Thirty Second Sunday of the Year 2012
175th ANNIVERSARY OF THE CHURCH OF SAINT BRIGID, BLANCHARDSTOWN
Homily Notes of Archbishop Martin
Church of Saint Brigid, Blanchardstown, 11th November 2012
It is certainly rare to assist at a ceremony marked by so much history as our celebration here today to mark the 175th anniversary of this Church of Saint Brigid, which itself replaced an even earlier Church which went back two centuries before 1837. This is a place of great local history and great Church history.
Church history is not just an academic discipline about dates and facts as might be the case with the history of any other building or association. The Church is history and lives in history and moves towards the fullness of history. The Church is bound up with the history of salvation, that process through which God reveals to us who he is: a God who communicates and reaches out in love to bring salvation to us in our weakness and to lead us towards real fulfilment in our lives. That revelation of God reached its climax in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, who revealed the Father to us through his self-giving death and resurrection and who sent the Spirit to be with his Church for all of history.
The history of salvation took place and takes place in distinct moments of human history. If we look attentively at the Gospel of Saint Mark then we will see that the Gospel passage we have just heard comes immediately after a series of discussions and debates which Jesus had in the Temple with various religious representatives and groups.
Now Jesus prepares the leave the Temple and to begin to teach his disciples about the future. He is going to speak with them especially about his passion and death and resurrection, something which his disciples were certainly not prepared to envisage. With today’s Gospel reading, then, Jesus begins that passage or transition in history: the passage from the religion of the Temple to the new Covenant which would be built around his self-giving sacrifice and the sending of the Spirit.
The Gospel reading we have just heard then is – in the tradition of Saint Mark – the final lesson which Jesus gives in the Temple before beginning that journey, before challenging his disciples and his followers to understand what true discipleship would now mean. So the question arises: what does this text say to us who follow in the path of discipleship in our times? How must we today as individual believers and as Christian communities live in order to be different to the empty worship – not so much of the Temple – but of many of those who had leadership roles in the Temple religion of his time?
Jesus has strong words to say to the scribes and to all those who do works that may be good and correct but who use them to benefit their own position or standing rather than the glory of God. Jesus condemns the scribes because they had lost the sense of their real role and had begun to think only of themselves and their privileges and their prerogatives.
Their condemnation by Jesus teaches lessons even for our times. As can very often happen, when we ourselves to be trapped into a logic of looking after our own privilege and power, they very quickly work their way into a situation in which nothing else counts. Self-seeking quickly blinds their eyes to the fact that they begin to use others as pawns in their game and they use the signs of power almost as if they somehow had a divine right to achieve their ambitions at anyone’s expense. Jesus says of the scribes that are not afraid to “swallow up the property of the widows” to achieve their self-satisfaction and we know that in biblical terms widows and orphans represent the marginalized of any kind. Not only do the Scribes exploit the vulnerable but they are not ashamed to cover up their activities hiding behind empty rituals and public gestures of self approval.
Jesus words are strong, but if we look closely at them they are not just the words of Jesus. Jesus had chosen the language of the prophets, especially Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos, to express his condemnation. In that sense Jesus is reminding his hearers – and indeed reminding us many generations later – that the temptations of power and hypocrisy and the exploitation of and disregard for others are in fact temptations which are recurrent in history. Despite the lessons of history and fruits of social progress they are temptations which repeat themselves. We need little reminder in the Ireland of our times.
History will always need prophets who can rise up as authentic voices to recall men and women each generation – including indeed men and women of faith – to come back to what is authentic in life. In this sense Jesus is recalling his Church in every age to the old adage: “Ecclesia semper reformanda est”, the Church is always called to renewal and repentance. Celebration of an anniversary in the Church is always a call to renewal in the Church and in the faith-life and witness of each one of us.
Renewal of the Church will never be attained by the quick-fixes or spin or public relations gestures used so much in the politics and economics of our times, but only through a renewal inspired by the humility and coherence that are to be found in the simplicity and the authenticity of the gesture of that second figure we find in today’s Gospel: the poor widow who brings her offering. She can serve as a witness to authenticity and integrity and true faith in the midst of a world where corruption and self-centred greed find such a place.
For the entire month of October, I was in Rome attending the Synod of Bishop, a gathering a bishops from every Bishops’ Conference in the World with the exception of China. The theme of this session was: “The New Evangelisation for the transmission of the faith”. It was very striking to see how the Church communities from different parts of the world are experiencing the same challenges that we are facing in the Church here in Ireland: that of reaching out to many who were baptised and initiated into the faith but who have gradually drifted away from practice and whose knowledge of the faith and of who Jesus Christ is no longer strong.
In Ireland we know that 84% of the population ticked the box “Catholic” at the most recent 2011 census. But we also know that only about 30% of the Catholic population in this diocese practices on anything like a regular basis. The New Evangelisation is the challenge that we all have to reach out to that 54% of the population who still feel that in some way they wish to be part of the Catholic community, but that Catholic community has become somehow become for them marginal to the way they live and to their world in which they live.
More than one bishop stressed that New Evangelisation is not actually so new. There have been other moments of New Evangelisation in the history of the Church. One of those moments here in Ireland was the period after Catholic Emancipation, the period in which this Church of Saint Brigid was constructed. 1837 was a time of poverty in Ireland. It was also a time in which religious practice was exceptionally low. The post emancipation period became a period of great renewal in which new Churches were built but also in which there was a renewal in faith, in education to the faith and the establishment of a new discipline and sense of purpose with in the Church. Within a period of 50 years of Catholic Emancipation the face and the culture and the demography of Catholic Ireland had changed. Religious life was renewed and new religious congregations came – many of them starting out here in Blanchardstown for the initial period of their presence here in the Dublin area. Renewal is possible and renewal is urgent.
The other evening I had with me a Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church who has been appointed Bishop in a newly established diocese which has in effect almost no resources. It has no structures. The few Church buildings that exist are in decay. It is an area which under many years of the communist regime had become totally secularised. I was humbled to hear that Bishop speak with so much enthusiasm about what is going to be an immense challenge and he was absolutely clear that for him his first challenge is to reinvigorate faith into the life of young people.
The challenge of New Evangelisation is one which requires that type of courage and that type of enthusiasm. Where people take up initiative something changes and something new is discovered and history moves forward. Where fatigue and conformism dominate then nothing happens, except retreat back into even greater fatigue and conformism.
Interestingly at the Synod of Bishops so many of the participants set out almost in the first place on an agenda of renewal precisely the virtues that we encounter in the poor widow of today’s Gospel: humility and authenticity and integrity. My prayer, as I once again congratulate you on your anniversary, is that the Spirit will fill this community with a continued sense of cooperation and common purpose and that day by day this building will be transformed, as it has been many occasions in its history, into a truly renewed community of faith which can with joy and commitment pass on that faith as something precious to the generations to come.
We thank God for these 175 of history. We thank God for the work of the priests and religious who have ministered here. We thank God for the witness and commitment of Catholic parents and teachers and those who care within the community. We thank God for the grace that so many have quietly encountered in visiting this Church over almost two centuries.
History, however, is not just the science of looking back. History is the story of the passage and transmission, generation after generation, of what is good and truthful and loving so that human progress becomes something that is worthy of our humanity as it journeys under the inspiration of the Sprit towards the blessed hope, the coming into our lives of the salvation of Jesus Christ. ENDS