I am writing this on Ash Wednesday but I have no ash upon my forehead.
Yet, having just suffered a family bereavement I am well aware of the comfort and power of the rituals we grew up with.
From the deathbed rosary and anointing, to the removal and rosary, to the funeral and burial, it was the patterns of the Church that we all turned to.
I can’t imagine what that it would all have been like without those religious rituals.
Yet in so, so many ways this is a post-religion Ireland.
The Church now is a voice on the margins and an awful lot of us are not sorry about that.
I have written here before about what was, in effect, the One Party State that the Church created, with the one party being the Roman Catholic Church.
The problem is, though, when the Party is removed from power who fills the vacuum?
The government of the day?
No, too inconsistent, too liable to change, too lacking in authority.
Certainly the new cathedrals of our age are the shopping centres so many of us flock to and, without question, the Celtic Tiger was the age of material worship.
In those days we ceased being citizens and became consumers.
But that was then and this is now, because we are now in another age again, and this is the age of the internet.
There may well have been a time when Ireland escaped modernity, avoided it, side stepped it but not now.
There is no avoiding the internet.
And, of course, that isn’t all bad.
For instance, when I first came to Ireland in 1999 I used to have to go into the local town and pay to fax my column through to The Irish Post.
E-mail came as a blessing.
I won’t list them here, but the advantages brought by the advent of the internet cannot just be dismissed by those of us who are uncomfortable with it.
There is, though, a dark side to this - one which I can’t quite see how we will overcome.
We may have displaced the Church, but does anyone know how we will ever challenge Google or Facebook or Twitter?
Anyone who has children will know that trying to control screen time or incessant social media is a battle that never seems to end. What anxieties and mental challenges await those growing up in a never-off world, where the conversation never ceases, I dread to think.
And because the internet age is unlike anything before this is the same whether you are in California, London or rural Tipperary.
The internet may well be a place of wonders and liberation, as its ardent supporters testify, but it is a place of unremitting darkness too. Here in Ireland Gardai recently raided a number of homes in a number of different counties looking for child pornography.
It doesn’t get much darker than that.
Yet, if I were to Google right now the fifty most popular websites in Ireland in 2017 I reckon at least three of them will be pornography sites.
There’s a lot of it out there and lot of Irish people are using it.
Of course, there is a huge difference between adult material and child pornography.
Yet how wide is that gap after all?
A while back somebody gave me the details of a streaming site where I could watch live football for free.
It is, strictly speaking, probably illegal, but, you know, I’m not sure I’d mention it in Confession. Yet I gave up on it because flashing up behind it were pornography sites.
At first I’d just click and get rid of them but the time I went to bin one and saw what seemed to be a child in a picture left me finding an online way to report it and vowing to give up on the free football.
I’m not even sure it was a child, to be honest, but it was nothing if not disturbing.
The wider point there though is that if I, an adult man, come across something accidentally that is disturbing, what are the chances of Irish teenagers, busy exploring online, hormones raging through their bodies, what are the chances of them coming across things nobody should really see?
To be blunt, what are the chances of some young person actively looking for sexual content coming across harmful stuff if you can just as easily come across it without looking for it?
Sure, the Church may have sexually repressed Ireland, perhaps even sexually distorted it, but our new masters, Google and Facebook, what are they giving us instead?