EVERY now and then I get a soft spot for the old Catholicism I was reared in.
I recall the Sacred Heart picture on the wall of my childhood home. I remember my First Confession and my First Holy Communion; the ugly new build church beneath the tower blocks, an inner city Birmingham kid, two Cork parents and a parish priest from Bantry.
I remember the smell of sour-sweet tobacco from the old Irishmen at the back of the church. I remember the ritual of Sunday Mass every week and the roast dinner at home afterwards.
I remember the many Saints my mother would bring up at times of stress, the memorial cards for my grandmother, the smell of incense.
I remember the Catholicism that made us stand out from the English society we grew up in. I remember huge Irish funerals on English streets. I remember the nuns and the priests. I remember blessing myself.
I remember too the generations around us and before us for whom the old religion must have been such a comfort.
I remember those true people of faith who led full lives but kept their religion close to them. I remember it all even as I’ve walked away from it. Even as the Ryan Report or the personal hypocrisy of individual Catholics turned the stomach I remembered there was a simple message in there somewhere about love and honesty and individual conduct.
I have walked away but I’m still a Catholic. I can’t escape it. I may not go to Mass but culturally I’m a Catholic and I almost certainly always will be.
So certain things still hurt. Certain things still offend. Certain things, just when you might get wistful about the old religion, about that Irish Catholicism you grew up with, make you walk away all over again.
Things like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, blessing the Republican Convention in August. Openly and explicitly, as a leading Catholic, siding with Donald Trump. Seriously?
Is that the man that Catholic’s now aspire to? Was Cardinal Dolan not offended when Trump violently cleared peaceful protestors so that he could pose with a Bible? A Bible he’d clearly never held before.
Donald Trump, a man whose chequered, to put it kindly, personal morality matches only his rabidly hostile politics is a light now to Catholics?
I knew there were many things rotten about Catholicism but surely somewhere, hidden deep, inside the Irish Catholicism Timothy Dolan must have grown up with, a Catholicism much like my own, there is something that baulks at that.
And all this in opposition to a man, Joe Biden, who, whatever your politics, actually is a Catholic. An Irish Catholic no less. One who carries with him at all times the rosary beads of his dead son.
But Cardinal Dolan gives his blessing to Donald Trump. If there are nine circles of hell how many circles of hypocrisy are there? Cardinal Dolan has even spoken humorously and fondly of being on the phone to Donald Trump more than to his own mother.
Ah, bless. What fun to be had joshing with the neighbourhood bigot. Now, I don’t know, but maybe there’s something about Irish American Catholics that Archbishop Dolan represents.
Maybe Irish American Catholics can marry a faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible with Donald Trump. Maybe they can look back through the values of the Irish Catholicism they were reared in and see that those values lead to Donald Trump.
Maybe they think the dreams their Irish Catholic family had on leaving Ireland is embodied by Donald Trump.
And maybe Catholicism is the gathering of hypocrisy it so often seems to be. The other names around Trump, Conway, Flynn, O’Brien, Mulvaney, certainly seem to suggest so.
Yes, every now and then I get a little wistful about the old religion.
I can go to a Mass rock not far from where I write this and listen to the water and the wind in that hidden spot and think of the comfort it brought to those before me.
I can pass a grotto and see someone praying in these turbulent times and feel the tug of faith.
I can look at the holy medal in my wallet.
And just then, like so often before, Irish Catholicism hits me like a cold shower.