Ireland would stagger the minds of my fellow Americans today. What I mean by that can be glimpsed from a national survey of the Irish Republic from as late as 1973-1974. That survey found over ninety percent of Catholics attended Mass weekly and nearly forty-seven percent went to Confession monthly, whereas ninety-seven percent prayed daily. Seventy- five percent of those surveyed put up holy pictures or statues.
Furthermore, around a quarter of the population went to Mass more than once a week and a similar proportion confessed every week or more!
As late as 1986, a referendum for divorce in Ireland was defeated by a thumping two thirds majority. It was finally passed in 1995, although 49.7 percent still voted no. (It was around the same time that magazines like Playboy became easily available here – which they had not been before!)
Cynics try to paint this extraordinarily religious society as largely stemming from social control in a culture where Church and State had been closely linked. According to such derision, Irish Catholics simply did what they were expected to by a rigid, hierarchical system.
What this cynicism misses is how much Irish religiosity exceeded the Church’s expectations. For example, the Church certainly does not stipulate Confession every week. And yet twenty-nine percent of the Irish population confessed weekly or more! The Church imposes no obligation to put up holy images or statues. Yet seventy-five percent of the population said they did.
Today, things are very, very different. Same-sex ‘marriage’ was voted in earlier this year and abortion was legalized in 2013 (albeit by a government acting against its electoral promises and without a referendum it clearly feared it would lose!)
Just forty years later, globalization has done much to render Ireland ever more like the sterile, secular America and England I grew up in. Today the Irish youth are growing up deprived. And just as I grew up deprived – robbed of the Catholic Mystery – they, too, are turning to the New Age.
That at least is true in the cities such as Dublin, Cork and Galway. But where I am, in the Donegal-Tyrone borderlands, it remains still different. I feel graced to live in a little village where most still go faithfully to Mass, where the Angelus bell still sounds, where the village school is Catholic and where my heart is deeply moved to see Irishmen and women regularly praying by their parents’ graves in our church cemetary.
Here is why I spoke of the embers of Christendom.
It is also why I am determined to do whatever I can to see that those embers are not extinguished. But no it is more than this! For I should say: to do whatever I can to relight the fire of Christendom, brought to this land by St. Patrick 1600 years ago. (St. Patrick, it might be recalled, belonged to Christendom. His name was Patricius and he was a citizen of the Christian Roman Empire, as it then existed.)
Part of my efforts to preserve and renew Christendom involve two books I have written: The Gentle Traditionalist and a second, bigger volume Cor Jesu Sacratissimum forthcoming from Angelico this spring. (Cor Jesu Sacratissimum is also the title of another effort, which is my blog here: http://corjesusacratissimum.org.)
Both books deal in their different ways with the issues invoked above: the loss of the Catholic Mystery in the Anglosphere and the rapid ascent of secular ideology and New Age-ism in its place.
Moreover, both books address the only hope I see – that the Catholic Church rediscover her traditions and reverence in her liturgy. That is to say, that she becomes unashamedly, unapologetically Catholic once again.
Now, recently I was deeply gratified that Peter Kwasniewski, author of Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis very graciously indicated that my first book has succeeded in what I set out to do:
The Gentle Traditionalist is a book with a ‘strange magic,’ like unto the Ireland it loves and mourns. With unforgettable images and a wry sense of humor, Buck unfolds a tale of whimsical fantasy, melancholy realism, and supernatural joy, ever so gently exposing the intolerance and incoherence of the New Secular Religion that is destroying Ireland today, just as it has destroyed every culture that has surrendered to it. The remedy to this scourge is not ‘Christianity lite’ or the ‘spirit of Vatican II,’ but the real religion that raised Western civilization to its glory: the traditional Catholic Faith. Buck’s deftly-reasoned post-modern apologetic for full-blooded Catholicism—a Syllabus of Errors in narrative form, a rousing hymn to ‘meaning, grace, beauty, life’—will be salutary for those who are still wandering and for those already arrived in port.
I am not sure I am able to live up to such praise! Nevertheless, Kwasniewski has captured my aspiration in writing, at least: to show that Ireland – along with the rest of the Anglosphere of course – need not settle for the New Age Movement, nor for the ‘New Secular Religion’ (as I call it in my book). For both, I argue, are leading – each in their different ways – to what St. John Paul II termed the ‘Culture of Death’.
Yet the embers of Christendom remain with us. In certain places in rural Ireland, they are still burning brightly. St. Patrick’s fire must be rekindled!
I say this not only for the sake of the Irish – but indeed the entire Anglosphere. For, as I say, the Anglosphere is impoverished, buried beneath five hundred years of Protestant scepticism of the Catholic Mystery, now mutated into even deeper secular scepticism.
But for countless Catholics in America, Australia, England, Canada and elsewhere, Ireland has long shone like a beacon of hope.
Were that Irish lighthouse to be extinguished, the tragedy would travel far, far beyond these shores. The unique luminosity cast by Ireland into the Anglophone darkness would no longer serve to guide and inspire English-speakers everywhere.
And, personally speaking, I have little doubt that is precisely what certain secular, revolutionary elites across the Anglosphere desire. (The same-sex ‘marriage’ campaign, for instance, received massive funding from liberal America.) That, however, is a thorny, complex topic best left aside for the moment.
My main point here is that the entire Anglosphere needs an Ireland that has not succumbed to secular ennuie and anomie. Irish Catholic culture must be sustained.
But that is no easy thing in an Ireland incessantly bombarded by English and American media, as well as an Irish Church so unsure of herself after heartbreaking scandals (a subject I cover in my book).
Nonetheless, the work – spiritual, practical, intellectual – of saving Catholic Ireland must be mounted, passionately and sincerely. I pray, then, that my new book might make a humble contribution to that immense collective task – a task that requires endeavor by every soul, whereever they may be, who cares about the Soul of Ireland.
And so, if you are such a person yourself, good reader, I ask you to stop and say a prayer once you finish reading this. Pray with me a moment, won’t you, that the sacred fire Patricius brought to the Celts long ago might be rekindled across the length and breadth of this singular island.
St. Patrick, pray for Ireland!
Copyright 2015 Roger Buck