Reconciliation in Ireland

Bishop Cahal Brenden Daly (1917-2000)
Editor: This is the conclusion of a much longer presentation given by Bishop Daly (1917-2000) in early 1979. He served as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland and Primate of All Ireland from 1990 to 1996. His talk was given amidst the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland, having experienced the outbreak of a very long, costly war in 1969 and in advance of the birth of the peace process in the early 1990’s.
 
I shall end by one word to myself and to my brother-churchmen. We are prone to preachers’ words and preachers’ attitudes. We easily appear as sentimentalists, romantics, other-worldlings, abounding in a rhetoric remote from reality and using words which disguise the all-too-human stuff of men and of society.
 
We preach reconciliation; but we seem often to mean by it that some words are to be spoken, some gestures are to be performed, but that nothing actually has to be changed, no one actually has to change. But reconciliation is not verbal formulae or ritual gestures.
Reconciliation is change; its meaning is in the changes that actually happen. Reconciliation in Northern Ireland will begin to happen, not when Protestant and Catholic churchmen walk arm in arm down our Royal Avenue in Belfast; but when structures of political partnership are functioning, when barriers to opportunity are removed on both sides, when avenues of employment are open to all, when disparities of wealth and privilege between communities are reduced, when human dignity is accorded equal rights and equal respect, regardless of address or school or church or chapel. The gestures can happen then, because only then will they be sincere. Before that has happened, they might be only clerical games.
 
What I am saying is not some social horizontalism substituted for the gospel of Jesus Christ. What I am saying is basic Christianity. It is gospel truth. I have been merely spelling out the meaning of conversion, of metanoia. Men have to change, change themselves radically, before their repentance is real. 
 
The test whether they have changed is to be found in what they do, more than in what they say. It is to be found in the structures of their society more than in their feelings of generalized benevolence.
 
We have a command of the Lord to establish reconciled structures and exercise reconciled behavior, rather than merely cultivate feelings of reconciliation. This is made by the Lord a test of faith itself, when he says, ‘Repent and believe the gospel’. 
 
This is how we have to ‘redeem the time’ before he comes again, for he comes quickly (Rev 22:20).
 
(Original article published in Briefing, vol. 9, issues 32 & 33, 7 & 14 September 1979)