FESTIVAL OF PEOPLES 2011
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 11th June 2011
We celebrate the Vigil of Pentecost as we prepare in prayer for the great feast of the Holy Spirit. As is often the case, the texts of the Vigil Mass are not the familiar texts we associate immediately with the Pentecost, but are texts which help us understand who the Spirit is and what the Spirit means in the life of the Church.
I have emphasised on many occasions recently just how important these coming years will be for the future of the Church in Ireland. Ireland is changing and the religious culture of Ireland is changing. Change can be good, but change can also foster uncertainty and insecurity in many, especially when our faith is weak and we are fearful.
Our celebration this evening of the Festival of Peoples is one indication of the change that is taking place in Irish society. This evening we, the Church in Dublin, celebrate with Catholic believers from many parts of the world who have come to make their home here in Ireland and to enrich us with their heritage and their contribution to the economic, social and cultural fabric of Irish society. The Church in Ireland is enriched by the diversity of people that are here as part of our community.
We acknowledge also the presence in our society also of people of various other Christian denominations, both Protestant and Orthodox. We remember the Irish Jewish community which has been present here in Dublin for centuries. We recognise that our community in Ireland includes a growing number of men and women who follow Islam and other faiths.
Contrary to what is often said, the rich ethnic diversity which is a growing characteristic of today’s Ireland has also brought about religious renewal. So many of those who have come to our shores are profoundly religious and see their faith as part of their identity and of their contribution to society. And that we welcome.
As Christians, we see the Feast of Pentecost as a feast of renewal, renewal in faith and renewal of society. It is the Spirit who renews the face of the earth. The spirit is described in our readings in terms of water, water which not just cleanses but renews and makes fresh and brings new spiritual vitality and fertility. At moments when we experience uncertainty and insecurity in our faith, it is the spirit who is with us to overcome our fragility and fear. At moments when we may feel we are making no progress, that there is little vitality in our faith-life and in the faith-life of our communities, we must turn to the Spirit who is Lord and giver of life.
The renewal that the Spirit brings to our Church is never just a sociological exercise much less one which creates new polarisations. The mark of spirit-filled renewal is that unity which the Spirit alone can bring. Renewal is never a closed comforting of ourselves. The Spirit brings courage, it touches and renews our hearts and reaches through us but beyond us to renew the face of the earth.
The Holy Spirit is not a spirit which is enclosed within the walls of our Church buildings. The Holy Spirit is the power of God manifested in our world which has longed for that spirit right throughout history and still does today. It is the Spirit which accompanied Jesus during his entire mission from his Baptism by John the Baptist, until that moment when he yielded up his spirit in what may have seemed defeat but which lead to that explosion of the fruits of the Spirit at his resurrection.
As happened at the first Pentecost, still today the Spirit releases the power of Jesus’ resurrection into our world made up of people of many origins and ethnicities. The Spirit recognises the differences and the richness which diversity represents, but the spirit also brings about a renewed sense of and desire for unity.
Scripture scholars draw our attention at Pentecost to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel which illustrates just how quickly the unity of humankind can be damaged and divided by human greed and by the borderless craving for power. Empty projects founded on greed and power-seeking eventually collapse and bring not just ruin to those who were deceived by them, but bring division and damage to the entire fabric of society. The current economic crisis is a witness to this inevitability.
It is the Spirit however who renews the face of the earth and heals the torn fabric of society. At Pentecost the Spirit potentially heals those divisions which Babel signifies. The Spirit brings about a new concept of unity where people of different language and culture understand each other and are understood. It is a Spirit which frees us from the narrowness and blindness of self-centredness which can damage, divide and destroy the face of the earth and the true progress of humankind.
The Spirit inspires our reason and keeps our reason within bounds, not allowing reason to be used to create division. The history of racism and racist discrimination is deeply rooted in the results of science gone wrong, which created in the very concept of race and racial distinction something which is scientifically irrelevant. The Spirit can inspire our reason to work to foster unity and to reject the falsehood of ideologies which divide. The Spirit calls us in our modern Dublin to reject violence which only divides and to work for unity and respect.
As Christians when we gather at this Festival of Peoples we must allow the Spirit to make us be heralds of unity and of reconciliation. There is a sense already in which all of us here this evening can feel that sense of Christian belonging which comes from the gift of the Spirit and which enables us – each with our own cultural identity – to recognise in the one message of Jesus Christ that we are all brothers and sisters.
Not that believers have not also been the cause of disunity in society throughout history, but very often the divisions caused by believers have been healed by believers, by spirit-filled believers who receive from the wisdom and courage of the Spirit new insights and a renewed ability to witness to the unity of humankind in Jesus Christ.
The Spirit fosters unity. The Sequence of the Mass of Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit who is the giver of all gifts is also the Father of the poor. As Father of the poor the Spirit will ensure that the gifts and talents of even the poorest must be enriched and be able to come to fulfilment. This is the model of society which the light of the Spirit inspires in us. We ask for that light for our lives and for our society:
O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
O blessed light, fill with your light the innermost corners of the hearts of those who believe and trust in you. Renewed by the Spirit, may the living water of his power fill our hearts and flow then from us to renew in unity the Church and the face of the earth.