32nd Sunday of the Year 2013
MASS OF THANKSGIVING FOR THE WORK OF
THE SOCIETY OF THE DIVINE WORD
IN THE PARISH OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY, CITY QUAY
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
10th November 2013
The Sadducees want to put Jesus to the test. It is interesting to see how history repeats itself. The Sadducees were, it could be said, the nobility of the Jewish priesthood, from whom most often the High Priest and the high functionaries of the Temple were designated. They were a learned group. These experts in questions of religion try to use arguments form religion to challenge Jesus and to challenge
the authenticity of his message. They try to play around with something that belonged to the Jewish tradition, hoping to make the teaching of Jesus look ridiculous.
They take up the tradition, which you find in the Book of Deuteronomy, which stresses that when a man dies leaving his wife childless, then his brother is obliged to take the widow as his wife. In the culture of the time, the plight of widows was so dramatic that they were identified as symbols of the poor and abandoned. The proposal that the brother of the deceased would marry the widow was intended to ensure that the family line continued, but it was also a wise and kindly tradition aimed at protecting vulnerable women. But the Sadducees take this argument to the grotesque extreme, creating the unreal scenario of seven brothers each dying, which they then transform into a discussion in an attempt to ridicule Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection of the dead.
Today, there are many who try to undermine the teaching of Jesus and the position of the Church by tempting to render it banal and ridiculous or who use even religious arguments which really have nothing to do with Jesus’ teaching in order to undermine that teaching.
There are also those within the Church who get so entangled with norms and practices that they become so fixated on them as to drive people away from the true teaching of Jesus. They become scrupulous in their own observance of norms and practises and hypocritically criticise others who do not observe these practices. They fail to understand that the Christian faith is not a faith which burdens and entraps, but one which frees and leads us beyond our own narrow confines to serve God and our neighbour.
Jesus does not answer the Sadducees directly. He does not fall into the polemical discussion that they want to create. The central message of today’s Gospel is not an attempt to answer the provocation of the Sadducees, but to stress that the essence of the teaching of the resurrection is that God is a God of life. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not a God of death or darkness. Jesus came to overcome death and darkness and to lead us on a path of life and light. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is never one who rejoices in death or in the entrapment of men and women in burdens and scruples.
Resurrection is at the centre of our faith. Yet we have very little knowledge of what resurrection will be like. No one has ever come back from the afterlife to tell us what life after death is like. Many great works of art have attempted to present for us either the darkness and suffering of hell or the welcome by the angels of those who lived a just life. But these are just artist’s impressions of a fact which they have never experienced and indeed they may well be coloured by the personal prejudices or problems of the artist, so much as to lead us along a false path.
Perhaps more accurate are the images of judgement. Again it is not that they are realistic images of what judgement is like, but they stress the central fact that our future, even in the after life, is linked with the way we live in this life. We do not live the Christian life just because otherwise we might not get to heaven. We live the Christian life because such a life is authentic and true. We can speculate for as long as we like about what heaven might be like, but the important thing to remember is that we enter into heaven already today, by the way we live our lives today.
We gather this morning to give thanks to God for the ministry of the priests of the Society of the Divine Word and their contribution to the life of this inner-city parish. This is a parish with a great tradition. It is a parish where there is a great family tradition though which values have been transmitted from one generation to the next. It is a parish where the faith of people is deep, even among those who for various reasons may not be very active in parish life. It is a parish which represents very much the faith tradition of inner-city Dublin. It is a parish community which has witnessed hard times in its history but where the sense of caring and solidarity for each other has always remained strong. It is a parish which has witnessed great change over recent years. Much of that change has been for the good, but hardship still remains, at times not very deep beneath the surface. New challenges are emerging which can weaken the sense of community.
This is a parish which, like many other parishes, faces the challenge of engaging the coming generation and helping them to realise how much faith in Jesus Christ has helped form this community into a community of goodness and caring. It is a parish blessed with a great school which has supported young people for generations.
The moving on of the priests of the Society of the Divine Word is a loss to the community. They have served this community well. We wish to express our thanks to them and wish them well in the various new challenges they face in their ministry. I thank the Provincial of the Society for being with us this morning.
Let me reassure you that I am determined that this parish will live on actively into the future and preserve its identity. The faith of this parish community, even as numbers have fallen, still flourishes. The future of the parish as a community is intimately linked with this Church building. Times are changing, but I am sure that the community in this changing part of Dublin will rise to the challenge of keeping the parish open and alive, where people who have been part of this community for generations and those who have recently come to live here, will preserve and transform the great traditions which have animated this area in different times.
We thank the Fathers who have worked here over the years. In know that they leave here with a certain sadness but I also know that, wherever they will be called to minister in the years to come, a little bit of their hearts will always remain in City Quay where the have received such support and affection from the people.
We wish them well in the years to come and we wish the new Administrator and those with whom he will work both here and in the wider area God’s strength to dedicate themselves fully to the mission they have received. Our God is a God of life. May he keep this community under his protection and fill it in the years to come with his life and light.