Second Sunday of the Year 2016
CELEBRATION OF THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF PIETA HOUSE
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Mary, Lucan, 17th January 2016
We have come to thank God for the work of Pieta House and to give thanks to all those who have contributed to its work over the past 10 years.
In a relatively short time, Pieta’ House has indeed become an important, well-known and recognised organization. In one sense it is hard to think that it is only ten years since its foundation. Pieta House has become well-known and has spread beyond Lucan and beyond Ireland. The respect and recognition it enjoys is not so much about an organizational structure, but about the extraordinary role it has played in the intimacy of the lives of the many men, women and children who have come into contact with it. It is about how these men and women and their families have been helped to regain meaning and hope in their lives after the tragic experience of darkness and despair and often of feeling abandoned in their struggle. What was achieved within the intimacy of those troubled hearts is something that will never be captured in cold numbers and statistics.
The suffering of those who have been helped by Pieta House is suffering in the deepest corners of their hearts. The generosity and care and assistance that Pieta Housie offers reach out directly into those troubled hearts. The voluntary nature of this care is a sign of deep respect and personal embrace for those who suffer, without seeking any rewards or publicity.
From the first moment in which the idea emerged, Pieta House was truly innovative. It was the fruit of sensitivity to a problem which in so many was – and to an extent still is – kept buried within our Irish society. These who established Pieta House were not content in simply providing a service. They realised that in opening a door of compassion and care and support they should also open up a door of awareness. The more the door opened, the more society would become aware of how significant the problems linked with suicide were in Ireland and how the worst thing that could be done in the face of this reality was to try to hide it and bury it.
It is the truth which sets people free. Facing the truth of an individual’s struggle opens the possibility of gaining help that will free them from the burdens and the entrapment that weigh people down on them. Facing the truth about the phenomenon of suicide also frees a society to address the challenge and not to deny it or bury it. The truth frees; taboos imprison. Pieta House was and still is a pioneer in eliminating the taboos around suicide which have damaged so many troubled lives and for that alone all of us owe Pieta House a debt of gratitude.
Pieta House is a story of hope and purpose. It is a story about the burdens and the demons which way people down, but above all it is a story which sees in every person who crosses the door of Pieta House as someone with unique talent and promise and purpose. It is the story of a passionate desire to help restore a sense of self-worth and purpose to people who have experience darkness in all its depths.
I often quote a phrase of emeritus Pope Benedict on the day of his installation as Pope. He noted that: “we are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”. Pieta House witnesses to a desire to ensure that every troubled man or women who crosses its doors leaves with a renewed sense that each of them is loved and that each of them is unique, necessary and of worth.
The Gospel reading we have heard is well known to all of us since our school days. It is the first miracle performed by Jesus. It is however much more complicated to understand than at first might appear. It ends, we have just heard, affirming that “this was the first of the signs given by Jesus. He let his glory be seen and his disciples believed in him”.
The question immediately comes to mind: why would Jesus chose such a miracle as the first sign of his glory. His other miracles were all about healing and restoring. It is simply absurd to think that producing over 1500 gallons of wine for wedding and at a moment of a wedding when already a good deal of wine had obviously been drunk, could somehow be considered a sign of Jesus glory.
We have to understand this miracle as an event which hides within it a deeper meaning. The miracle is a sign of something else. What is Jesus doing? The story is not just about a wedding: it is about life and about our lives. A wedding is one of the most significant and joyful events in anyone’s life. Jesus wishes to present in that joy, both at Cana but also today. He wishes men and women to flourish and be able to celebrate the wonder of their lives.
The fact that the wine runs out is a sign that something has happened which tarnishes the happiness of the event. Restoring the wine means that the celebration can resume in its fullness. In that sense the story of this wedding is a perfect parallel to the work of Pieta House. Pieta House provides the new wine which can allow a life which has been damaged to return to the fullness of celebration.
As Christians, our faith in Jesus should make us wish to live as a community where we celebrate any return of fullness of life. That is the constant message of the Gospels. Think of the great stories of the prodigal son whose father’s only aspiration is that his son who was lost could come back to life and to his family. His greatest joy is that the son who had gone astray can return. The Good Samaritan is the one who keeps his eyes open and sees someone who has fallen by the wayside and rather than cross the road as others did picks up the wounded one in his own arms to restore him.
The compassion of Jesus wishes that that all can enjoy the feast of life to the fullness. That compassion goes way beyond the measured help that seems humanly reasonable. It is not measured out in a calculated number of hours of therapy. God’s love is without frontiers. The abundance of wine in our Gospel reading is sign that the care of Jesus for us is a care which is always superabundant, flowing over.
This is the inspiration of Pope Francis in proclaiming this as a Jubilee Year of Mercy. God’s name is mercy. This is an appeal to all of us. It is an appeal to the Church as an institution. It would not be honest for me to stand here this afternoon and not recognise that the Church in Ireland and farther afield contributed greatly to the level of taboo which surrounded suicide. A Church which loses the sense of the priority of mercy gets trapped in a priority of rules and loses the meaning of those rules. The preaching of Jesus was constantly directed against those who imposed burdens on others and never lifted a hand to help.
That rigidity and hypocrisy remains always a temptation. It will not be combatted simply by homilies and critique, no matter how important they are. It will be combatted by the witness of people who show what compassionate care really means and who passionately believe that compassionate care heals and restores. It is the compassionate care of the Pieta House family that we recognise and celebrate today as we call the blessing of the God’s of Mercy on their work and of those with whom they work who desire to move from darkness to that light which will enable them once again to celebrate life in its fullness.