14/01/08 Milltown Institute Jubliee Mass

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

Milltown Institute 14th January 2008
        As you can imagine, I arrived last year at the ad limina visit of the Irish Bishops to Pope Benedict XVI well prepared.  I had come armed with statistics and details of every aspect of the diocese: the overall population, the number of priests, parishes, schools, religious, charitable institutions.
        The Pope however caught me by surprise.  After an initial greeting, just as I sat down, he asked me:  “Where are the points of contact between the Church in Ireland and those places where the future of Irish culture is being determined?”    It is not the sort of question that can be answered with statistics. It is not the sort of question to which you can give a sound-byte answer. The points of contact will inevitably always be somewhat nebulous and unstructured.  But, the Pope was right.  The question of the dialogue between the Church and Irish culture is one of the most important questions that the Church in Ireland, in all its components, should be asking and perhaps it is not doing so adequately.
The Jesuits came here to Milltown Park for the first time in the 1850’s.   It was a time in which my predecessors, Archbishop Daniel Murray and Cardinal Paul Cullen, were addressing that same question head on, albeit in different times.   They were developing structures which would prepare the post-emancipation Church in Ireland to enter into a dialogue between faith and life in what was to be a radically changing Irish culture.
Withìn a period of ten years in the 1850’s many of what are today the landmarks of Catholic Dublin were built.  There was Milltown Park.   In 1852 the Mater Hospital was opened.  In 1856 Mount Argus first welcomed the Passionist community and the Oblate Fathers came to Inchicore.   Four years later the Spiritan Blackrock College and the Carmelite Terenure College would open.  University Church on Saint Stephen’s Green was opened, an essential dimension of the vision of a University of Cardinal Newman.  In 1857 the Daughters of Charity opened their first house in Dublin in North William Street.  All of this in ten years, in the 1850’s and I mention only a part of the story.
Dialogue between faith and culture must be a dimension of the Church’s activity in every generation because each generation generates a changed culture from that which went before it, and in our times cultural change is invariably rapid and radical.
Establishing a dialogue between faith and culture has been a dimension of the preaching of the message of Jesus since the earliest times of the life of the Church. Our second reading was an excerpt from one of Saint Paul’s most remarkable speeches, indeed one of the most remarkable speeches in the New Testament.   The Areopagus, where he spoke, was a unique gathering place in the Athens of that time.   It was a focal point of emerging culture, a centre of political debate, an important legal venue, a place of debate where philosophers and thinkers discussed and disputed all types of ideas and theories. 

Saint Paul was invited to speak there by the philosophers who had heard him preach of Jesus and his resurrection.   Paul was not intimidated by their initial scepticism in his regard, but neither did he attack their ideas.  Paul sought to engage them by exploring aspects of their own beliefs and traditions and ways of thinking that allowed him then to make his case for the message of Christ and the truth of his resurrection. 

Paul shows them that the God of Jesus, because he is the creator of the world and the one who has given life to all humans, is ultimately the God whom they have been seeking, in their entire search for truth and understanding.

In today’s’ world an important aspect of proclaiming the message of Jesus is finding language which engages our hearers, especially the younger generation.  Dialogue and engagement are, however, not to be seen just as a marketing or a public relations exercise or talk show jargon.  It is not superficial dialogue with the superficiality of the day.  It is an engagement with the depth of minds and hearts, with men and women who are sincerely seeking to deepen their understanding of life.  It is offering them the person of Jesus Christ as the one who can accompany them and enlighten them on their journey. It is offering to them in their search the wisdom of the Gospel, but the wisdom of the Gospel also in all its depths and with all the perennial sharpness with which the Gospel challenges all cultures and challenges us.

Just as Saint Paul did, any institute of theological education today, like the Milltown Institute, must present the person and the message of Jesus in ways that are true and faithful to that message in its integrity, yet in a language which at the same time address the hopes, longings and questions of people who live in the particular world and culture of today. 

