Second Sunday of Advent 2015
FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PARISH OF SAINT JUDE THE APOSTLE
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Jude the Apostle, 5th December 2015
“When I visit a school to celebrate the anniversary of its opening, I usually try to engage the children by telling them something of what the world was like when their school was opened twenty five or fifty or even one hundred years earlier. The children are amazed at the details that I tell them. They cannot imagine what it was like to live in a world without many of the things they take for granted today. They are amazed at the changes that have taken place. Unfortunately, they become a little disillusioned when I tell them that all the information I gave them was not due to the fact that I am a learned social historian, but that I had looked up a particular year on Google.
I thought of looking back into history when I read the introductory words written by Father Gregory for the Mass Booklet for this celebration and the changes that have taken place in this parish over the period of the last forty years. He rightly indicates that that history of this parish is a history of which the community can be proud. A parish community should be proud of their parish because in many ways, when you look at the history of Dublin parishes forty or fifty years ago, it was very often the parish which made the community.
It was good and honest believing men and women who arrived in the early days of this parish, who transformed fields and housing estates into a sustainable, strong and proud community. From around this Church building new forms of community – secular and religious – have sprung up and developed over the years and now more than one generation has benefitted from that effort and has in its turn taken up the flag of keeping this community a flourishing one.
I would like to pay tribute to all those, priests and people, lay and religious, who took up the challenge of building up this community and who continue to do so today. We remember in prayer also those who have gone before us and who played such an important role in this history of this parish.
A parish should be proud of its history. What about its future? Father Gregory wrote that the earlier parish community would be surprised to think that forty years after the establishment of the parish there would only be one resident priest here. What will the parish of the future look like?
If I ask about what a parish will look like in 20 years’ time, I will be given all sorts of statistics about the numbers of priests, the number of those who will still come to Mass, how we will tailor our buildings and institutions to match those needs. Such thought is certainly necessary.
But throughout the history of the Church, renewal has come in another way: it has come from men and women who turn back to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, a God of mercy and compassion, a God who is not disturbed at leaving the ninety-nine at risk in order to find the one who has lost. The future Church will be a Church which is not closed within four walls but will be one where men and women experience what God’s love is about and then go out to bring that love into their homes and families, onto their streets and into the ever changing world in which we are called to live, especially those who are troubled and wounded.
Today, in our Gospel reading we encountered the extraordinary and fascinating figure of John the Baptist, who comes to prepare the way of the Lord.
Saint Luke sets out deliberately to provide us with a great amount of detail about the precise moment in which John appeared; he notes that John appeared in the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius; we are told precisely who the political and religious leaders of that moment were.
Why does Saint Luke do this? He does so not as a sort of history lesson; his intention is to remind us that the coming of the Christ takes place within human history, within the real and concrete events and lives of people who form part of human history. The salvation which is offered to us by God takes place not by removing us out of earthly realities, but in the midst of a concrete and confused world. A characteristic of the parish of the future is that it cannot be a parish closed in on itself, but one which reaches out into the realities of life.
John the Baptist was an unusual man whose fame was such that enormous numbers of men and women came out to him for baptism. We see in the Gospels also that they came to ask advice about their lives and to find answers to the challenges they faced in life. The parish of the future must then be a place where the cares and concerns of the men and women of our time will be addressed, not with the ready made black and white answers of the past, but through the support and accompaniment and prayer of a believing community.
The names that are mentioned by Saint Luke are there not to confirm the history books but to remind us of the type of world Jesus came into: Jesus came to a world marked by the arrogance of Roman political power and a world of the less than noble intrigues of the religious leaders of the day, who though professing to be on God’s side in fact were acting against the design of God. Jesus came not to an idealistic or idealised world; he came and comes to our concrete and confused and compromised world. It is in such a world that we are called to witness to Jesus.
John’s life and witness reminds us that we do not serve our contemporary world by simply by going along with that world. John reminds us that the first precondition for renewal in the Church is that we repent.
What does repentance mean today? Most of know that we are such great sinners, but few of us would consider ourselves great sinners to the extent that we would need to go around in sackcloth and ashes. The Gospel gives us a hint of what repentance involves for us, with one particular word: John preaches in the desert.
Why the desert? The desert is the place of solitude. We all need solitude; not just as peace and quiet, but a solitude which can strip from us, as individuals and as Church, all the accretions and the superficialities and the corresponding arrogance and sense of self-importance which so often negatively colour our lives. The solitude of the desert leads us to focus on what is essential and vital and truthful in life.
The parish of the future will need to discern where it is necessary to step out of much of what was done in the past and in the solitude of the desert and in prayerful reflection return to and rediscover its fundamental mission.
We all need silence but in many ways we are all afraid of silence. I have to smile when I get on to a bus or a train or a plane and find that someone sits down beside me and immediately takes out a pair of earphones. We are all afraid of the silence which might make us confront our real selves and ultimately God. Without silence we will be afraid also of prayer.
John the Baptist is a prophet. The prophet is one who calls to repentance and he calls to repentance with a message that is not his or her own. The prophet is not a celebrity who plays the star role. The prophet is the one, who through his or her life witnesses not to themselves but that word which is above us and beyond us. John appears in the desert with nothing of his own, apart from crude clothing and the roughest of food.
John is uncompromising in stressing that his mission is not about himself, but in preparing the way for the one who is to come. The parish of the future will not be a parish of people who believe that they have all the answers for themselves, afraid of becoming contaminated by the world around them. The parish of the future will be one which confidently and courageously reaches out to touch the lives of those who seek and who through authentic witness lead those in doubt and anguish to see that the answer to their seeking is the person of Jesus Christ, the one who alone is the true protagonist of reform and transformation in the Church.
May God bless this parish community as it strives to know and witness to that Jesus Christ.