06/01/07 Festival of Peoples Homily

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Homily given by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of all Ireland
at the Festival of the Peoples Mass
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St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Saturday 6th January ’07 – the Feast of the Epiphany.
The story of the Epiphany, the story of the arrival at the birthplace of Jesus of these three figures from the East, is a story full of mystery.   As child I remember them as three kings, then as three wise men, who arrived late to our Crib on this day. Tradition has even given the three visitors names, but there is no way we can verify such facts about them today.In the Old Testament mentality what was happening here on earth was greatly influenced by and reflected in what was taking place in the heavens.  Harmony in the skies reflected harmony in relationships on earth.  Any change in the patterns of the sky was looked on as an omen of something changing, for good or for ill, on our earth.

These curious kings or astrologers were attracted then by a new star they had seen and they set out on a path to find out what was happening.  The indications seemed to point to possible disorder and tension in the world.  The wise men began to understand that someone important, a King, had been born.  They set out on a journey to find this new king, to interpret this event and to understand it.
On their way they stopped at Jerusalem to ask Herod, the King who lived there, for news of the promised King who had been born.    We do not know exactly what their initial impression of Herod was, but they continued on their journey with an open mind to that place where the star rested above them and indicated where the child had been born.
But to their surprise, their arrival at Bethlehem turns out not to be the end of their pilgrimage but the beginning of a new journey.  Indeed nothing could have been so different to their expectation than what they encountered: a new king born as a child, helpless and without any of the trappings of royalty and power, in evident poverty.
The new King, to whom they now paid homage, was quite unlike what they were expecting. In their faith however they learn – and we have to learn – that that God’s power is not like that of the powerful of this world.  They came to understand that God’s ways are not as we imagine them or as we often wish them to be. They learn that God is not as we usually imagine him to be.
Jesus’ being born into poverty was not just an accident of history.  Jesus could only reveal the nature of God through being born outside the framework of the human criteria of success and celebrity and power.  Jesus was born into human helplessness because only in this way could he reveal the power of God.
The wise men come then to realize that God is different and that this means that they themselves must now become different; they must learn God’s ways.  So they return by a different way; different not just according to the map.  They return truly changed. To learn God’s ways, they must abandoned their old ways.  The encounter with Jesus Christ requires of all of us that we change our way.  As we encounter Jesus in his birth at Christmas and today in his revelation to the peoples, whom these wise men represent, we too must come away facing in a new direction.  We recognise that the values that are expressed in earthly wealth and celebrity and prestige are not the models for the follower of Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God and its justice are introduced into the world not through issuing commands from a throne on high, not through imposition by force, not through delicately managed publicity campaigns, but with the power of self-giving and generosity, through the rejection of the outward signs of power. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts which are worthy of a worldly king, are worthless if they are not transformed into self giving, through being be conformed to the divine way of exercising power, to God’s own way of being.
Being a follower of Jesus Christ involves discovering the true face of God.  This means that we avoid the temptation to create a private God of our own, who is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ. There are many who think they speak in the name of God; some even preach hatred and intolerance and perpetrate violence in God’s Name.  Some make of God a private comfort zone to flee from the realities of the world. As Christians we must learn to believe and worship God as he is manifested to us by in Jesus Christ and in his Church.
The Church is the great family of God.  The Church is a sign through which in Jesus Christ, God realises and constructs in history that communion and unity that embraces every continent, culture, people and nation. That is the meaning of our celebration today.  In the revelation of Jesus to the wise men from the East we are drawn into recognising that salvation is for the many and not just for the few.  We are drawn into the mystery of the unity of the human family.
God does not enter into competition with earthly powers in this world.   The Church like Jesus has no mandate to establish or to desire specific structures of worldly governance.  The Church shows its authority through fidelity to the message of Jesus, a fidelity shown above all through witness and service.  Yet authentic Christian witness is a major contribution to society, a contribution which society – yes, including our sophisticated contemporary Irish society – needs.
This morning’s festive Mass is a sign of the efforts of the Catholic Church in Dublin to treasure and celebrate the richness of our new ethnic mixture in Ireland.  The Catholic Church here in Dublin welcomes those who have come to our shores in recent years, wherever you trace your origins, for whatever length of time you will be here in Dublin. Whatever else may happen know that you are welcome as full members of this local Church.  Each one of us is a child of the same God.  Each of us is created in God’s image.  We are all brothers and sisters, we all need each other, we all can support and strengthen each other.
The Feast of the Epiphany stresses that the mission and the message of Jesus is directed towards all.  No one group, whether based on class or ethnic origin or cultural affinity can claim privilege within the family of God.  If there is any fault-line it is one which favours sinners and those who are weak as opposed to those who feel themselves self-sufficient and arrogant.
This is not the vision of morbid entrapment in sinfulness and anxiety.  The Church is God’s family where all can find their home, their freedom, and where they can find joy in the fulfilment of their aspirations and hopes.
It is part of the Church’s mission to denounce and to condemn anything that goes against the message of the Gospel about the unity of humankind.  This is why the Church speaks about discrimination and exploitation against those who come to our shores; it speaks about latent racism; it speaks about fully respecting the rights, especially their labour rights, of migrants and their families. Immigrants are entitled to the same pay and to the same standards of safety and social protection as any other in our society.
But such denunciation will be empty if the Church itself were not to be a true witness to the unity of the human family, if the Church were to entertain or tolerate within its own ranks signs of intolerance or even worse “prophets of intolerance”.
God does not enter into competition with earthly powers in this world.  The Church does call on earthly powers to live up to their responsibilities.  But the Church will be all the more credible when it is in the vanguard in the creation of a culture of welcome and support, of integration, yes, but in the way in which any family integrates, through a shared project of life which respects the originality and talent of each of its members.
Our ceremony this morning – now for the second year running – is – I hope – a sign of a commitment to working for a society in which we can establish a common future which not only respects but rejoices also in the talents and contribution of people of different race, culture, religion and economic background.
Alongside the wise men of the East we present the new face of Ireland to the saving power of Jesus Christ.  We present this new journey of our nation so that we too, like the wise men, can reach the truth about the human family and we can interpret it and understand according to God’s plan for the unity of all humankind.
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