Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
COMMENCEMENT OF THE MICHAELMAS LAW TERM 2016
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Michan’s Church, Halston Street, 3rd October 2016
” We come to invoke the gift, the protection and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on all who are called to foster equity and defend the rule of law in our society. The Holy Spirit comes to free our humanity and our relationships from those obstacles which impede the ability to live what is true and what is good. Leadership in society is called in that sense to live in the Spirit.
The first reading reminds us how the Spirit came on the Apostles and helped them overcome the fear and timidity that had entrapped them after Jesus’ death. The Spirit gave them the courage to move out to spread the name and the message of Jesus in a process which continues until our day.
The particular occasion which the Spirit chose to come down on the Apostles was a moment in which people from all over the known world were present in Jerusalem.
The Apostles began, we are told, to speak different languages and people from every corner of the world began to understand their preaching each in his or her own language. A sign of the presence of the Spirit among us is the gift of communication among people.
Today the Spirit still brings the gift of communication. Communication is not just about words; it is about hearts and minds; it is the gift of reaching out beyond our own interests and concerns to be able to understand and enter into fruitful and caring interaction with others in truth and love.
Communication is the language of God. The Christian God is not a distant God who dwells in isolation. Our God is rather the one who unconditionally reaches out to us. He is the one who communicates his own identity; who reveals himself in love and in mercy. The Christian God reveals himself not like pagan God’s who dwells in the fearful dimensions of creation. Our God is one who cares and sustains the beauty and harmony of his creation which he created in love. The Spirit brings the gift of communion and interaction, respect and harmony between every aspect of creation. Where communication fails, division begins.
“The name of God is Mercy” is the title that Pope Francis gave to a recent book. It is not just a catchy title; it says something about the very essence of being a Christian. If we have difficulty in understanding that God’s name is mercy, then we will have great difficulty in understanding the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. If we have some name of our own for God, then we may well have ended up with a false God.
If the name of God is mercy, how did we end up with the idea of a harsh condemnatory God who only wishes to judge us in our sinfulness and humiliate us? If we have created such a God then we misunderstand both God and sin. Sinfulness is not about breaking arbitrary rules: sinfulness is failure to love and failure to be merciful. If sinfulness is failure to be merciful then many who are quick to condemn sinners, may well be in a category of sinners all of their own.
If the name of God is mercy, then we have to understand that we can only begin to understand God when we allow ourselves to encounter his mercy. We cannot understand God if we exclude ourselves from an encounter with mercy through our own feelings of self-security and self-superiority and self-assigned status.
Communication in the Spirit is not just about techniques. It is about authenticity in relationships. The Spirit fosters that communication which our second reading reminds is at the basis of unity. When human cells grow in an isolated way from the body they mutate in a cancerous self-serving and self-preserving way. When a splintering of interests began to infect political and social culture – or indeed within the Church – then pernicious divisions appear and the patterned growth which is of the nature of any living organism begins to break down and further detrimental inequalities emerge.
Where communication breaks down within the human community then selfish interests begin to dominate. Growth with equity will never be fostered when the few are favoured and included and others are left on the margins and excluded. We need a new language of communication within society where every individual can attain voice and ownership in dignity in which all have a sense of being treated and respected in the depth of their personal identity. Mercy recognises and embraces the dignity of the other and can transform the most troubled and disturbed hearts.
On the other hand when the common good and common purpose do not prevail then a damaging cancer can appear which inevitably reaches into every element of society and communication and participation become replaced by polarization and marginalization. Spirit filled communication on its part will embrace beyond all human borders: migrants will become brothers and sisters, homeless will encounter human warmth, voiceless will find a hearing, the poor will enjoy sustenance, the wounded will receive healing, sinners will encounter forgiveness and be welcomed back and become loving men and women though experiencing love.
In any society the legal system is an essential part of this fundamental process of communication, of equitable human interaction. The task of public authorities is to ensure equity, to protect the weak and curb the arrogance of those who exercise power. A legal system has its role in independently and vigorously ensuring that men and women and indeed children, citizens and not, have equitable access to what they need to realise their God-given potential.
The Spirit is given to foster communication so that the love of the God revealed in Jesus Christ can be deepened and renewed in every successive generation. Our Gospel reading tells us that the Spirit will “remind us of everything that Jesus said to us”. He will help us to translate the teaching of Jesus into a culture of respect and equality in dignity. A political or judicial system which betrays or undervalues the equality and the dignity of all betrays its calling and betrays humanity.
The communication which is the gift of the Spirit is not the empty spin of much of modern communication. It is the establishment of a regime of love and of respectful encounter which incarnates in every generation the God’s great commandment of love.