FEAST OF SAINT LAURENCE O’TOOLE 2015
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 14th November 2015
“Saint Laurence O’Toole was Archbishop of Dublin at an unusual time. He was the first Irish Bishop in Dublin. His predecessors were of Viking extraction and the diocese was linked with the Archbishop of Canterbury. In its origins, Dublin was in fact very much a Viking city and its links with the rest of the country were tenuous.
Laurence’s successors then were Normans, leaving Laurence as the first and only Irish Archbishop of Dublin for generations. He lived in times which were epochal, marked with colossal change.
Reflecting on this led me to note that we today are in a similar situation of change in the religious culture of this city and this diocese, of this country and indeed in Western culture. The place of faith in Irish society is changing; the place of the Church in Irish society is changing. The overall religious affiliation of people, especially of young people, is changing, even though there are strong residual vestiges of faith in our overall Irish culture. It would be wrong to think that Ireland had become broadly irreligious or anti-religious. But it would also be foolish not to recognise that there is a generational sell-by date stamped on any undefined cultural Catholicism.
One can speak of disillusionment with the Church due to scandals and to alienation from Church teaching and culture. I could use statistics about Mass attendance and attitudes to the Church as an institution to draw up a gloomy picture of the current situation; this would only serve to bring more and more people with me into gloom. I could describe what is happening in terms of a culture battle led by powerful forces out to destroy the Church and think that the only response is to dig trenches for battle or to retreat into a safe comfort zone where everything seems clear and secure.
For me the only thing to do is to take a serene and faith-filled look at what we can do and what we must do in order to make the message of Jesus Christ known and understood by people within the real life situation in which we live.
We heard in the second reading: “we will have none of the reticence of those who are ashamed, no deceitfulness or watering down of the word of God. It is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”. We are called to preach and witness to Jesus Christ and if the Church is not touching the hearts of people today it is because we have not effectively taught and witnessed to Jesus Christ.
Faith is hard to define. Faith does not possess all the answers and faith is not a magic answer. Faith is not something which does away with all doubt. Faith is not just about theology books and Church documents and ready-made answers but about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Without that relationship with Jesus Christ, then the outward signs of faith can be empty and misleading.
Faith which does not foster questioning in our hearts and which becomes an ideology opens the path to dangerous fundamentalism. The events which took place last night in Paris are a horrific example of what fundamentalism can do and what happens when religion is distorted for ideological reasons. Pope Benedict went so far as to say that: “the pathology of religion is the most dangerous sickness of the human spirit”. Saint Laurence O’Toole, whose feast day we celebrate today, was a European peace-maker in his time: an Irish bishop who died in France on a mission to the Norman King to secure peace for his native Dublin. We remember those who died last night and those who mourn them and we share in the grief of the entire city of Paris. I ask that prayers be said in that intention in all Churches over the weekend.
Pope Francis has spoken about the dangers of a sort of fundamentalism in Catholicism, a self-referential Church so caught up in its own inner workings that it fails to focus on Jesus himself, whose message does not imprison us within ourselves but should drive us beyond ourselves into the peripheries of society and into the peripheries of our own existence.
Many bishops were surprised at a comment of Pope Francis at the close of the recent Synod of Bishops when he criticised people who had: “closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families”. The Pope is saying that you can constantly repeat the words of the Church’s teaching and still not have true faith!
Faith in Jesus Christ, to quote the same speech of Pope Francis, is “about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to… enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism”.
The mission of the Church is to help hearts to enter into that logic of God and through that logic to lead people away from discouragement and pessimism. Sadly in many cases we have inherited from our past religious culture a false idea of God as a harsh judgmental God. If we cling to such an idea of God, then we will fall into and pass on to others only a deeper discouragement and pessimism and painful scrupulosity.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who shows himself above all in mercy and compassion. Faith is in Jesus Christ is not governed by a rule book of sins or ways to condemn others; it is ruled by a heart which becomes like Jesus. Our God is a God like the Good Samaritan who sees and recognises suffering and responds, not through social commentary, but in embrace and carrying of the wounded and caring for them until they are finally restored to human fullness.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ is like the Father of the Prodigal Son who is there waiting to embrace and forgive, rather than the older son who has observed all the right rules of loyalty and hard work but remains so caught up in the rules that he misses the joy of seeing his own wayward brother restored.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not one who condemns and abandons and leaves alone, but rather like Jesus on the road to Emmaus one who, when the disciples fail to recognise him, continues quietly to journey with them. He does not force himself on them, but touches their hearts slowly so that they can understand the scriptures.
One bishop at the Synod had a rather modern notion of our encounter with Jesus comparing him to a “sat-nav” in our cars. When we decide that we will go our own way, the “sat-nav” does not leave us lost, but quickly reconfigures and offers to get us back on the right route once again.
If the Church is not touching the hearts of people today it is because we have not effectively taught and witnessed to Jesus Christ. Saint Laurence O’Toole lived in a time of epochal change. Massive political change was taking place. Laurence stood out as a unique figure because in the midst of political strive and change he was a figure who gave himself to helping the poor, to renewal of genuine prayerfulness and through intercession for the people and for peace even with the political powers of Europe.
We Christians of this city and diocese are entrusted with the legacy of Saint Laurence. Through his powerful intercession may we respond to that responsibility and with the confidence which comes from faith witness to the loving kindness of the God we believe in, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. ENDS