DAY FOR CONSECRATED LIFE 2012 Homily Notes of Archbishop Martin at the Church of Our Lady of the Wayside, Bluebell, 2nd February 2012
One of the themes that run through this evening’s readings on the Feast of the Purification is that of expectation. Ezekielspeaks of “the Lord who is coming” and of the appearance of “the covenant that you are longing for”
As Jesus enters into the Temple he is greeted first of all by Simeon, one “who looked forward” to Israel’s comforting one on whom the Spirit rested and who watched and waited for the restoration of Israel.
The second encounter is with the elderly woman Anna who appears almost just in passing and yet understands that this child was the one who realised the hopes of all who “looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem”.
Both are presented to us in terms of prophecy. Prophecy is the gift not so much of foreseeing the future as if by some magical powers. No, the gift of prophecy is a gift for the present; it is the gift which enables us to recognise and understand and interpret the true the meaning of the present.
Like Simeon and Anna, the religious must be so focused on what expectation means in life, that they are in the forefront in recognising what, through Jesus, fulfillment and happiness mean in the present.
We celebrate the Day of Consecrated Life. We come to thank God for the gift to the Church of the prophetic witness of religious men and women. We come to pray that each of us will be so steeped in the hope we are called to, that we will be able to interpret what that call requires today and where it should be guiding our lives. We pray that individual religious and their communities will witness to what expectation and consolation and renewal mean today for God’s holy people and for the world in which we live.
We celebrate the Day of Consecrated life in 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the convocation of the Second Vatican Council. I entered the seminary just one week before the opening of the Council. As a seventeen year old I was not sure what the Council would mean. Even the good Pope John XXII was obviously not sure: at the opening of the Council he spoke of possibly not completing its work in the few months of the opening session and even having to come back for a second session. In fact, the Council’s debate was to endure for four sessions.
I often say to people that I entered into Clonliffe in 1962 and that in 1969 I went back out into a different Ireland and a different Church. Certainly the Council changed the Church and perhaps very few other aspects of Church life changed in its externalities as religious life. I am sure that the more elderly among us would have some great stories of what it was like to live as a religious in those days before the Council and the great change and breath of fresh, renewing air that the Council brought with it.
But it would be important not to link the Council just with external change, just as it would be insufficient to identify renewal in the Church today just with external change in structures, no matter how necessary such change might be.
I read an article in these days which spoke about the various theological tensions that emerged during the Council. It said quite strikingly that the media categories of progressive and traditionalist actually got it wrong. The progressives, it said, were really the true traditionalists; they were the ones who want back deeply into the traditions of the Church and purified the Church from many empty practices which self-proclaimed traditionalists had canonised as tradition but which were not.
Religious life is about discernment. It is about how one lives one’s life in the complexities of this world while never losing sight of what true expectation is about. It is about how we live our lives today in absolute coherence with what the true expectation of fulfilled humanity is about.
Religious life is not so much about doing, but about meaning. It is not to say that religious turn their back on the needs and necessities, the anxieties and the hopes of the people in the world, especially the most marginalised and needy. Religious are indeed doers, but doers with a difference. They do not do things to build their own empires or to make others dependant on them. They do things in a unique manner which enables hope to spring forth in people’s lives and replace that sense of emptiness and that feeling of not being of worth, which haunts so many man and women, young or old in our days.
Religious do this in various ways. First and foremost they do so through their recognition that in the midst of all the successes and failures of human progress, they are called consistently to witness to the primacy and otherness of God. In times of secularisation, religious are called to witness to the presence of the transcendent God whose love is revealed and encountered in Jesus Christ, who reaches out to the men and women of our time pointing their lives towards where the blessed hope is to be found.
Religious witness to that blessed hope, not just as individuals, but in community. Ina fragmented world the witness of communion and community is vital. Here we encounter the theme of the Eucharistic Congress: Communion with Christ and with One another. Religious life is a call to live a form of communion with one another which draws its inspiration from communion with Christ. Our communion with one another witnesses then to what communion with Christ means. Where we fail in our communion with one another, we distort the very meaning of our communion with Christ.
Religious life is a call to real commitment. It must reflect that zeal for the things of God which marked the two prophets we encounter in today’s Gospel reading: they served God day and night. The commitment of religious can never be limited to a nine-to-five commitment. I believe that the real challenge about religious life and about ministry in the Church is not the falling numbers of vocations but the mediocrity with which so many of us end up being satisfied with. I say this of myself, I say it about bishops and priests and religious. We all need to restore our commitment to and confidence in our calling and the ability to recognise and set aside that which is marginal and distracting and much more that which we have built around ourselves just for our comfort and false security. Ours must be a commitment day and night, of prayer and fasting, a leaving aside all that does not take us beyond ourselves towards Christ.
There is a final characteristic of religious life and indeed of the live of the Church in Ireland that I would stress tonight: it is joy. Pope John opened the Vatican Council with the words: Gaudet Mater Ecclesia; Our Mother the Church rejoices! Times are difficult in the Church; day after day there are those within the Church and outside it who prophecy only the end of the Church in Ireland. We must realistically recognise the critical situation of the Church, but we should never give in to pessimism and negativism.
I thought it would be good to quote from that opening speech of Pope John on 11thOctober 1962 in which he pulled no punches: “In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history… They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life…
We feel – Pope John said – we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster ”Gaudet Mater Ecclesia. May this Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin – with all the darkness and humiliation it bears within it from its past – regain its ability to rejoice, ad purified be able to celebrate within itself the true joy of Christian belief and bring that joy to all those who are troubled and who are searching for true light and true expectation. ENDS