Second Sunday of Advent 2016
25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PARISH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT KIMMAGE MANOR
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of the Holy Spirit, Kimmage Manor, 3rd December 2016
Over the past year I have celebrated many anniversaries of the opening of Churches and parishes across the diocese. Each of the celebrations marked a different history. Each reflected a different community. Each of these Churches sprung up in a world very different to ours today.
As a Christian community we are called to make the community in which we live and the world in which we live a better place. A Christian community can never be a safe-refuge or a comfort-zone into which we flee from the realities around us. A true Christian community is not one dominated by anxiety or fear but by daring and caring.
We have heard that magnificent reading from the prophet Isaiah. It describes how believers are called to stand out as a signal to all people. It is an idyllic dream of a world of peace: “the wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion feed together with a little boy to lead them…” It is a dream world where people and nature exist in harmony and do no harm and no hurt, where integrity and faithfulness in relationships dominate. It is a dream that is never realised. It is also a dream we can never give up on.
What was the world like 25 years ago when this parish was established? The world was at a moment of hope. 1991 marked the effective end of the Cold War which had marked the world for half a century, with the continuous threat of mutual annihilation. People talked about the end of ideology and of new relationships of prosperity, solidarity and security. And yet, even then, those hopes were being undermined. The first Gulf War took place; the war in Yugoslavia was hearing its first shots. The peace that we hoped to see with the fall of the Soviet Union seems now a distant dream, especially if you live in Syria. The economic prosperity which seemed to be emerging is now as precarious as ever. The hope of a new internationalism = reflecting the unity of the human family – is being deadened around the world, even here in the Europe which we had hoped to rebuild as a common home after the fall of the walls of ideology.
We could also look at the changes and the ups and downs that have taken place in the Church and Church life over the past twenty five years.
What are we to say as a Christian community about the ups and down, lights and shadows which mark any period of history. Where can we root our hope and how can we be a signal of hope for others? The message of Advent brings us some light. The Advent wreath can help to remind us that we have to find a different way to prepare for Christmas and a different way to understand the radical change which the mystery of Christmas calls us to bring about in our lives.
Advent is about hope and expectation. It is about preparing for Christmas through the way we live. Week after week, candle after candle, we are called to move forward reviewing our lives and renewing our lives in the expectation of the birth of Jesus.
Today that special figure in the Advent liturgy appears in our Gospel reading: John the Baptist. John the Baptist is a remarkable figure. He is the first prophet to appear among the Jewish people for centuries. His preaching and his baptism created astonishing interest right throughout society. A climate of expectation emerged. Thousands of people went out to be baptized by him. People began to feel that something very significant was about to happen among the people of Israel and for all humanity.
John’s life-style was marked by uncompromising integrity and honesty. He appears in the wilderness: the wilderness has nothing of the sophisticated and comfortable amenities of life. He clothes himself in the simplest of elements which were at hand. His food was Spartan and absolutely natural.
There was nothing sophisticated or incoherent or sham about his life-style. His life-style was far away from the false security that we look for in fashion and designer labels. John is anything but a slick spin doctor.
The Gospel presents in John’s message and way of living the way to prepare for the coming of Jesus. Jesus, when he comes, turns our ideas of power and might and security totally head-over-heals. Jesus appears as a helpless child. He appears in poverty and precariousness, away from any of the symbols of outward wealth and power. This is the contradiction that we find in our way of preparing for Christmas: how can we really prepare for the coming of Jesus through a consumerism which is quite the opposite to the way of life shown by both John and Jesus?
We prepare for Christmas, rather, by trying to re-establish in our own lives and in our hearts the desire to create a world of truth and harmony, of love and solidarity, though the integrity of our lives.
Then in our Gospel reading Matthew introduces a group of Pharisees and Sadducees who take exception to John’s teaching. “We have Abraham for our Father” they say.
Right throughout history there is the perennial temptation for believers somehow to feel that that they possess an understanding of faith that is complete and correct. For some this will be an excuse to block any change. For others it will be a stubbornness that my view is the only way towards change.
Advent is a moment in which we learn to shed the false securities of a God of our own creation, a God who leaves us comfortable in the way we want to live. Just as John in the desert shed sophistication in food and clothing, we too have to rediscover in our hearts the desert of simplicity and sobriety.
Our faith must enable us to adapt and change even if change may make us sad. There is a sense that this Church building is a sign of what living and passing on the faith can involve. The choir benches were designed for a different purpose. They served to form in prayer generations of missionary priests. I am sure that there was an inevitable sadness as the numbers of student priests who prayed daily in these choir benches began to decrease. Today, imperfect through these choir benches may be, they are alive again in a different situation as lay men and women worship and take responsibility for mission in their own home area. We must be ready for change; ready to see how the Lord is calling us to live as our world changes.
The Christian community is called to be out in society challenging what is empty and false and witnessing to values that endure. It must be a community dominated not by fear and timidity but by daring and caring. The Christian community is called to witnesses to hope through our integrity of life.
We give thanks this evening for all those who formed part of this community of faith over the past twenty five years: priests, lay leaders, teachers, families, religious, those who maintained the Church and above all the many who sustained the faith of the community in public and in silent prayer. It is that prayer, in different situations, which has clothed the fabric of this building and made of it truly a place of God’s protective presence and loving kindness