DAY FOR CONSECRATED LIFE 2017
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Anthony, Clontarf, 2nd February 2017
Just over one week ago, Pope Francis spoke in Rome to the members of the Congregation for Religious and Consecrated Life. I was somewhat surprised at how he addressed one of the principal thrusts of his talk: the role of religious towards young people. He did not speak directly about the need for vocations or about specific youth apostolates. He spoke about something more fundamental: about the special and irreplaceable role that religious men and women are called to play in inspiring and accompanying young people in their Christian life.
I can imagine that many religious as they watch the membership of their Congregations growing older might be tempted to feel that their contribution to working with young people is by now minimal, if not even gone beyond its sell-by date. Pope Francis had a different type of reflection.
The Pope began with a reflection on the needs of young people. He spoke of the culture that many genuinely good young people are exposed to in today’s society: a worldly culture in which young people are tempted by a vision of their lives where success and happiness can be attained easily at any price, through easy money and easy pleasure, through power or material prosperity. He felt that what was important in fighting this worldly culture was precisely something that religious life can offer in a special way.
He said that our task in the face of such a worldly culture was to witness to a culture which prized something else: the joy of the Gospel and the joy of belonging to Jesus Christ. This is the role of religious life; this is your calling in today’s world, a counter cultural calling but a counter-cultural calling which is anything but is irrelevant.
We have to ask ourselves what young people today need from religious. They need religious who by their detachment from any seeking for power and wealth and pleasure attract young people to the unique joy and fulfilment which come from knowing Jesus Christ and thus allow Jesus Christ to help young people break out of self-centeredness, conformism and worldliness.
Young people have few opportunities to get to know what holiness means in their lives. They need teachers of prayer, teachers of generosity and care and teachers of faithfulness. Working with young people is not just a task for young people. Young people look for wisdom and wisdom comes very often with experience of life. The value and the witness of religious life does not cease by establishing a retirement date. Pope Francis himself is an example of how a man of now over 80 years of age can communicate with young people.
Pope Francis stressed that if religious life is to maintain its service and prophetic mission and fascination, then it must always reflect the freshness the newness of the message of Jesus Christ. He said that any religious community should be marked by hope and joy. Only in this context will religious life influence young people who are seeking meaning in their lives in a confused world.
He then stressed that this calling of religious is not just an individual call. So many young people find themselves today in a lonely and isolated world. They need the witness of what community means. They need models of community life which show different forms of how people can relate in a mature and disinterested manner. From religious life young people should be able to draw inspiration through how religious work together, how they help and support each other in relationships which go way beyond just personal interest. Jesus is present not just in individual hearts, but his message of mercy and love is witnessed through the way Christians live and the way religious life epitomises that new way of living.
I would love to see more diocesan priests finding ways of living in some form of community life, not necessarily within the same four walls, but in ways in which they support each other and in which they witness in the community not just to an individualist spirituality. When I look at parishes in this diocese which are assigned to religious communities, what impresses me and many others is the fact that there is a real sense of community among the priests and others who work in the parish and this is something which then becomes infectious within the wider structures of the parish.
The final point that the Pope stressed is the need for religious to find new ways of accompanying young people on their path of life and on their path of faith. Pope Francis speaks often about accompaniment; this is not about telling people what to do, but being with them as discern before the Lord their way through life. It means being there when they fail; it means helping them to open their hearts and commitments beyond conformism; it means being able to talk with them about the God revealed in Jesus Christ And when I say talk I am not speaking necessarily about words, but about the language of personal integrity.
Each congregation has a charism of its own and each congregation can reach out to young people through infecting them with the attractiveness of that charism, that attractiveness which drew each one of you to your vocation.
Practical and direct man that he is, Pope Francis did not fail to point out the possible negative side of the way religious is sometimes lived. Pope Francis says nice things, but he is not one who leaves us in our own comfort zone. One of his talents if we listen to him attentively is to make us all with leadership roles in the Church feel uncomfortable. He pointed to the challenges which make religious give up or become half-hearted: tiredness, routine, the weight of managing structures which are at the end of their sell by date, internal divisions, authority which becomes authoritarian.
Sometimes people that Pope Francis can be overcritical of people who feel they are doing their best and from whom you cannot expect more. Pope Francis challenges us to do more because he believes we are all capable of doing more by allowing the strength of Jesus to work through us and, in your case, because he feels that the world needs the witness of religious life.
The challenge of the Christian message is for us to reach out beyond our own comfort into the unknown and the unknown makes us feel uncomfortable. On this Feast we can draw strength from Mary who day by day learned to open her heart in trust into the unknown which Jesus opened for her. She became the model for all of us, called to be missionary disciples of Jesus in today’s world.
We give thanks to God for the witness of religious life over generations and we turn to the future with hope and courage. And I thank each of you for the witness of faith you have brought and still bring to this faith community of the Archdiocese of Dublin.