Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
1st February 2015, Feast of Saint Brigid, Church of Saint Brigid, Killester
“I suppose that the notion of ‘a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over’ is a little less familiar to us today, when so much of what we buy is pre-packaged, hermetically sealed and clinically weighed, and where you never get more than precisely what you pay for.
We would have to go back more to our childhood days – when we bought food in traditional grocery shops or in markets – to remember the joy that you got when the dealer or the shopkeeper threw in something extra for you as a child. Getting something extra for yourself was a real joy.
One of the themes of our Gospel reading this afternoon – which is also taken up in the prayer of the Mass of Saint Brigid – is that of generosity. Generosity means breaking out of the closed logic of everyone getting their just-deserves and nothing more. It means breaking out of the logic of many models of today’s market economy or business strategies or policies of international solidarity. Of course, books have to be balanced and distributive justice respected, but there will never be a humane world which does not include the notion of generosity which enables those on the margins – and not just on the outward peripheries – to get that little extra which; can be the catalyst for helping a person to flourish or even survive.
Those of you who have worked in education know that there are always young people who need that little bit of extra help to get through; not so much a full-scale grind, as a little more personal coaching and encouragement and giving the child the sense that he or she can do it. And you will remember the joy that both child and teacher felt when things went well.
Generosity is never just about plans or strategies or programmes. Generosity can never be simply CEO pre-packaged and driven, much less outsourced to others. It is something that touches the very essence of being a person. Being a generous person is part of being a true human being. There will always be something lacking in the make-up of any person who fails to be generous.
Generosity is also of the basic essence of the Christian life. The good Christian is not the one who carries out a series of norms and rules or devotions better than someone else. Our Gospel reading belongs to that series of Gospel admonitions: “You will have heard it said, but to you who hear me, I say”. The believer in Jesus sets out from a totally different ethical platform from a vison where everything is judged in terms of my rights and my entitlements and what I need, to one in which the focus is on the other’s rights and needs and hopes and aspirations. Equality is judged not just in ‘exact-measure-distributive-justice’; true equality means that I work to see that the measure of hope for others is that they experience that generosity which we ourselves would really love to receive.
Generosity is the fundamental ethic of the Christian believer because it is more than a mere ethic. It is an understanding of what life is about and what human interaction is about. Living the Christian life is not about some added-on extras to what is means to be good. It is about a vison of life on a totally different plane. The Christian ethic of self-giving and generosity challenges the Church, which is called never to be self-promoting and self-defending or turned-in on itself, but rather to be a place where generosity is the by-word and the atmosphere which you breathe at every level. Everyone who encounters the Church must encounter, not a vast organization with its structures even with its organizations of philanthropy, but a space where you realise that life can be lived within a different vision of welcome and outreach, where the quality of life of the highly qualified professional may be surpassed by the humble person who has no sense of self-pretence.
Let us explore this a little deeper. Many of the same phrases that we find in today’s Gospel reading – and in the sections that precede it – are also found in the Gospel of Matthew but with one significant difference. In the Gospel of Matthew the hearers are called to be imitators of God because “God is perfect”. In the Gospel of Luke however we are called to be imitators of God because he is compassionate. Compassion is a new definition of the perfection, the perfection which we find in God. Self-giving love is the path through which Jesus reveals to us who God is.
Within the vison of a generously compassionate Church, religious life is called to play an essential role. Religious life involves much more than a conceptual understanding of the evangelical counsels. Poverty, chastity and obedience are fundamentally not just renunciations. I could renounce wealth, and power and sensuality and be a fully self-centred person, interested in no one else but myself. The evangelical counsels must leave one free to be generous and compassionate and indeed they find their true meaning only when they result in someone who becomes generous and compassionate because they identify with Jesus who is compassionate and who wish to be like Jesus who is compassionate and generous in compassion. Scandals and failures around religious life – in our times or at any time in history or in any place – arise where generous compassion somehow gets lost within self-interest or congregational interest or when religious become preoccupied with tasks or where we begin to feel that compassion can somehow be made into a business.
Religious are called to constant renewal. Renewal in religious life will emerge when that sense of generous compassion without boundaries is rediscovered and where generosity and compassion colour and dominate every aspect of our lives. That was the characteristic of your founders and foundresses who were prepared to find new ways of witnessing to the love of God where society in general – and indeed the Church itself – failed to identify human suffering and exclusion.
Without compassion we become blind to the needs of others. Only those possessed of a genuine sense of compassion will be able to identify the real burdens of those who are weighed down and marginalized or who find little hope in their future. A life of personal poverty and obedience and chastity must genuinely free the consecrated person from just being part of the established ways of thinking and living in our consumerist world. Every individual in our society faces this challenge. The religious must be the person who shows – by the way he or she lives – that there is no half-way of compromise with the failed values of consumerism. The individual life and the community life of religious must witness to values different to consumerism.
The freedom to live the evangelical counsels with generosity comes in a special way from prayer. Your founders and foundresses were not just innovative persons: they were mystics. Placing oneself honestly in the presence of God who is generous, must empty us from any sense of relying on ourselves. It must make us realise that we are not the owners of this earth and its peoples, but are called to be its good stewards in accordance with God’s plan. Every religious is called to be a teacher of prayer and what prayer means. Teach prayer and share your prayer and the Gospel wisdom which springs from prayer with others.
Religious must never be simple conformists. An overly conformist style of formation which sought to eliminate individuality and creativity has been one of the most damaging things for religious life over the years. Coming close to Jesus should liberate and not trap people in scruples. But it is also important to remember that the opposite of conformity is not simply doing your own thing; it is being free to discover Jesus, to imitate Jesus and become his imitators in his compassion and generosity.
Many say that the future of religious life is problematic. Some may feel that they are getting old and they can really change nothing. I asked a gathering of religious recently the question: ‘what age is Pope Francis?’ You know he is 79 and I say to all those here today who are under 79 that there is no reason why you should feel it is time to step back and throw the towel. Just as Pope Francis – who was preparing to retire as Archbishop – responded to the unexpected call, never give in to acquiescence? Giving in is refusing to be generous; it is self-thinking and it is self-defeating and indeed it is the opposite of being generous and compassionate.
This year of consecrated life is an important event in the calendar of the Church around the world. I am really pleased to see the response of religious and consecrated persons in this Archdiocese. I thank you for being here. I appeal to all components of Church life to support you, to encourage you and to celebrate your gifts, knowing that your response will be one of renewed compassion and generosity. If that happens, Jesus will ensure that the Church we all love will be enriched with his gifts, not in clinically measured packages, but with ‘a full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over’. Compassion and generosity generate joy”.