Homily from Archbishop Martin on First Sunday of Advent 2012 (December 1st) at Parish of our Lady Immaculate, Darndale, Belcamp
When I celebrated Conformation earlier this here I was very impressed by the way the Parish had prepared for the sacrament and I promised the Parish Pastoral Council that I would come back again later in the year to learn more about the life of this parish of Our Lady here in Darndale/Belcamp.
As you can see, I have kept my word and I am very pleased to be here as part of the fortieth anniversary of this parish. We look back together on what has been achieved in and by this parish community. Ten years after the establishment of the parish this Church was opened and it has become a place where a strong believing faith community has developed as a place of service for the entire community. We thank God for what has been achieved.
On anniversaries such as this we look back but we also look forward. Today is the First Sunday of Advent and Advent is a natural time to look forward. We look forward to Christmas as we see the outward signs of the celebration in full-swing. Perhaps the atmosphere of expectation about Christmas this year is more than a little subdued by the situation in which we find ourselves in Ireland. All of us know that what is often politely called “disposable income” is on the short side. Making ends meet is not easy and there is very little left for anything extra. There is a great deal of uncertainty which touches people’s economic life which inevitably has its repercussions on how people feel. I think of the uncertainties that our younger generation feel as job opportunities become rarer. I think of those who have lost jobs and of their families. I think of our elderly and the insecurity that they feel faced with cuts in services which are often vital for them.
There are many reasons indeed to be concerned and even gloomy. Yet despite some dramatic expressions in today’s Gospel, the theme of today’s liturgy and that of the season of Advent is hope. Advent is a natural time to think of the future as a future of hope because we know, even in the darkest moments of life, the Lord comes to be with us and to bring us deliverance. Every day in the Mass we describe our Christian existence in the world in terms of waiting for the “blessed hope”.
Advent is as such not a penitential period in the same sense as Lent. Advent is a period of waiting, of longing, of anticipation and preparation and of rejoicing that “the Lord is coming”, that “the Lord is near”.
The liturgy wants us to interpret our longing for the coming of Jesus in the language of the great figures and prophets of the Old Testament. We join the cry of those prophets who were so sensitive to the experience of injustice and sin under which they lived. The Christian message calls out for honesty and integrity, as the first reading reminds us, in the face of untruth and corruption wherever this appears.
The Church can only preach the honesty and integrity which the message of Jesus demands, however, if its own life and the life of its members are marked by honesty and integrity. Justice and integrity can only truly be preached by people whose lives are just and honest. Our world needs such people.
The values of honesty and integrity are learned especially in the family. The community of Darndale owes so much to the early families who came here and in even more difficult times changed housing estates into communities and offered hope for the younger generations of getting on better in life. Today this parish continues to live as a community of men and women who believe in the message of Jesus Christ as a message which changes hearts for the good.
As we look back on these years we remember all those who contributed to building up the parish. We think of the priests and religious who minister here. We think of the teachers in our schools. We think of the man and women who volunteered in a wide range of services. We remember those who have gone before us and who were brought here to this Church as they passed on to eternal life.
God’s people in the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of a saviour who would bring them deliverance. Our challenge today is to live the message of Jesus Christ in such a way that we build a community sensitive to those who live under the burdens of poverty, suffering and anxiety, to the victims of the senseless violence that still continues to mark many parts of our city. We pray that Jesus will come and burst into the human history of our times to change it, to save it, to free it and to unite it with him. We know that Jesus wishes to work though us and our community on that path.
The Gospel that we have just heard was written by Saint Luke for the early Church where – just one generation after the resurrection of Jesus – Christians were already slipping back into their old, ordinary, coarse ways. “Watch yourself”, Saint Luke says, you should live each day in such a way that when Jesus comes you can “stand erect and hold your heads high”.
We all have to face the same temptation of slipping back into our old ways or of becoming lax or indifferent in our faith and life. This has happened right throughout the history of the Church. But that history was also marked by moments of real renewal. The Year of Faith which we are all called by Pope Benedict to celebrate is a great opportunity for all of us to deepen our faith and as our Mass booklet notes to live our faith as a journey and to live our faith together as companions on a common journey. I hope that it will be possible to enlist also more and more young people in this task. Our young people are great and idealistic. We owe it to them to help deepen their faith and their hope and to help them to see the bond between faith and authentic living. The parish is especially fortunate to have the New Life Centre with such facilities for faith formation.
The advent wreath has become a symbol of this time of the year in many communities and homes. It reminds us that even in the deepest darkness, a small light can break through. The darkness of our lives can be exposed to the light of Christ as we journey forward awaiting his coming. The darkness of our world and the darkness which can creep into the life of the Church can only be enlightened by the purifying light which reflects the love and the goodness of Christ.
Living our faith in our contemporary culture is not easy. Yet rarely has the culture of any period had such need of the witness of men and women of faith. But without such faith our efforts will only be half hearted. In closing, let me paraphrase an idea from an Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI in his reflections on the ups and down of progress in human history: There is no doubt and history proves it, he wrote, that a “Kingdom of God” accomplished without God—a kingdom therefore of human achievement alone—inevitably ends up unrealised.
We thank God for all the good things that the faith of this community of Darndale/Belcamp has achieved and we pray that this community will continue to flourish and grow in the years to come. ENDS