07/03/07 Celebration of Holy Communion at the Church of Ireland Theological College

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HOMILY AT COMMUNITY EUCHARIST

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
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Church of Ireland Theological College, Dublin, 7th March 2007
 
Many ask what the future of Christian belief in Ireland will be like? Are we at a crucial moment in the history of Christianity in Ireland? Statistics can be thrown at us which are not encouraging.  We, in our turn, can throw back other statistics showing that things are not as bad as they might appear or indeed, as I genuinely believe, that there are signs of hope and maturity in the life of our Churches which are quite unique in our histories and are genuinely encouraging.

The challenges are however there.  Friends from abroad ask me how the process of secularisation in Ireland made such a sharp impact in such a short time.  My feeling is that the signs of secularisation were there in the past and that they were perhaps either not spotted or were underestimated.   Ireland has been changing for decades now and it should have been clear to all that “business as usual” was not the answer in a time of change. 

Speaking today to a community which is preparing for mission in a changing Ireland I would say to you that you are preparing for something exciting and challenging.  Ministry in Ireland is much more exciting today than it was at the time I was ordained.  Yours will be a challenging path, yes, and it will certainly not be business as usual.  People will be coming to the Church from a wide variety of starting points.   Your path will take you to a world where many of the traditional prerequisites for belonging to a Church community will no longer be the relevant ones.  Young people will come having very little of the traditional knowledge and culture of their faith, despite years of education in Christian schools.

But on the other hand your ministry will be conducted in a climate of new freedom, a freedom from traditional sub-cultures based on boundaries, on limits and traditions which separate.  Young people who encounter the message of Jesus will be struck by the message of Jesus in a way which will be free from many cultural factors which have in the past limited the effect of that message.  They will be free to live that message in a cultural context which is truly theirs; in a culture which is the one to which they belong.

The reading from Philippians notes that we are citizens of heaven and that our mortal bodies, “the body of our humiliation”, must be conformed to the body of Christ’s glory.    This should not be seen as a denigration of our mortal bodies; bodies in the strict term of our physical bodies, or of our personal corporeity nor of the corporeal realities of the world or the culture in which we live.  No these are the raw material out of which Jesus, our deliverer, will transform us when the day comes.    The call to conversion and belief in Jesus Christ is a call to focus our corporeity today on that path of freedom and truth which will lead to our future deliverance.

We should not be dreaming of a golden age of the past, of a religious culture which is no longer there. I was struck by a comment made to me recently by the Anglican Bishop of London who noted that the greatest dynamism and renewal in the Church of England today is to be found in the cities and especially in London.  I am convinced that Ireland should not be fearful of the reality of an increasingly urban life-style, which is so attractive to modern young men and women and indeed to people the world over.  For the first time in human history the majority of the world’s population now lives in urban areas.
  
Indeed, just as with any other culture faith can take root in and flourish in the urban culture in which we live if we can help believers to discern superficialities and overcome some of the forces of individualism which can become dominant in urban culture.

The coming generation has the possibility of encountering Jesus in a context where they are free from traditional narrowness.  This freedom can lead some to choosing the wrong path or unwittingly to being led along the wrong path.    Some may choose a path of purely subjective religiosity or indeed choose to escape into pathological religiosity which is little more than a comfort zone of flight from the responsibilities for corporeity and the realities of the world.

The same freedom can on the other hand be a freedom which allows the uniqueness of the call of Jesus Christ to transform hearts. It can allow the perennial newness of the Gospel to change people in their lives and in their vision in a way that was less possible in the past. 

How do we present the message today in such a way that it will be embraced by the younger generation with enthusiasm and interiority?  How do we address the message of Jesus to those aspects of our culture which are hostile to religion?  It would be foolish to deny that such realities exist, and exist with force.

Perhaps the answer to that question is the answer of Jesus to those who present to him the threat of Herod who wishes to kill him.  Jesus does not enter into polemics, but simply affirms a verifiable reality. Jesus is the one “who casts out demons and performs cures, today, tomorrow and the next day”, until his work is completed.   The message of Jesus is not primarily a collection of dogmas and moral norms, of rules and practices or plans for a better world.   It is above all an encounter with a person, with Jesus Christ, who addresses us and addresses us in our history, in our lives.   We can learn off as many catechetical definitions and formulae as we wish, but if we do not have that liberating personal encounter with Jesus, then we have not understood what Christianity is about.  We can propose plans to revolutionise the world’s economy and international political life, but if our plan does not lead to an encounter with the God whose love is revealed in Jesus Christ, then our plan will be just one plan among many.

Jesus addresses us in a special language.  In our work of evangelization we have to use the same language as Jesus did.   But just like any other language we have to be able to speak it fluently and to make it our own.   Knowing a language is not about grammar and spelling and pronunciation.  You can say you really speak a language only when you can say that you think in it, that you dream in it.  What is then the language of Jesus?  Jesus identifies himself as he “who casts out demons and performs cures, today, tomorrow and the next day” until his work is completed.  His is the language of healing and the restoration of people to their fullness in freedom.

Knowing Jesus is an encounter with Jesus in which his desire to heal our infirmities and lead to the path to freedom, becomes our desire, even in the context of our limitedness and our brokenness. We live in a culture which prizes success and celebrity, which has difficulty in coping with brokenness.  The loving tenderness and compassion of God reaches out in the first place to the weak, the poor and the marginalised, not to develop an ideology of weakness and poverty, but with the desire to restore their wholeness.
 
In a world which is searching and seeking for wholeness, for deeper roots upon which to construct its values and its future, are we as Churches bringing our best contribution in an effective way?    Obviously the divisions among Christian weaken our credentials as witnesses to that unity of the human family, which would be a very powerful antidote to the individualism of our times. 

The divisions among Christians are not simply a strategic or pragmatic weakness in our contemporary witness.  They constitute a wound to the Jesus Christ whom we represent.  The full union of all Christians may at times seem a long way off.  New divisions emerge, indeed, which seem to make eventual union an even more distant goal.  The search for unity, working for unity cannot be put on the long finger.  We should rather wake up each day feeling the wound of division and inspired to work today and each day for unity.

I was very happy to have been present in Dublin Castle last week at the launch of the structured dialogue between Church and State in Ireland.  There was a clear recognition there of the contribution of religious belief to the structuring of a stable and sustainable society.  I could not help thinking however, that a prerequisite of any effective dialogue with the State demands that we, especially the believers is Jesus Christ, should be working more closely together and coming more closely together in our understanding of the demands of the teaching of Christ, and especially the demands that belief in Christ makers in the evaluation of the difficult areas of modern-day ethical challenges.  Yet sadly here differences may even be growing.

This evening is a moment of great joy for me personally.  Yet it is also a moment of great sadness that we have not reached that unity which would allow me to share fully in the Lord’s Table.

Our unity is real, yet imperfect.  Obviously we should be acting together on the unity that is there, and working to overcome its imperfection.  Unity cannot be founded, however, on a type of consensus thinking, as in drawing up a political platform or a United Nations declaration.  The path towards unity is the path of following the Lord in Word and Sacrament, but also through the path of suffering.   Suffering for the Church, suffering for Christian unity may not appear to all as the way in our modern times.   Yet people today appreciate integrity, as long as it is not intolerant.  Let us be honest then on what unites us and what divides us. In that honesty we can open our hearts better to the Lord, since it is he who is the one who heals division, the one who “who casts out demons and performs cures, today, tomorrow and the next day” until his work is completed.

 

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