A PICTURE FROM THE CLONARD NOVENA
This week in Belfast the CLONARD NOVENA is under way and thousands are turning out several times each day to attend Mass, submit petitions, hear guest speakers - and of course put plenty of money in the REDEMPTORIST COLLECTION PLATES.
The vast majority of the ordinary Catholics attending this novena are 100% sincere.
Indeed many of them are attending to ask God and Saint Mary's help with problems in their personal, family and community lives.
Even Bishop Noel Treanor has left his 4 million pound palace in leafy Belfast to say Mass for the great unwashed.
However I doubt if Treanor will be putting his hands in his pocket and putting money in the Clonard coffers.
But is this great Catholic Casino type of event a truly spiritual event - or is it more about:
1. Keeping the ordinary laity in awe of bishops, religious orders, priests and the Catholic Church in general?
2. Raising hundreds of thousands of pounds in one week from a big, spectacular Catholic Gig?
There are other examples of Catholic Casino-ism around the world:
The Vatican makes an absolute fortune every year out of all it's visitors to it's sites and museums.
It is a well established fact that the Vatican profits by millions of Euros every time they make someone a saint in Rome.
Another great Irish Catholic Casino is the Marian Shrine at Knock in County Mayo.
Bishops and priests love going there to have their rings and asses kissed by robot priest worshipping Catholics.
Knock also rakes in the money for that parish and the Archdiocese of Tuam.
FATIMA - LOURDES - MEDJUGORJE:
Again multi millions of pounds are raised by the Catholic Church in all these sites around the world.
I have most experience of Lourdes - and I like the simpler things at Lourdes - like praying alone at the grotto after midnight, like hearing confessions in the Confessional chapel and relieving people of burdens and by the care of the sick by so many.
But what really gets peoples tubes vibrating in places like Lourdes is when a cardinal or another well known cleric turns up:
"O My God, Cardinal Burke is here today. O my God. I just have to kiss his ring and get his blessing. O my God".
What would Jesus think of it all?
Let's ask him.
"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you". (Matt 6:6)
"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed". (Luke 5:16)
"One day Jesus was in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples". He said to them, "When you pray , say, "Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation". Luke 11: 1 - 4)
Jesus also said: