04/05/2011 Arbour Hill 1916 Commemoration Ceremonies

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland

Church of the Sacred Heart, Arbour Hill, 4th May 2011

As a child I was always fascinated when I heard my mother speaking about Easter Week 1916.  She was a child of twelve years of age then.  She recalled the excitement in her house in inner-city Dublin over that Easter weekend, the uncertainty of the date of the uprising, the callers and the messages that were being sent from family to family.  She remembered especially how she watched her own mother prepare the bandolier for her eldest son as he set out to take up arms at Jacob’s factory and as her eldest daughter set out to go to Liberty Hall.

This morning we remember in prayer the leaders and the participants who died in the 1916 rising and whom the nation remembers annually here at Arbour Hill.  But we remember also what was happening in so many homes on that Easter Monday morning.  We remember the fears and the tears, and the dreams and the courage which filled the lives of many families as they courageously took their part in what was to be a decisive moment in the destiny of the Irish nation and its people.

Young men and women left their homes not knowing where it would end.  Parents remained sleepless and anxious and worried, but still with a sense of pride in the idealism and courage of their children and of a new generation.  There was a special sense of pride among Dubliners, as they watched their children bring honour on their city.

As each generation of history emerges, Ireland needs new generations of young men and women who have the vision to dream and the courage to realise their dreams.  But true dreams do not belong just to dreamland.  When dreams remain in dreamland, all we are left with is sentimentalism.  True dreams are realised in the real world, in the hard world of everyday and always at a cost.  For many in 1916 that cost was the loss of their lives.  For others it was the hard call to duty and responsibility for realising a new hope, a new and difficult, yet realisable hope, for Ireland and its people.

Ireland today needs those who recognise that their dreams can be realised.   On Easter Monday 1916 many went unmindful.  Still today there are those in our society who have little interest in taking upon themselves the hardship of realising the dreams that we all need to realise for the good of our society.

The dream of 1916 was a Republic.  A Republic is one where power is vested in the people.  But a real republic is one, not just in which power is vested in the people, but one in which responsibility is assumed by the people.  Just as in 1916, our modern day Republic requires leaders of vision, but it requires above all the tears and fears, the dreams and commitments of our citizens and families and communities who decide that they do not wish to belong to the disinterested or the distracted or the self centred.

A Republic is made up of men and women of various generations who are prepared to live and give their energies for a vision.  The Proclamation of 1916 contained a vision of solidarity and inclusivity which dreamt not just of the freedom for Ireland’s people, but also of their welfare; it hoped for “equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens”;, it dreamt of a society “where all the children of the nation would be cherished”; it dreamt of a leadership which would administer “in trust for the people”; it dreamt of an Ireland which would not just take its place among the nations, but would create for itself an “exalted place”, a place of honour among the nations.

The religious and civil liberty of all was to be fostered, yet the cause of the Irish Republic was placed under the protection of the Most High God.  A republic is not indifferent to the faith of its citizens.  It recognises the role of believers in contributing to the common good as they journey, as we heard in the reading, on their path “of wisdom and perception of what is revealed” in search of that hope to which we are all called as human beings and believers.

The remarkable Gospel reading which we have heard sets out how the Lord will discriminate regarding the ultimate destiny of each of us.  That discrimination is not the work of a harsh and distant God.  It is about a God who in Jesus Christ shows us how he cares for his people, and a God who expects us to act like Jesus towards all who are unable on their own fully to realise their God-given talents and abilities.  The Gospel mentions “the sick, the hungry, those in prison, those lacking clothing, the stranger”.  A real republic is one not just in which power is vested in the people, but one in which people care, and where the basic needs of each man, woman and child are the concern of all.

The message of the Gospel reading is about a culture of coherence between values and life.  It is about recognising need and disadvantage and accepting then that we have responsibility, which we cannot simply delegate, to respond to and remedy such need.  It is about recognising that a just society is not just about policy, but about people who live justly and with integrity; that a caring society will only be achieved by people who actually care and get up on their feet to care.

The Gospel reminds us that the Christian vocation of caring cannot be delegated.  It is a responsibility for each of us.  It cannot simply be left to just social policies and think tanks.  The vision of society or republic which emerges from our Gospel reading is one where people who dream of justice and care will not just stand by and hope that others will do something, or delegate their own responsibility to structures which in any case may only be there on paper.

We celebrate and remember those who gave their lives in 1916 for a better Ireland and we remember that theirs was not just the proclamation of “independence from”, but a dream of “independence for”: independence for a purpose, independence based on solid values.

We remember those who have helped build up the Ireland that was just a dream in 1916.  We remember those who built up the economic, social, industrial and juridical foundations which have served us over decades.  We remember the communities, rural and urban, which have become the backbone of our Republic.  We remember prophetic Church leaders.  We remember those who have shaped Ireland’s place among the nations: our defence forces, An Garda Siochana, our Diplomatic service and trade representatives, those who have distinguished themselves culturally, our missionaries and aid-workers and our many nameless emigrants, often forced to leave their country by economic circumstances, but who never lost pride in the country of their origin.

Our celebration this year is one of hope, but also one of realism. The economic situation in which the nation finds itself and the dramatic social costs that this will entail should forewarn all of us against any haughtiness about who we are and where we stand.

In 1916 the overall climate was far from hopeful.  The political plans for Home Rule were in tatters. The economic climate was disastrous.  Labour relations were tense.  Deprivation and dismal poverty were endemic in Dublin city, only yards away from the General Post Office.  Those who fought and died in 1916 realised however that with courage and vision things could change.  We pray at this National Commemoration for a renewed sense of national purpose, of national pride and of a willingness to commit ourselves to realising in our time a vision for our future in which all care, in which all participate and all contribute.

We remember those who died for a noble idea: that God will reward them for their courage and idealism and that we will remember and honour them by the way we live as active and caring citizens of our republic today and tomorrow.