Ad Limina Visit 2017
MASS AT THE BASILICA OF SAINT JOHN LATERAN
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Wednesday January 18th 2017
“We have heard a very interesting Gospel reading. Let us look a little closer at it and at what it might teach us about being a Christian today and about the life of the Church today.
Where does the event take place? It takes place in the Synagogue, in a public place of worship, in a place of worship in which a large and varied number of people are present. There are young and old, devout and less devout, rich and poor, sick and healthy, saints and sinners. It is like the broad assembly of our believing communities today, whether gathered in Church or active among our broader communities.
Jesus enters the Synagogue and what does he do? He observes. The first thing that he notices is a man with a withered hand, a man who is obviously anxious and embarrassed, perhaps in the culture of those days – where illness was identified with sinfulness – he may even have felt ashamed. This is the person who Jesus immediately identifies and, as was his characteristic, Jesus is moved with compassion. Jesus’ heart is telling him that he can make this man whole once again and free him from his spiritual and moral burden. Jesus for the moment however says nothing and does nothing and the man with the withered hand says nothing and asks nothing. Jesus observes.
Others also observe. The Pharisees notice the very same man and they are aware of his burdens and his embarrassment. Their judgemental looks perhaps enhance the poor man’s feelings of inferiority and shame.
The Pharisees obviously also have some intuition of the sentiments of Jesus. They observe but they observe from a different point of view. Jesus’ glance is at the suffering of the man, the others want to use precisely the man’s suffering in order to put a trap on Jesus’ path. They wish to trap Jesus using the well accepted religious norms and rules about the Sabbath. They look to find ways to use their distorted religious culture to block Jesus from working mercy and loving-kindness.
Jesus observes and wishes to show mercy and healing. The Pharisees observe in order to trap Jesus, the revelation of the God of mercy, from responding in mercy. Their hearts are trapped within the narrow confines of their rules and their culture.
What does Jesus do now? He knows the norms and he knows the he is going to do something that the Pharisees will claim is contradictory to the norms. He asks the Pharisees questions which are fundamentally questions about priorities. Which is more important, the command of mercy or the norms about the Sabbath? Fundamentally he is asking about the true meaning of religious norms and rules which are there for good reasons but which may in fact be misused and misinterpreted as an excuse for not doing the demanding and caring thing.
The Church in every age is called to observe and look out for the fundamental needs of people and to respond not by getting caught up in its own internal culture or the culture of society. In the face of human misery the Church is called to go out not just to the peripheries, but where necessary to go out way beyond human boundaries, bringing the healing of Jesus Christ to those places where human mercy rarely reaches.
Recently Pope Francis noted that we are not called to preach the Church, but to preach Jesus Christ. There are norms and rules which derive from Christ himself and these we cannot change. There is also an internal culture by which we can establish our own norms and rules and culture and which tempt us to remain an inward looking Church, with all the right religious words but without hearts which reaches out.
Today we have in the Church some who are so possessed with a narrow cultural framework that they allow their own spiritual insufficiency and need for security to become dominant. They feel that norms and rules offer them security when in fact they became prisoners of their own insecurity and loose the freedom and the daring which springs from true faith and which is needed to witness to the care of Jesus Christ.
There are even some who feel that the only way they can conserve the Church is through a rigid regime of rules and norms even if this narrowness can paralyse them from reaching out beyond their small-mindedness or at times nastiness. The saving power of Jesus cannot be subordinated to our human interpretation.
Jesus responds in a particular way to the stubbornness of the Pharisees. He does not attempt to dialogue with them or pacify their anxiousness. The Gospel tells us simply and starkly that he is angry with them.
He turns then to the man with the withered hand and cures him. That is the last we hear of the man with the withered hand. Jesus is happy that the man is healed and restored to his full dignity. He does not set out any conditions or ask for any recognition. The Pharisees in their stubborn intolerance become even more trapped in their evil intent. The defence of their legalistic culture dominates them and in the long run leads not to freedom and goodness but to hatred and destructive intent.
We celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We need more and more today a new ecumenism of mercy where our common faith in Jesus Christ leads to work together beyond the divisions of history and tradition to observe and identify the needs of the weakest in society, to remove suspicion and mistrust and any sentiment of superiority that any individual tradition might feel. Our short Gospel reading challenges us, as the theme of the Week for Christian Unity reminds us, to recognise that it is the love of Christ himself which reconciles and unites and which compels us to reconciliation.”
Reconciliation: The Love of Christ compels us, 2 Cord, 5