1916 STATE COMMEMORATION CEREMONY
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Church of the Sacred Heart, Arbour Hill, 24th April 2016
I am very grateful to the Parish of James’ Street here in Dublin for providing some very significant heirlooms of their parish for use at today’s ceremony.
In 1916 Kilmainham Jail was in the Parish of James Street and the Parish Priest was the official Chaplain to the prison. Together with the Capuchin Friars from Church Street, a small group of priests ministered to the leaders of the 1916 Rising, both religiously and in their personal pain, in the days in which they awaited trial and execution.
This chalice and the paten are those which were used at the wedding in Kilmainham between Joseph Mary Plunket and Grace Gifford, just seven hours prior to Plunket’s execution. It is hard for us to imagine the anguish and the poignancy of that wedding in a prison chapel. It is hard for us to imagine the emotion of a wedding followed by such a heartrending farewell.
This ciborium which also belongs to the Parish of James’ Street is the one which was used in Kilmainham Jail to bring Holy Communion to those who were executed, in the days leading up to their final hour, including James Connolly when he had made his final peace with God.
The role of those priests who ministered to the condemned was not just mere official duty. They themselves were deeply touched for the rest of their lives at the horror they witnessed but also by being allowed in a privileged way to enter into the private emotions of those men of great ideals who faced death bravely.
The Parish priest of Aughrim Street was the Chaplain to the Detention Center here at Arbour Hill and he graphically recalled how he was awakened early in the morning and told to make his way here to Arbour Hill to pray over the bodies of the first group executed. The bodies arrived, he noted, still warm and dripping with blood as they were hurriedly buried into an open common grave.
We have come to pray at this State Commemoration as we remember those who gave their lives for the cause of Irish freedom. We remember them for their nobility and their courage. But we remember them also as men and women of human emotion and sensitivity, poets and writers, dreamers and idealists, but also simply as individual unique talented human beings. We remember them with the names they bore in this life and which they still bear in eternal life. We remember them in prayer.
I was especially struck in these days of commemoration by reading the notes taken in 1916 by Father Columbus Murphy, a Capuchin Priest, who received permission to meet Padraig Pearce while he was in detention here in Arbour Hill. General Maxwell handed him the papers needed for the visit but with no sense of magnanimousness or generosity saying to the priest: “Oh but we will make those beggars pay for it”.
Arriving at Arbour Hill Father Columbus asked to meet Commandant Pearse and the Governor replied with further cynicism and sarcasm: “I believe there is a man here who calls himself that”.
But the most striking thing was Father Columbus’ encounter with Pearse himself, probably the first outside visitor that Pearse met. Father Columbus recalls:
“[Pearse] was seated with his head bowed down, sunk deep into his arms resting on a little table… Disturbed by the noise of my entry he slowly raised his head… Then recognizing the [religious] habit in which I was garbed he got up, stretching out his hand and said ‘Oh Father, the loss of life, the destruction, but please God it will not be in vain’”.
What struck me was not just the human anguish of Pearse but that plea: “Please God it will not be in vain”. That was not just an expression of deep personal anguish. It was a question and a challenge addressed to us, to each succeeding generation of Irish men and Irish women: “Do not allow what we did and what we suffered ever to be in vain”. As Irish men and Irish women we are called still today never to betray the ideals which inspired these who took part in the 1916 Rising or to let those ideals be betrayed or watered down through our cynicism or mediocrity.
Commemoration is not just celebration and looking back. We celebrate the 1916 Rising by the way we live as individuals and as a society. We commemorate the 1916 Rising, as each new generation springs up, with a promise and a commitment to put in place in differing and changing times those ideals expressed in the Proclamation.
The proclamation was the fruit of a dream and we know that dreams are never fully realized. Dreams have to be built; dreams can also be set aside and forgotten and allowed to wither into a pragmatism without passion and by the compromise of self-interest.
1916 was a commitment to Irish Independence. It was a commitment to independence from, but it must with each new generation be reinterpreted into independence for, a determination every day to use our hard fought political freedom to realize the fundamental purpose and dream of these who gave their lives for a vision of the future which we are all called to cherish.
We measure our commitment and commemoration not by simply attending ceremonies and festivities but by ourselves fostering our freedom to challenge and especially to shine light on the darker dimensions that emerge and grow in any society: the darkness of poverty and exclusion, of hatred and violence, of self-centeredness and apathy. We measure our commitment by the way we contribute to a sense of national purpose and national working together. We measure our commitment by thinking beyond our own borders and here we remember today those members of the Irish defense forces who will be celebrating this day of Irish freedom in the service of the peace of others. We measure our commitment not from the comfort of our own security or with comment from the safety of the sidelines. The anguish of Pearse after the disappointment of the Rising was not anguish about his own predicament: it was anguish that good would be attained.
But good is attained also today at a cost. Good is attained bearing within our own flesh the cost of what its needed to foster the good in the face of hostility, just as Pearse and his colleagues culminated their commitment with the sacrifice of those broken bodies which we honor here today at Arbour Hill.
Our Gospel reading this morning showed Jesus at a moment of anguish. It opens with the phrase “When Judas had gone, Jesus said…” Jesus shows us that even in the face of the betrayal which he knew he was about to encounter, his only response could be to stress that new commandment of love. Jesus takes up the message of the Jewish Bible and the terms of God’s goodness we heard in the Responsorial Psalm: “The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in love… compassionate to all his creatures”.
The Christian faith calls on us believers to follow the lesson of Jesus Christ witnessed in his life and death. As Christians we are called to witness to that compassion which reaches out to all God’s creatures and to all his creation. We too as Christians and as the Church of Jesus Christ are called to look into our hearts and see how the way we live truly responds to the ideals of the Gospel. We are called to live and witness to that Gospel within a society which is all too often cold and uncaring. That said, we have also to remember that we as Church have also been cold and uncaring.
The Gospel of love and compassion sets for all of us a model which we can share: it is a model of love which is the opposite not just of hatred but of indifference and self-centeredness. Reading the accounts of those deeply personal encounters between that small group of priests and the condemned leaders of 1916, the most striking thing is the total lack of rancor and revenge present in their hearts. We owe it to those leaders never to allow ourselves to resort to revenge and hatred. They fought for peace and reconciliation and justice in our country and for all who belong here or who come to our shores.
This chalice and ciborium witness to the deep faith of those executed in the 1916 Rising. They drew from their faith a courage which enabled them to see – and to teach us – that when we place our trust in the God who opens a future of love, then our attempts to mirror that God will never be in vain.