Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, 13th March 2010
The Gospel reading we have just heard is about the sense of discernment which must mark the life of Christians. The Gospel tells us about the newness which the message of Jesus brings into our lives and to our world. Through the life and ministry of Jesus God brought something new into human history. This newness is something which we should not attempt to hide away but rather allow its light to be seen by all.
When I say that we should allow the light of the Gospel to be seen by all, this does not mean that our living of the Gospel is about us showing off. It is about the Gospel challenging us to see where the light should be shining in our lives; challenging us to put the light at the centre of our lives, before it is too late, before the light and the darkness that are in the secret of our heart are made known and come into the public life. The light of Christ enlightens and guides us, but the light of Christ will also show up the secrets of darkness that are hidden in our hearts as individuals and institutions.
The Gospel reminds us then that our lives must be an open book and that our Church must be an open book which reflects the brightness of the true light of Christ, rather than the shadows of our own hearts. If the light in our hearts is anything else than that of Christ, if it is a light of our own construction, the day will come when the true light will show up how dull and blurred of our life and the life of our Church have become.
The first reading reminded us of some of the qualities which are signs of the presence of the light in our lives and in our society. It reminds us that our lives should reflect what is honourable and just and pure and what is commendable. The message of Jesus is not a burden but something which brings fruits of joy and peace and which can only be transmitted in a spirit of gentleness.
For so long we have fallen into the trap of thinking that the Christian message was above all a message of rules and norms to be imposed or simply an ethical code. We put into the background of our thought the fact that rules and norms and codes on their own remain just a skeleton without flesh; the codes with which we guide our lives must be fleshed out by the joy of encountering Jesus as a gentle and merciful Jesus. Our Christian formation has created so often a sense of fear and insecurity in people lives, far from the joy and the peace which our reading identified as a mark of the disciples of Jesus.
The message of Jesus is a message about mercy, but not about false mercy or cheap mercy. Jesus is merciful because he wishes us to be able to attain the fullness of the humanity that is within us, created in the image of God. Everywhere Jesus went he preached the good news of liberation; at the same time however, wherever he went, Jesus cured the sick and freed people from burdens so that they could live their liberty to the full. Following the path of liberty and liberation once again is not about cheap liberation or facile liberation. The path of true freedom is a path which takes us inevitably along a painful road of overcoming our weakness and struggling to attain to real fulfilment. Attaining human fulfilment comes only when we aim at attaining the highest things, what the reading calls the things of excellence.
We come to celebrate 40 years of ACCORD, the Catholic Church’s agency for fostering Christian marriage and family life. ACCORD is called to proclaim the message and the ideal of Christian marriage in a cultural context where this is difficult to fully comprehend and live out. It is a counter cultural message. But as with Jesus himself, our proclamation of the Good News must be accompanied by a process of care and lifting of burdens. Your work in ACCORD is to be ministers of this kindness and the generosity of God, as it is revealed in the life of Jesus. Through your ministry you challenge people to live out married love to the full and you work at the same time to restore lives that have become broken and fragile, especially with regard to relationships as spouses and parents. Your task is to lift the burdens which impede people attaining that wholeness in humanity which God’s plan desires for them.
So my first words are thank you and to encourage you. I thank you for your dedication and your professionalism. In all its services the Church must demonstrate that those it works with deserve and receive the best. Professionalism is the sign of true respect for others, especially the most vulnerable. Through your professionalism and dedication you play a vital role in the life of the Church in Ireland, North and South.
Professionalism and faith are not in contrast with each other. Your faith in a Jesus who came to save and heal can bring a new dimension to your professionalism.
Marriage is a sacrament; that means that it is not just a blessing for a couple, but something given for the building up of the Church. Married people receive the sacrament not just as a support for the life together as spouses, or their life as parents. The sacrament of marriage is also a call to bring something unique to the life of the Church.
It is vital that that specific calling of married people to the life of the Church should never be forgotten or overlooked. It is a constitutive element of the life of the Church. Many have said to me that had the management of the recent scandals been handed over to married persons, the same disastrous mistakes would not have taken place We have to find ways in which the contribution and charism of the married can be structurally and more fully channelled into the life of the Church and into the way “the Church runs its business”.
I was thinking that there may be a great symbolism in today’s Mass here in the Chapel of Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth. For generations the Irish Church put its trust and confidence in carrying out its mission in the first place in the priests who sat daily in these choirs stools and who prayed and worshipped here. Today it is not without significance that these chairs are occupied by you, married men and women, committed to enhancing the vocation of marriage and the family as service for the building up of the Church. Your presence in this Chapel this morning is a sign that you should not feel that somehow you are guests or visitors to a Church built for clerics. The Church more than ever needs the witness and the fidelity, the love and the fruitfulness which are the great foundations of your sacrament. Your witness is an essential dimension of the Church of Christ.
The family is the place where the future of the Church is formed. The family is the place where faith is lived in a concrete way which touches the hearts of young people. I am not saying that this is an automatic or an easy process. You as parents know better than I how hard it is today to transmit the message of Jesus Christ in its entirety to the coming generation, much less how hard it is to convince young people of the value of participation in Church life. It is hard in the best of times. It is particularly hard in our times. I was very struck by the comment of one Dublin parish on the needs of the Church in Dublin after the Murphy report. It said starkly: “In this parish there are so many young people who are struggling to find a reason to stay in the Church”.
Marriage and family life are vital also for society. The family is the place where values are formed and embedded in life. I thank you especially for the contribution to society which you bring through education, through marriage preparation and through counselling. You help people to find their married life in its authenticity. You build up the fundamental structure of society. The term relationship which ACCORD uses reminds us that sexuality and marriage cannot be understood just in terms of individuals. In a culture with a great emphasis on individualism we need to recall that by its very nature sexuality is relational. Where love is not relational it is reduced to damaging narcissism. Where love is lived as self-giving to the others it rebounds fruitfully through enriching the self esteem of the giver.
The Christian teaching has always been that the relationship between a man and a women in marriage is not something accidental or cultural, but something constitutive of human existence. The Book of Genesis notes that
“God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them,
Male and female he created them”.
The complementarity of man and woman reflects thus in a unique way a dimension of the image of God; the marital love of man and woman is a unique reflection of the God who is love.
Let me come back to our two readings. There are two rather similar phrases in both texts. In the first reading when the qualities of the followers of Jesus are set out, we are told “think about these things”. The Gospel reading tells us to “pay attention to how you listen”. As I have said the message of Jesus is a message of discernment. Through your work in education, formation and counselling both you yourselves and those whom you serve are challenged to turn away from facile and empty solutions to the challenges of authentic Christian life. That challenge will be all the more difficult in a society which drifts away from the message of Jesus Christ. Our prayer this morning is that through your concern, your professionalism and your personal witness the experience of 40 years of ACCORD will today and tomorrow flourish and continue in one of the most vital works of the Church, ensuring that the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ is ministered and mediated in the Ireland of the future.