29th Sunday of the Year 2013 175th ANNIVERSARY OF SAINT PETER’S CHURCH PHIBSBORO
Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – Saint Peter’s Church, Phibsboro, 20th October 2013
“The Gospel reading we have just heard is often called the parable of the unjust judge. Certainly the unjust judge appears as a key figure in the parable, but there are really two other more central figures.
The first is the poor widow and she is the one that we should focus upon as we reflect on our life of faith, as we celebrate 175 years of this Church of Saint Peter in Phibsboro and we come towards the conclusion of the year of Faith.
The Gospel reading is about faith. The widow is presented to us as a model of faith and indeed as we look back over 175 years of the mission of this Church, we can see in that poor but determined widow a model of faith which has been repeated over all these by the men and women who have built up this community, which is a parish community and more than a parish community.
Who, first of all, is the unjust judge? Most likely he was not a corrupt judge who gave unjust sentences or took bribes in order to be partial in his judgements. He was simply not interested in the life and the good of the community for which he had responsibility. He was inattentive and disinterested and went about his own life without caring in depth for those around him. In many ways one could say that in the parable he represents the world in which we live and in which we have to develop our faith and our life.
The greatest professional sin or illness of politics or of a public administration or indeed of Church leadership is that of lack of interest: just thinking about oneself or one’s institution. Unlike outright corruption, the sin of lack of interest can be hard to identify. It is the classic sin of omission which we try to defend by saying that, while perhaps we should have thought of that, we were never really obliged to go beyond our definition of the call of duty.
The unjust judge represents the world around us and often too the word within us when we put out of our sights and thoughts things that are unpleasant and make us uncomfortable.
Who is the poor woman? The poor woman represents the efforts and the determination of the poor, especially the poor who have to face obstacles day after day and always seem to be in a position of disadvantage, starting out from well behind the starting line of others. This Church has been a focal point for community in this area of Dublin for over 175 years now. It has been a place of comfort and encouragement for those in difficulty and doubt. Here they have encountered the care of Jesus and the truth of Jesus represented by men and women – priests, religious and laity – who decided to care rather than just to stand by idly.
The Vincentian Fathers had just come to Ireland when the request was made to them by my predecessor Archbishop Daniel Murray to take over the beginnings of a new community which was growing along Dublin’s elegant North Circular Road, which you might say was then the M50 of its time. The area belonged to the Parish of Saint Paul’s in Aran Quay, under the guidance of an extraordinary priest of the time Dean Yore who was larger than life in his ministry and generous with all that he had.
The poor woman represents the great efforts of ordinary men and women, of hard-working families, to create a better life and a better future for their children and grandchildren. Just like the woman of the Gospel they could well have simply given up to the pressures and the disinterest of life around them and say there is really no hope for any improvement as things stand.
The woman of our Gospel reading, however, was a woman of faith and woman of prayer. It was these same gifts which gave the members of this community the strength to resist indifference.
Prayer is not a space into which we retreat as a comfort as we stay in weakness. Prayer is strong and powerful; it helps us to rise up out of our isolation and enables us to see not just the small things we often spend our time praying for, but the central things which God asks of us in our ivies. The simple men and women of this area did great things, because they were not prepared to get bogged down in the less essential small matters.
Faith helps us to focus on what is most important. In today’s world there are so many attractions and we are constantly under pressure to conform; we are bombarded by advertising for things that we really do not need and are not the things that will really fill the voids that are in our hearts. Indeed they may well leave that void even emptier and leave us frustrated.
I mentioned that apart from the unjust judge there are two central figures in today’s Gospel. One is the widow. Who is the other? It is the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the God who is faithful and attentive. He is the one who is other, who is different, who opens for us a different way of thinking about life, one where we encounter true and lasting justice which can transform us then to be men and women who live justly.
This Church of Saint Peter has been for 175 years now a place of prayer, of worship and a place where people found reconciliation and support. Here the Vincentian charism established true and lasting roots in the Dublin of 175 years ago and right down until today. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul established roots in the first years of the life of this Church community. The Daughters of Charity brought care and support to the poor and the burdened. The influence of that Vincentian charism spread way beyond this Church as Missions were carried out around Ireland. These Missions are still today great models of renewal and evangelization and a reawakening in faith.
This Church has been a place of special welcome to people who in recent years have come to our shores and especially those who found themselves in moments of difficulty and victims of indifference and disinterest. Here they encountered the face and the welcome Jesus Christ, through the face and the welcome of a Christian community.
I am especially pleased that this anniversary Mass is also one of the Masses for the “Do This in Memory Programme” as children prepare for their First Holy Communion. These young boys and girls will have no idea of what the world was like in 1838, one hundred and seventy five years ago. We have no idea of what the world will be like for them in the years and decades to come. What is important is that we give them the primary gifts they need to enable them to face the challenges of the future and grow into mature as happy adults. The gift of faith – which has been lived concretely over generations here in the Church – is a vital gift for our young people to help them know who they are and what they are called to as children of a God who loves us and who cares.
We thank God today for the vision and the dedication of the Vincentian Fathers and the other members of the Vincentian family who have ministered here over the years. We pray that Saint Peter’s Church will continue its mission which is, in a way, very much like its geographical position: a meeting point of different streets and paths of life, a focal point of faith and strength for those who journey to and fro in the challenges of daily life.”