Fifth Sunday of Lent
MASS TO CELEBRATE THE REFURBISHMENT OF THE PARISH CHURCH AND DEDICATION OF THE NEW ALTAR
Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Church of the Nativity of Our Lord, Beaumont, 6th April 2014
We have come to celebrate the refurbishment of this Church and to dedicate the new altar. We give thanks to God for the completion of this work and we remember the longer history of this parish and this Church which has been a place of prayer and Christian formation, a place where key moments in peoples lives were marked, a place where the sacraments were celebrated and a place from which Christian charity irradiated in the community.
We celebrate on this the Fifth Sunday of Lent. All around the world, during Lent adult men and women are preparing themselves to receive the Sacrament of Baptism at Easter through a process of catechumenate. In our traditional reflection on Lent here in Ireland we have perhaps never fully grasped the link between Lent and Baptism. Our tendency has been to look on Lent just as a period of personal penance and almsgiving.
At the Easter Vigil, on Holy Saturday night, we will listen to a series of texts from the Old Testament which show how the entire history of salvation, the story of how God prepared and protected his people for the one who was to come, was filled with symbols of Baptism. Baptism, won for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, brings to fulfilment in us all of the promises of old.
The Gospel readings for the Sundays in Lent invite us to reflect on the meaning of baptism. Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus promise the gift of “living water” to the Samaritan woman. Last Sunday, by healing the man born blind, Jesus revealed himself as “the light of the world”. Today, in the story of the raising of his friend Lazarus, Jesus presents himself as “the resurrection and the life”.
Water, light and life are symbols of Baptism. During Lent, then, we are called to repeat each year our own baptismal journey. Lent is not just a time for penance and good deeds that we do. Lent is not self-centred. Our Lenten conversion is not our own work. It is above all opening ourselves to the Lord who alone can help us to overcome the sinfulness that is in us.
During Lent, then, we learn the art of self discipline and penance in order to bring us back to what is most essential in our lives. We use prayer, fasting and works of charity in order to recognise our dependence on God and realise that the world in which we live is a world which is not ours to do with as we wish; the world and creation are gifts of God to be used according to God’s plan.
Acknowledging that life is not ours, but gift from God, changes our whole attitude towards life. This is brought out in unusual ways in the Gospel story which we have heard of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus knows what he intends to do, but those who are around him – including his own disciples – are not on the same wavelength. They look on death as the end. Once they form the idea that Lazarus is dead, they feel that there is no point in Jesus going from where he is. Jesus however teaches us that death is not the end of the story of Lazarus, but God’s glory and his saving power. Set apart from that power, there is neither light nor life.
We come to celebrate the rededication of this Church. It is an act in which we witness to our faith in the God of life. It is faith in the God of life that enables us to change and to progress and to interpret change and progress. Without faith in the God of life, there is no real reason to hope that death is not the ultimate end. Without faith in the God of life our life is devoid of meaning.
The liturgy of the dedication of the altar is one of the most complex and most profound liturgies of the Church. It stresses the mystery of God’s presence among us; it reminds us that God does not fit into any of our human categories. God is totally other and the liturgy stresses this in treating the altar as a sacred place where God is present and which is set apart from today onwards, exclusively for the worship of God. That is why we will bless and anoint and incense the altar.
We do not create God. If we create our own idea of God we will end up creating a false God. The God that was revealed in Jesus Christ is totally ‘other’. He saves us through being God, not through any power of our own. But what does “being God” mean: God’s ‘otherness’ is not an otherness which keeps God distant from us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who loves us and loves us with a generosity and an intensity that is beyond anything we merit and even anything that we can imagine.
This Church is not a concert hall or a theatre to which we come as spectators to watch something that is going on. Through the presence of Jesus in Word and Sacrament, we are invited directly into the very mystery of God. The Church is therefore the place where we learn what holiness means in our lives, in the world of today where the symbols of God’s presence are so often removed from sight.
The Church is a place where we come to pray and where we learn to pray. Prayer means fundamentally placing ourselves unconditionally in the presence of God and recognising his lordship. It is not running away from reality, quite the opposite.
When we recognise in prayer that God is Lord of the universe, we can never justify behaviour which would plunder or exploit or misuse or appropriate to ourselves our environment or the goods of the creation which were given for the benefit of all. If God is the Lord of life then we can never exploit or abuse, mistreat or exclude, much less suppress any other person, created in the image of God and a member of God’s one human family. Prayer in that sense is the great teacher of discernment in the midst of the ambiguity of progress and all the ambiguities that are present in our own hearts.
Jesus entered into the new life of resurrection through his self-giving unto death. We attain true life and understand the value of our lives here and now when we die to attachment to self and to possession and become free from all forms of narcissism and self-centeredness. The Christian life is living our lives with that freedom which can only come from Jesus, who reminds us that, just as for Lazarus, death is not the end of our story, that we too are destined to fullness of life with him. ENDS