This evening we open the Jubilee celebrations for the fortieth anniversary of the Milltown Institute.  The world in which the Milltown Institute carries out its mission is very different from that of the 1850’s when the first Jesuit community came here.  Interestingly, however, the Milltown Institute draws its origins from those very same religious congregations which came to Dublin in the mid-1850 at the invitation of Archbishops Murray and Cullen to form Christian leaders for the challenges of the day.   
Forty years ago the same religious congregations came together, and perhaps making merit out of necessity, established a reality which has grown to maturity and now is moving forward into a new stage of its future both in academic excellence, fidelity to and focus on Catholic teaching, and in dialogue about the values which must underlie the culture of a changing Ireland.

When Pope John Paul II visited Athens in 2001, he spoke at the Areopagus where Paul had spoken almost 2000 years before.  He reminded the contemporary world of its need for the wisdom that comes from the Gospel:  We observe that the social and scientific evolution of humankind has not been accompanied by a deeper delving into the meaning and value of life, which in every instance is a gift of God, nor by an analogous appreciation of the unique dignity of each person, as being created according to the Creator’s image and likeness… Furthermore, the improvement of living standards has not brought about the opening of the hearts of people to their neighbours who suffer hunger and are naked”.

Pope Benedict XVI, on his part, in his recent Encyclical on hope speaks about what he calls “the ambiguity of progress” (#22).  Progress offers new possibilities for good, yet in the wrong hands progress can open appalling possibilities for evil, possibilities, as the Pope rightly notes, that formerly did not exist. 
We can see the ambiguity of progress in our own world:  just look at the inability of the international community to address the issue of the horrendous poverty in our times of affluence; look at the damage done to the environment by what was at the time looked on as progress; look at the contribution of progress to the construction of ever-more brutal weaponry.
When technical progress is not matched by ethical progress it is not progress at all but quickly becomes a threat for humankind and for the world.   In a world which often looks on science as the sole language within progress can be defined, the Pope’s reminder is all the more urgent to recall:  “it is not science that redeems us; we are redeemed by love”.
When we talk about dialogue between theology and culture we speak of addressing as I said the hopes, the longings and the questionings of people.  But we should not forget that the Gospel must also address the distractions, the digressions, the fears, errors and emptiness and the sinfulness that is present in any culture also.   Dialogue between faith and culture must know contemporary culture in its depth; yet it must also be able to transcend that culture, challenge that culture and challenge it in a robust way, and enrich that culture.

Christian anthropology, the Christian understanding of what it means to be human, begins from the insight that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God: this is seen as a universal truth about our nature and does not depend on whether humans themselves recognise God or not.  To be human, therefore, is to exist in relation to God whether one believes or not. 

But the God with whom we stand in relationship is a God of love.  Jesus through his life, death and resurrection, reveals that the truth about God is that God is love.  Having been created in the image and likeness of God, it is rooted in our human nature that we should desire to be loved and to love.
The basic command of Jesus that we should love God and neighbour is the fundamental commandment and characteristic of all that God has revealed, as the dialogue in today’s Gospel reminds us.   The truth about God which is revealed in Jesus Christ is truth in love.

We pray this evening for the Milltown Institute.  We pray for its work in teaching Catholic theology in its integrity.  We pray that a robust presentation of the message of a Jesus who comes to save us and humankind from sinfulness and to open our lives to experience the healing love of God, will guide the teaching staff and the alumni of this Institute into a dialogue with all those whose work is in those places in the Ireland of today where the future values of Irish society will be chiselled out in the years to come.   We should have no fear or embarrassment about being present in that dialogue with our Catholic credentials and identity high.


Saint Paul was invited to speak there by the philosophers who had heard him preach of Jesus and his resurrection.   Paul was not intimidated by their initial scepticism in his regard, but neither did he attack their ideas.  Paul sought to engage them by exploring aspects of their own beliefs and traditions and ways of thinking that allowed him then to make his case for the message of Christ and the truth of his resurrection. 

Homily Notes ofArchbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland—————-