Being present in the culture of the day does not mean identification with that culture. The witness of the ordained minister must today very often be counter-cultural, a witness which is the very opposite of our consumer society, where the craving for wealth, pleasure and power so often dominates. In a world proud of its progress, the ordained minister must be sensitive to what Pope Benedict calls the “ambiguity of progress” and indeed must address those who are distracted by progress or even hurt by progress. Our world is marked by so many signs of progress and success. Yet, despite the outward clothing of economic progress there are still many signs of fragility in human hearts. Your ministry must be one in which the authentic witness of your way of life leads those who are questioning and seeking to open their hearts to the Christian message as a message of hope.
The Christian message is not a message which seeks power or political influence, but which one preaches and practices goodness and love. It is a message of a love that is gratuitous, of a love that cares for each one individually, especially those who are sick, or weak, or vulnerable, that reaches out to the sinner, to those who are drifting in their lives, to those who cannot find their way. In your ministry you are called to break the word of God as a word which strengthens and give the courage to remain faithful.
The presence, of our visitors from Eu in Normandy, where Laurence O’Toole spent his last days reminds us of how deep our links, as a people and as Church, are with Europe.
So many centuries ago, Laurence had already established strong links with Europe. He travelled across Europe to Rome to attend the Third Lateran Council in 1179. It was one year later that he found himself Normandy. His visit was essentially a peace mission at a moment of many shadows in the relations between Ireland, England and the power politics of the Europe of the day.
Our relationship with Europe today is very different. In the very different circumstances of our day, however, Ireland’s destiny and indeed Ireland’s identity are still clearly and irrevocably bound with that of Europe. The link today is not one based on fear of domination, but one of opportunity, participation and partnership. This does not mean a problem-free relationship with contemporary Europe. It does mean however, that Ireland within Europe has its role to play and its contribution to bring. Ireland cannot evade its European calling nor shrink from its European responsibilities. Christians are called to work to create the conditions in which people, to quote Pope Benedict XVI, “will understand fully the greatness of the enterprise that is the European Union, and will become active artisans of the same” (Speech to political leaders at the Elysée Palace, Paris, 12 September 2008)
Far from looking at Europe as a threat to our distinctive Irishness, we should realize that Ireland has the capacity to contribute to Europe, to change Europe. This requires a more robust and discerning politics towards Europe, recognizing the immense value of the European project as well as the challenges that the creation of a pluralist Europe entails in our times.
Within European political culture there are certainly tendencies towards a more secularist, positivistic and relativist philosophy. But these tendencies will not vanish by ignoring them or simply by criticizing them from the margins or from outside. What is needed is a critical engagement from within.
Christians in Europe should assert their commitment to Europe and unashamedly bring their contribution within the democratic opportunities that are available. A truly pluralist Europe on its part should not feel threatened by the Christian message, which is a message about a God who loves, a message capable of enlightening and enriching the European project.
A few days ago, I had occasion to say that Ireland needs a poverty strategy. Irish Christians need also a European strategy: they need to be engaged in the debates, challenging with all respect for those with differing views any dominance of relativist tendencies, working for a Europe of internal solidarity and of solidarity with the poorest nations, witnessing to the basic values which a Christian vision can foster, and supporting European initiatives for peace in our continent and farther afield. Our public servants and elected representatives should be encouraged and sustained to bring to the European project, the values which have consolidated the best of our Irish experience.
Laurence O’Toole was one who in the difficult times in which he lived walked the unsafe paths of a tense Europe as one committed to peace and the harmonious living together of different peoples. The Church in Ireland today, especially its lay men and women, can learn from his steps. Commitment to a better Europe involves engagement, rather than resignation or simply lamenting from the sidelines.
It was the people of Eu who recognized the courage and the saintliness of this solitary and courageous Irish witness to peace. Europe today needs such witnesses. We pray that through the intercession of Laurence the Irish/European consciousness and responsibility of our Christians will be awakened and renewed.
And you, Aloysius, Colin and Stephen, as you begin your new ministry as deacons, remember this saintly and prayerful man, a Good Shepherd and an untiring servant of his people, who drew from his prayer not just the courage to be a witness to Jesus in the concrete situation of his world but who brought renewal to the Church of Dublin.