DEDICATION OF NEW ALTAR
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
3rd September 2010
We come to dedicate this altar after the re-ordering of this Church of Saint Damian of the Poor Clare Colettines. We gather as friends of this community of prayer and reflection. We gather, in many cases, as people who are indebted to this community, not just for the prayerful support we have received on individual occasions from the Sisters, but the debt we all owe to their unique and vital witness in our times, as in other times, a witness to the presence of God in our midst. The silent presence of the Sisters here reminds us all of our need to seek God, to find the time and the space in our lives to come closer to God and thus to come closer to who we are ourselves. Coming close to God enables us to shed much of what the superficial in our lives behind which we hide.
The ceremony of the dedication of an altar is among the most significant in the entire liturgy of the Church. The liturgical rite shows us through various signs that the altar and the space around it are set apart definitively from profane use to become a special place where we encounter God’s presence and action. The fruit of human action and artistry and creativity give way to allow God’s presence and action to take on the dominant role.
I congratulate the Sisters on their courage and inspiration in undertaking this project. I congratulate the architect and the sculptor on the successful outcome of the creative venture.
Within this Church and the convent which surrounds it, the Sisters witness to the presence of God in our midst. We find ourselves here at the heart of so much activity in an oasis of something different, something which many who may simply hear about the life of the Sisters find it hard to understand. Those of us who are fortunate enough to know of the calling of the Sisters know that we encounter here an oasis of prayer and recollection. We come to know that prayer and reconciliation belong to fulfilled living.
The sisters have stepped back from the hectic of an ever changing world, yet their witness says so much to those of us who remain in that hectic. We know that here we can find silence and we can deepen our sense of God.
I find it very significant that enclosed Sisters have always shared their prayer life with others. Traditionally in their prayer the Sisters remained unseen. In this new setting the Sisters have become more visible, but their mission, their ministry and the simplicity of their life style remains un-altered.
Enclosed religious life is a sign. Religious life is never just a personal, private spirituality. It is a gift for the building up of the Church. It is concretely a witness of a deep and regular life of prayer, of a stability of life in the midst of a desire for hectic and experimentation. Stability and discipline in prayer represent a desire to witness to the strength and fidelity of God, who does not change.
Cloistered religious life is a sign of the Church. It is not a flight from the world. Yes it is a stepping back from the world, from what many would call the “real world, indeed the “only real world”, that of hectic and celebrity, of possession and power.” The Sisters remind us that there are deeper values. The Sisters through their prayer life remind us not just that God exists, but that God cares for us, that he loves us, that he invites us on a difficult path of conversion, but a fruitful one which changes the way we live.
I congratulate all the members of the community for what you mean to so many, I congratulate you on the manner in which two communities, one from Southampton and one traditionally here in Simmonscourt, have come together in a true spirit of a unity which only prayer can consolidate in such a way.
We come to dedicate an altar. When we say that the altar represents a place dedicated to God and his service, we think above all about the Eucharist where the self-giving love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is made present. The altar, no matter how beautiful, is not a showpiece or just a piece of art to be observed and admired. The altar invites. We are invited to gather around the altar, to gather around a sacrificial life-giving table of unity.
Gathering around this altar above all means uniting ourselves with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. To enter into this space of God we must have the right key; not a physical key which we pass around to whoever needs it next. They key is within us, within our attitudes, having within us the same mind as Christ Jesus.
Jesus speaks on many occasions about who will be invited to the banquet of his Father’s table. His invitation is not printed on elegant gold embossed invitation cards. His invitation reaches out way beyond the categories of worldly respectability and politically or socially correct thought. We have seen in many Gospel passages that the invitation of Jesus reaches out to the crossroads and the byways of everyday life, of everyday suffering and misery. Jesus brings into the banqueting hall the blind and the lame, the sick and the troubled.
What does that mean? Who are these people who seem to be the rejected but who become the principle guests at the Father’s banquet? What are the criteria of their presence? Why them rather than others? Those who are invited to the Father’s banquet are those who recognise that what counts is not what we can give, but the generosity of God revealed in Jesus Christ. They are the humble, the ones who in recognising their own inadequacies are sensitive to the inadequacies of others, who recognise that contact with the generosity of Jesus is not something that comes just from our own merit. It is that love which changes us and makes us worthy to encounter Jesus. Our problem is that we tend to want to dialogue with Jesus on our own terms and want him to respond to us on our own terms, rather than opening ourselves to the torrent of love and embrace with which Jesus waits to greet us.
Why is it that many who are constantly tempted and enjoy much of the convenience of the modern world, turn here to the simplicity and constancy of these Sisters? It is because they have found deep contentment in their closeness to God. They remind us of the simple essential things in life. They remind us that reform and renewal of the Church come from the ability to open our hearts to the love of God and to model our lives on that love.
As we come to dedicate this altar, we pray that further generations of men and women will come to know this place, will be moved by the simple witness of the Sisters and will experience how encountering for themselves the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ can bring richness and happiness into their lives.