MASS FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF
MGR LUIGI GIUSSANI
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
University Church, Stephens Green, Dublin, Wednesday 19th February 2020
“The Gospel story that we have just heard is very unusual. The healing of the blind man is presented in a unique way. It seems to take place in two stages. It almost seems to give the impression that Jesus was having difficulty in healing the man. He has to ask the man at a certain moment if he is already able to see. When the man says that he can see something vaguely, then Jesus has to turn to him again to bring the healing to completion, enabling the man to see plainly and distinctly. This is almost unique in the miracles of Jesus.
The key to understanding the reading is to be found in a particular characteristic of the Gospel of Saint Mark. Saint Mark puts more clearly into focus than other evangelists the fact that the disciples find it difficult to accept the teaching of Jesus fully. In the other Gospels, Jesus often contrasts the belief of the disciples with the unbelief or even rejection of Jesus by the crowd. Mark posits a dimension of ongoing uncertainty in the faith of the disciples even until after the Resurrection. The healing story is in a sense a reference to that imperfect faith of the disciples.
We live in a society where a deep hesitancy about belief is present even among those who would call themselves practicing Christians. In some cases we could speak about a deliberate way of interpreting the Christian faith within which people can chose the aspects they find convenient to believe in and to reject other dimensions.
The challenge is even deeper. If we began to look of the teaching of Jesus as a series of isolated doctrines and moral norms, then we will inevitably end up in comparing the level of acceptance that one is required to give to each. On the other hand, some will end up looking at every aspect of faith and tradition as being equal, and confusing what is simply devotional or cultural with what is truly central.
Faith is not adherence to a list of doctrines, but about embracing in the depth of our selves the very person of Jesus and allowing him to open our hearts bit by bit into the mystery of his identity.
Faith is not about picking and choosing what we wish to believe, but rather a process whereby our lack of understanding is overcome by the healing power of Jesus himself. That healing power reaches out to us in the variety of situations in which we find ourselves. The healing of the blind man indicates differ stages also in our faith.
We encounter Jesus in a state of blindness, when he arouses within us a desire to see. Jesus accompanies us with his healing power as we progress into a still confused state in which we see vaguely. He leads us finally into moments in which our sight and understanding emerge with clarity.
The dominant dynamic of that process is the action of Jesus himself. However, that does not mean that we are not called to develop an openness and an entry point for our own intellect and talents into exploring the mystery.
In this context, we can learn from the intuition and method of don Luigi Giussani whose anniversary we recall this evening. For much of his life he worked in a State school. He had the remarkable talent of reaching out to young people living in an environment that was agnostic regarding faith. He did not become a crusader about reforming the school ethos or giving it a veneer of being Catholic. No, he touched the hearts of young women and men and led them to realise more clearly and distinctly how faith in Jesus Christ brings a special healing that empowers us to be a leaven of Jesus Christ within the complex and constantly changing socio-cultural structures in which we live. For don Giussani faith was never a flight from everyday realities, but a new way of living that enlightens those realities.
Ireland is a changing society. Some are scandalised by what they see as a loss of faith and of the impact of faith on our society. Very often such comment presumes that the culture we inherited was as deeply rooted in faith as they think. It is not simply that the depth of faith in Irish society has weakened. There are strong roots of faith still present. The challenge is that we do not realise that our faith in the past and indeed still today may well belong to that middle stage of the cure of the blind man: genuine but still so vague and so uncertain that it does not foster a real encounter between faith and life.
This realisation colours the direction we undertake when we speak of renewal within the Church. Reform of structures is always necessary in the Church. Reform of structures, however necessary, is always subordinate to and at the service of creating the ability to believe within a society that is increasingly unmindful of the real understanding of Jesus. Pope Benedict spoke of the challenge of speaking about God to people who do not know where to find God.
Some say that our situation reflects not so much a crisis of the Church but a crisis of faith. Perhaps crisis is the wrong word. Faith will always be a challenge and will always be a path and a journey. Failure to understand how faith is a lifelong journey leaves us with a false security that damages faith. We begin to talk about crisis, rather than focusing on how we lead the men and women of our time on a path of knowing Jesus and his healing power.
Pope Francis stresses strongly the idea of a more Synodal Church. The danger is that people begin to understand synodality as some type of negotiation about Church structure, rather than a pathway of sharing by all believers in the search for more profound entry into the mystery of Jesus’ healing power. Sharing means rejecting privilege and arrogance and discrimination. Sharing means openness to the original contribution and dignity of each believer. Sharing means humbly learning from sources we might not normally listen to. Without a sharing in the missionary search for a deeper understanding of faith and in the encounter between faith and culture, synods could be just another inward looking, inner Church procedure. Sharing does not means ignoring conflicts but enabling us, to use words of Pope Francis, “to expand horizons beyond conflict”.
Our Dublin celebration of this 15th anniversary of the death of don Giussani, offers Comunione e Liberazione in Dublin a special privilege: to celebrate the vision of faith and reason of don Giussani in this Church established by Saint John Henry Newman. Privilege demands commitment. The Alleluia verse reminds us of how our lives must witness in society to our faith in Jesus. We are called to walk in today’s world repeating and affirming before the Lord, “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path”.