1/1/2009 World Day of Peace Homily

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

Church of the Assumption, Booterstown, 1st January 2009

The words that we heard in the first reading and in the psalm express the fundamental prayer that is in each one of us as we begin a New Year.  They are words appropriate to the beginning of any year and perhaps even more appropriate as we begin a year full of uncertainties:  “May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May he let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord uncover his face to you and give you peace”.
Hearing the word peace, our thoughts and concerns, our apprehension and indeed our anger must today go in the first place to the Holy Land.  We join with the prayers of people all around the world in the hope of an immediate ceasefire and of a renewed commitment by all parties, in the entire region and beyond, to create a climate of peace.  How is it that with all our developments in humanity in our times, there are still attempts to think that peace can be achieved by violence and force of arms?  How is it that weapons are poured in unlimited supply into a situation already tense while at the same time ordinary men and women in the same villages and towns cannot receive the aid necessary for their survival?  We pray for peace in that land where the loving-kindness of God appeared in Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace.
Our texts from the Old Testament are about God.  They are about the nature of God as the one who protects.  They are about a God who in the face of all the uncertainties of our time or any time in history is the one who remains faithful and can be recognised by those who in their humility are faithful, like Mary, like Joseph, like the Shepherd.
God uncovers his face in Jesus Christ who becomes God with us and does so in such a remarkable manner, in the humility and obscurity of his birth, far away from all signs and trappings of earthly power and wealth.  Peace is the work of God; it is a gift of God which must be gained not just through painful negotiation but through the prayer of all who believe, Christian, Jew or Muslim.
God is the one who protects.  Too often we have turned that God into one who judges; who judges almost behind our back, keeping note only of our failings and misdeeds.  Our readings remind is that God is rather one who blesses and protects and is gracious to us and who is so always.  His faithfulness to us never goes away, even when we are unfaithful.  When we pick ourselves up from our failings, that face of God is there to enlighten us with its graciousness and to bring peace back into our hearts.   Our God, as our second reading reminds us, is not a God who enslaves, but one who treats us as his children. I am convinced that so many young people today reject God because they have never been presented with the true God; God, the friend and protector, rather than judge.  They reject a false “God of the Church” because Church structures and many believers so often do not witness to God, as God reveals himself.
We have built false models of God and we have built false models of Church which become ideology or rule book or power structure rather than the place where in our vacillation we can turn to a God who is always faithful and who will bless us and protect us.  We have to understand God as a God to whom we can turn and who will allow his face to shine on us in such a way that it changes us into becoming like the face of God, through allowing God’s healing love to break into our hearts and to turn us into people who love.
Love is strong word.  Love is not a superficial emotion.  When we are loved and when we love, that love shakes us up and changes us and changes the way we act and live in society.  Love is the opposite not just of hatred, but of indifference.  We reject love not just through hating or disliking someone, but through opting out of caring, opting out of responsibility, of protecting, of nurturing or of nourishing.
We need a Church which protects and we need a Church which becomes a model and a partner of protection.  I would hope for example that in the year to come it would be possible to take up the appeal made by Pope Benedict at his Christmas Mass and work on the basis of partnership to eliminate all the various forms of abuse of children wherever they exist in our nation and around the world.  As Archbishop of Dublin I recognise the faults of the Church in this area and I ask for pardon at the beginning of a New Year, especially where I personally have caused hurt. As Archbishop of Dublin I also know of the desire of many to work for a Church and a society more robust in their care and protection of children – right across the board and working together.
We need a Church which protects.  We need today also a Church which takes a lead in the protection of the elderly, to ensure that that they can live and be blessed with the graciousness and security and peace they deserve and can continue to bring their contribution to society.  In times of cut-backs some will say that we cannot allow any group in society to be made into a special case; everyone must face the brunt of cutbacks together. There is a sense however in which our elderly today are the ones who have spent the best part of their lives bearing the burdens of the day, financial and in terms of personal commitment, and we owe them a special debt.
We need a society which protects.  That is what community is about.  Community is not just about making the world more comfortable and happy and secure for me.  Community is a community which cares and which protects all aspects and values of life for the good of all: human values, environmental values, as well as the physical and social infrastructures which are there to serve all.   Community cares, but community also costs.
Despite what people say, I believe that the smugness which often characterised the wealthy Ireland of recent years has not undermined or eliminated the spirit of community.  I say that because I am privileged in my work to see the very special generosity of so many young people; a generosity marked by a genuine idealism and a tenderness which is at the same time unexpected and disarming.  We pray at this time of uncertainty for our young people.
We need a society which protects.  We need a society which actively protects from and rejects violence. The violence in our society will not go away because we condemn it, much less because we feel that it is the problem of others or of another sector of society. Too many lives have been taken as victims of violence.   Too many lives, tragically young lives, have been ruined through the perpetration of violence.  The deadly business of the drug trade as well as the insidious world of “drug recreation” are both nurtured and financed within a climate of total disrespect for the lives that are ruined.
In 2008, An Garda Siochána has had significant results in the fight against drug-related crime and violence.  The fight against violence requires a still greater mobilisation of society – teachers, sports organisations, community organisations, neighbourhood organisation, local authorities, and parishes – to build a strong community response to violence and those who perpetrate it or who cynically pilot it. Communities must be places where people, especially the most vulnerable, are protected from violence and where our young people are educated against violence.
We need a society which protects, because our God is one who by his very nature is one who protects, who nourishes and nurtures what is best in us and in our society.
We celebrate today the day when that loving kindness of God, born of the Virgin Mary, was given a name, Jesus Christ: the Lord who saves.  May we in this year which begins, renew our faith and our understanding of this one who saves.    Renewing our faith is something that must happen each day.  We need to read the scriptures, to know the scriptures.  We need like Mary to treasure and ponder in our hearts what our faith in Jesus means and what it involves.   The child, who is born of the Virgin Mary, is born entirely by the power of God.  This child shows us what God’s power is about and what all power is about.  It is about saving and protecting, caring and nurturing.
May our reflection on the message of Jesus, during this year that is opening this morning, enable each one of us, each day and each week and each month, to discover anew in our lives that uncovered face of our God, who will be gracious with us and bless us, and bring us his peace.