Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, at Mass at Opening of Episcopal Conference Meeting, Maynooth,
30th September 2014
“This evening is a significant gathering in the life of the Irish Church. It is an evening which clearly witnesses to the vitality of the Church in Ireland. It is a gathering which brings together men and women, lay and clerical, religious and bishops all of whom work together in support of a wide range of services and aspects of the Church’s mission in today’s Ireland and indeed in many parts of the world. It is a meeting of people who love the Church.
It is a group which represents so many dimensions of evangelisation and of the human promotion which is part of the service to society that the Church brings in its witness to the life and message of Jesus Christ.
This is a gathering which also represents, so many others who day-by-day and week-after-week support the Church’s mission in every diocese and in every parish and in every ecclesial community right across the country.
We come to give thanks to God for the commitment of so many, each of us in our own way and in line with our own calling, to witness to Jesus Christ in our lives and to spread the word of God in society.
We come not just to recall the service that we render within the Church. We come above all with an urge to renew the Church. There are many aspects of the Irish Church which we are called to celebrate. We also know that there is fragility in the Irish Church. There are signs of renewal and signs of tiredness. There is a willingness to show courage and creativity in embracing renewal and there is still fear and timidity and a temptation to retreat into the old.
Renewal is not an option. Let me quote Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium: I quote from paragraph 27 which is subtitled “An Ecclesial Renewal which cannot be deferred”; “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures, can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world rather than for self-preservation.”
The renewal of the Church and our mission to witness to Jesus Christ demands that we become more and more a Church which reaches out. The Church has to become, more and more, a Church which has two-way doors. We need Church doors through which people, young and old, feel the call to enter and encounter Jesus Christ as someone who can change their lives. We need doors through which those who enter then go out enthusiastically into the realities of day to day living and into society, witnessing to that message of Jesus in their lives.
We are called to renew the Church and we called to bring renewal to the society in which we live. The lay Christian has a special calling to bring the message of Jesus into the realities of the world in which we live, not as a representative of the bishops, but as the fruit of a specific Christian calling and commitment, in the light of that great document of Vatican II on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes.
Ensuring the presence of the Christian message in the complex mechanisms of today’s world is a task particularly for lay men and women. It is not a task of prosyletism. It is not a task of just making statements, much less of simple condemnations. It is a task of animation from within. It is one where the Christian contributes within his or her own personal, family and professional activity showing that faith can provide an added quality and vision to day to day competence. It is not that it is necessary to wear a special Christian T-shirt so that you might get a special hearing. It is not necessary to be a member of a political party or organisation which uses the name Christian. No: think of those post-war Christians who were the pioneers in creating our modern Europe. Their faith was deeply imbedded in whatever they did and their vision of the human person, the human family and of the values that should underlie a healthy society was recognised for what they were.
It is not that people in a secular society will run to accept such our contribution. There are many analogies with this evening’s Gospel reading. The very fact that we say that we are going towards Jerusalem may mean that we will not even get a hearing. For the Samaritans God was not to be found in Jerusalem and their animosity was such that they would not even dialogue with anyone they thought was on that path. Secular society can be allergic to any explicit mention of faith commitment in the life of men and women with responsibilities in the economic or social or political life of society. What are they afraid of?
At the same time the Christian cannot expect a privileged hearing in a pluralist society. It may be necessary to fight one’s corner. But pay attention to that word fight. If fight means that you advance the consequences of your values with wisdom and coherence and conviction, then that fight must take place vigorously within the democratic framework and must not be excluded from the democratic process just because it bears within it a Christian tag. If, however, it means calling down fire from heaven, then we are on the wrong track. We are on the wrong track not because we do have a right to defend ourselves and the Christian message vigorously. We are on the wrong track because when that happens it is more likely that we are invoking a fire which is not from heaven but one which is all too human and divisive and harsh and bitter and self-serving. It can be the fire of insecurity in our personal faith.
The Christian message cannot be imposed; it must win hearts and minds by its own integrity and by the quality of the lives of those who profess it.
The message of Jesus is an invitation and the only arms that it has is its attractiveness as a message of love and of mercy. At Mass on Sunday last we prayed that remarkable opening prayer which cried out “O God, you manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy”.
In discussions about the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, there is much discussion, even a share of polemics, around the word mercy. Mercy is not a discovery of the modern theologians. It is an attribute of God. There can be no conflict between truth and mercy, because God is both truth and mercy. We however can destroy that fundamental unity. We do so when we feel that God should call down fire with the anger we would invoke on those we disagree with. We do so also by analysing mercy. Mercy is not a weak virtue. Mercy is not condescending compromise. Mercy is not anything goes.
Mercy is living the Christian calling to the full in which we show mercy rather than grant it to whom we like. It is a mercy in which our hearts and even our stomachs are rent into concrete compassionate action for the good of the other. Mercy is not a slogan but a way in which allow God’s life to enter into us and to remove the care-less-ness – absence of care – and the indifference that is in us and move to establish different relations among people.
The aim of mercy is to heal but healing can only be passed on by men and women who are healed within themselves. Pray this evening for our Church in Ireland that its renewal will be a renewal in God’s gift of mercy and that the Church will be a beacon of mercy in today’s society, not through its statements or just through institutions but through the lives of men and women who have the courage to change our society through recognising our need of mercy and forgiveness. That is how we go out the world “glorifying the Lord by our lives”. Let us go away this evening renewed in our commitment to renewal of the Church we love. ENDS