Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2014
FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PARISH OF MOUNT ARGUS
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of the Saint Paul of the Cross, Mount Argus, 14th September 2014
We celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the establishment, on the 15th August 1974, of this Mount Argus Parish of Saint Paul of the Cross and we remember the long spiritual tradition of this monastery and Passionist community.
We celebrate on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Cross is central to the understanding of our Faith. The Cross was an infamous instrument of torture and punishment, considered in its time a punishment for those who had been cursed by God or who were a toxic danger to society. All of us are horrified today when we hear news of people being crucified in our times. It is an atrocious form of punishment.
Yet for us Christians this instrument of horrifying death is celebrated as a totally different reality. For the Christian, the Cross is an instrument of salvation. Rather than being considered an instrument of cruel publishment, the Cross of Jesus Christ has become something which reveals the love of God and the depth of that love. God’s love is revealed in the love which Jesus Christ was prepared to show even to the point of accepting such a humiliating death.
The first reading sets the tone of how we are to understand the lifting up of Jesus on the cross. Moses raised up a serpent in the desert and anyone who looked at that serpent raised up – even despite the infidelity of the people – would be cured.
The Gospel reading takes up that story again and talks about Jesus being lifted up. What does “being lifted up” mean? What do we celebrate on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross? What does exaltation mean? On the cross, Jesus is raised up from the earth and enters into his glory. At this moment of extraordinary humiliation in human eyes, Jesus is raised up on the Cross and God welcomes him in to the kingdom and rewards his total self-giving love and through that love we receive salvation.
The death of Jesus, the innocent man on the cross, is not simply the fruit of a miscarriage of justice. The cross is not just a symbol of the inexplicable and the indefensible. The mystery of the cross is much deeper. The mystery of the Cross is about the final moment – the culmination – of a life lived in a spirit of total self-giving love for us human beings. The cross is transformed in its meaning by the love of God revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We can now look towards the Cross and encounter in our lives that love which frees us from evil and insecurity and opens for us a new life. For the Christian, the cross is no longer an instrument of condemnation, but an instrument through which “the world can be saved”.
Christians are followers of the cross. How do we live a life of following the Cross? Again it would be wrong for us to look on our faith in the cross is a negative, almost masochistic, devotion to suffering. We ought much more to focus on how the cross can lead us to exaltation; towards being raised up from the sinfulness’ that is in us and becoming free and loving people. Christianity, a faith built on the cross, is not a religion of oppression, but a way of living so that the power of love can frees us.
The cross frees us, however, only when we respond in love. The second reading – the magnificent hymn from the Letter to the Philippians – teaches us that that freedom is attained only when we move away from all self-centredness and a sense of self-importance or arrogance as Jesus did: “Jesus did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself”, Saint Paul writes. Following the cross means moving from a life of self-centredness to a life of self-giving.
We celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of this parish. There were some at that time, I am told, who thought that there could be a dichotomy between being a parish and maintaining the traditional devotional life that had sprung up around this Church linked with the charism of the Passionist Fathers. Experience has shown that what happened was quite the opposite. I think you will all agree that that parish life here in Mount Argus is if anything enhanced by the special charism the Passionist Fathers. We give thanks to God today for the Passionist priests and other members of their community who have not just administered this parish, but have brought deepening and enhancement of the Christian life to so many.
A parish is not something that is anonymously carved out on a map, a purely canonical or administrative creation. Parish life is focussed on the celebration of the Eucharist, the mystery of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. The life of a parish is then formed through the life of the Sacraments, through which faith in Jesus enters into our hearts.
Forty years ago any Dublin parish was outwardly very different to what it looks like today and parishes are still changing today. When I visit parishes I look out to see originally how many confessionals were in the parish church. Today a parish which might have had eight confessionals may now only have one priest. The life of a parish changes with the changes of the times. Some of that change – such as the dramatic reduction in the number of priests – is distressing. But we must also stress that the life of parishes today flourishes in away which perhaps did not happen in the past.
A parish is not the property of the parish priest or the bishop. The parish is a living organism which involves every dimension of the Christian life and involves every parishioner. The parish of the future will look different. There will be a much greater participation of the entire community of believers, each exercising his or her specific role and calling fully and never just as a passive sleeping member as if in a club or organization. I wish to express my appreciation to the Parish Pastoral Council and to the many lay men and women and religious, who witness to their faith through renewal of parish life and care here in Mount Argus.
The centre of Parish life is always the celebration of the Eucharist. The other sacraments should normally take place within that celebration or with a clear focus on their link to the Eucharist. The parish must then be the place where Eucharist is lived. Eucharist is lived through prolonging the service of love which is the essence of the Eucharist into every dimension of parish life and the beyond that into society.
One of the many images which Pope Francis likes to use is that of the doors of the Church. He reminds us that the doors of our Churches must remain open so that people can enter and encounter the healing power of Jesus. They must be doors which do not have invisible security detectors, like at an airport, which try to keep out those whom we may not like or may be different. They must be doors which are not one-way, which do not tempt us to remain enclosed within the Church building as a Church of just the comfortable and the like-minded. Finally, the Pope stresses, the doors of the Church must be open so that those who encounter the message and the love of Jesus in word and sacrament can go back out into our challenging world bringing a witness to the care and the love of Jesus.
The Passionist Fathers are renowned for what was called “mission work”. That work remains vital, but today there is a call to new forms of mission, new ways of reaching out beyond the Church doors to bring the saving message of Jesus to those whose faith has become shallow and less relevant to the way they consider their lives.
In this archdiocese, almost 16% of the population is under the age of nine. A huge new generation is emerging whose faith has to be nourished in a new way. Every parish should be reaching out to young people. I said last week to the hundreds of young helpers with us on the Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes that very often the Church has failed to listen to young people and that I want to hear their views on the Church and on faith. Their response was positive and I gave them an electronic contact with which they can dialogue directly with me. We have to show young people that the Church is interested in them and has confidence in them as they prepare to live in a future which is their world.
We pray this morning that this Parish will be creative in maintaining and keeping alive the great traditions of Mount Argus.
This parish is unique in that it has as a part of its spiritual heritage a canonised Saint, Saint Charles of Mount Argus. We pray that his prayerfulness, his care for the sick and those bowed down by sin or heavy burdens, will be an example for all of us and that his intercession will aid the mission of this parish in our days, at the service of the message of Jesus, crucified out of love for us.