120 Years of Pioneer Association

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 Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin

Saint Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street, 1st February 2020


“That first reading from the book of Job is a remarkable text. It struck me in a particular way at a moment when Irish society, as we come towards a General Election, is reflecting on what kind of society we wish to see constructed.

The reading from Job looks at that very question of the type of society we wish to attain, but not in terms of political programmes or electoral promises. It brings the question back to the heart of each of us. It poses questions of how my individual lifestyle can be shaped in such a way that social policy will not remain an abstract idea or just an electoral promise but something that truly has a heart because it springs from our hearts. Saint Brigid whose Feast we celebrate today shows that society can be changed by the witness of personal generosity and caring.

Each of us his called to examine ourselves as to how I care for orphans or widows and those who are alone in their need. Each of us has to take a radical look at how I reach out to and not just talk about the hungry and the naked. Each of has to ask about where my heart lies regarding wealth and security. Each of us must look at the final sentence of our reading and ask exactly how we contribute to a world in which we would be able to say: “No stranger ever had to sleep outside and my door was always open to the traveller”.   These questions are about imperatives for the heart of each Christian believer.

This essence of the Christian life is not about strategies or rules and norms. The message of Jesus Christ is not a message of negatives. It is message in which care and concern dominate because the Christian message is a message of love. Radical love is not an optional added to our daily lives.  It is not the honours course of the Christian life, which is there for some but which we can leave aside when it becomes burdensome or which we can reject because it asks too much.

We come to celebrate one hundred and twenty years of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, founded by Father James Cullen in this very Church.  Many tend to look on the mission of the Pioneer Association only in a negative framework.  For them being a Pioneer is primarily about renouncing something. The work of and the spirit of the Pioneer Association is however much more than renunciation. Being a Pioneer, like being a Christian, is above all a call to witness to love.

How does the Pioneer Association witness to love? Love is witnessed to in reparation. In our culture, the concept of reparation is one that is not easy to understand. If anything, there is a tendency today to say that it is hard enough to assume responsibility for my own life and that I have no responsibility for the lives and even less for the failings of others. People ask why I should undertake a path of conversion in order to supply for the faults and failings of someone else. We are back with a vision that leaves the question of shaping society as the responsibility of others.

Anyone can renounce recourse to alcohol and for variety of reasons. The Pioneer Association is a statement of another type of social responsibility. It is a vocation to reparation.   It is a call to association with the Jesus, our Redeemer, who undertook his life of self-giving and suffering so that life and love could triumph for all.

Love is manifested in compassion. The underlying ethos of the Pioneer Association is not one of looking after oneself. It is much more in line with the vision of our Gospel reading. It is about a compassion that lies in giving without hoping for anything in return.

The spirituality of the Pioneer Association recognises how self-giving love is manifested in sobriety. Sobriety is about using the things of God’s creation in the terms in which God created them.   Sobriety is a path towards human fulfilment that shuns narcissism or self-indulgence. The compassion of the member of the Pioneer Association is shown through witnessing to moderation in a world driven by a consumerism that leads to emptiness.   Moderation is an antidote to a race towards having and possessing without frontiers.

At the centre of the spirituality of the Pioneer Association is the mystery of the Sacred Heart. That title is not simply a slogan for the Association. The spirituality of the Pioneer Association is a Christian vocation to a love that is unique.   It is this spirituality inspired by the love of Jesus symbolised in his Sacred Heart, which leads the Pioneer Association then to be in the forefront in being alongside those trapped in the various forms of addiction that exist in our society. Compassion, moderation and generous love are at the root of the inspiration of the Pioneer Association.

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has had a remarkable effect on Irish Society. It continues to do so today in the face of increased abuse of alcohol and other substances. It does so by taking a stand against the huge investment and false idealisation of a drinking culture by the drinks industry.

The success of the Pioneer Association cannot be measured simply in terms of numbers. Its success is intimately bound in with the self-giving love of Jesus, symbolised in his Scared Heart. The success of the Pioneer Association is about how it touches and changes hearts, protects and educates young people, brings consolation to the victims of addiction and their families, and leads all of us to embrace a life of sobriety and deep unselfish Christian love.

This Jesuit Church in Gardiner Street has a special place in the spiritual life of Dublin’s inner city. Matt Talbot was a frequent visitor here. May this Church which saw the birth of the Pioneer movement continue to a focal point in the fostering the Association and in what the spirit of that Association means in the world of today and tomorrow. ENDS