14/11/08 Homily for Feast of St.Laurence O Toole

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Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole 2008

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 14th November 2008  

Today we have the joy to celebrate the Feast of the Principal Patron of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Saint Laurence O‘Toole, in a very special way. We are joined by representatives of the community of Eu in Normandy where Saint Laurence died, led by the Archbishop of Rouen, Mgr Jean Charles Descaubes, in whose diocese Eu lies, and by the Mayor of Eu.

We remember a Saint who lived nine hundred years ago.  But our celebration is not a mere historical commemoration of past events.  Two living Christian communities, from different parts of Europe, join to remember and honour a great Saint, truly a Good Shepherd, whose life and witness can still challenge us today.

These two living Christian communities join together in this liturgy in which three new deacons will be ordained: two, Aloysius and Colin, for the service of the Archdiocese of Dublin and the third, Stephen, for the Korean province of the Capuchin Friars.  Together we celebrate this liturgy as a moment of grace and an experience of the continual presence of the Holy Spirit with the Church, as these men are called to a special ministry and mission of service and in the proclamation of the word of God.
From a small group of faithful disciples in Jerusalem, the Christian community has spread and now reaches out to embrace all nations. The universalism of the Gospel is however not just about the Church spreading geographically and thus inevitably embracing people of different cultures and backgrounds.  The newness of the salvation announced in Jesus, is that it is no longer based on the exclusive call of one people, but on a call in which no people should remain excluded.

“God chosen race” about which the second reading spoke, is since the coming of Jesus Christ no longer one race in terms of ethnicity or any other humanly created criterion.   God’s chosen race is formed by the Spirit out of those who respond to God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, and who, as we heard in the Old Testament Reading, allow the Spirit to put in them a new heart and a new spirit, and to cleanse them from false idols.

Aloysius, Colin and Stephen, a precondition for the exercise of effective ministry is that you allow the Spirit to cleanse your hearts.  You must allow the radical newness of the Gospel message to penetrate your own lives and purify you daily from the false idols of today’s world and tomorrow’s world.
For the deacon life and ministry are united.  The deacon has a particular responsibility to order his life so that he himself appears as one called to serve; that he witnesses in the way he lives not to himself but to the loving kindness of our God. Ministry involves never placing ourselves or our personal opinions in the first place, but Jesus Christ. The deacon in the Church is in a particular way a sign and a witness to Christ who came “not to be served but to serve”.

Aloysius, Colin and Stephen as you present yourselves here before the Church this morning in answer to God’s call, remember that ministry and witness are never mere external actions.  Ministry is not like any job which can be done at various junctures and then left aside.  Ministry has no dimmer switch which I can tone down or turn on with greater intensity just as I wish.  Witness to Jesus Christ means total identification with Jesus; it means allowing Jesus to take ownership of our lives.  It is in giving ourselves like Jesus did that we will find and realise ourselves to the fullest.
As deacons, this authenticity of life is linked with your bond with the Word of God that you are called to proclaim and live.  A little later in this ceremony ordination, when I consign the book of the Gospels to you, the liturgical text stresses how the minister must interiorise the Gospel, in these words: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach”.  
This total dedication and interiorization is shown in the practice of celibacy which you take on today in a special way as a sign of total commitment to Jesus.  Celibacy is not just renunciation of something; it is a positive attitude of commitment.  The commitment and dedication of celibacy will be understood best in today’s world when the celibate is seen to be totally dedicated to Jesus in all aspects of his life, especially through the other evangelical counsels of poverty and obedience, through a total rejection of the false idols of our day, a rejection of all wealth and power, in order freely to witness to Jesus and to Jesus alone.
Being present in the culture of the day does not mean identification with that culture.  The witness of the ordained minister must today very often be counter-cultural, a witness which is the very opposite of our consumer society, where the craving for wealth, pleasure and power so often dominates.   In a world proud of its progress, the ordained minister must be sensitive to what Pope Benedict calls the “ambiguity of progress” and indeed must address those who are distracted by progress or even hurt by progress.  Our world is marked by so many signs of progress and success. Yet, despite the outward clothing of economic progress there are still many signs of fragility in human hearts.   Your ministry must be one in which the authentic witness of your way of life leads those who are questioning and seeking to open their hearts to the Christian message as a message of hope.
The Christian message is not a message which seeks power or political influence, but which one preaches and practices goodness and love.   It is a message of a love that is gratuitous, of a love that cares for each one individually, especially those who are sick, or weak, or vulnerable, that reaches out to the sinner, to those who are drifting in their lives, to those who cannot find their way.  In your ministry you are called to break the word of God as a word which strengthens and give the courage to remain faithful.                                                                                        

The presence, of our visitors from Eu in Normandy, where Laurence O’Toole spent his last days reminds us of how deep our links, as a people and as Church, are with Europe.

So many centuries ago, Laurence had already established strong links with Europe.  He travelled across Europe to Rome to attend the Third Lateran Council in 1179.  It was one year later that he found himself Normandy.   His visit was essentially a peace mission at a moment of many shadows in the relations between Ireland, England and the power politics of the Europe of the day.

Our relationship with Europe today is very different.  In the very different circumstances of our day, however, Ireland’s destiny and indeed Ireland’s identity are still clearly and irrevocably bound with that of Europe.   The link today is not one based on fear of domination, but one of opportunity, participation and partnership.  This does not mean a problem-free relationship with contemporary Europe. It does mean however, that Ireland within Europe has its role to play and its contribution to bring. Ireland cannot evade its European calling nor shrink from its European responsibilities.  Christians are called to work to create the conditions in which people, to quote Pope Benedict XVI, “will understand fully the greatness of the enterprise that is the European Union, and will become active artisans of the same” (Speech to political leaders at the Elysée Palace, Paris, 12 September 2008)

Far from looking at Europe as a threat to our distinctive Irishness, we should realize that Ireland has the capacity to contribute to Europe, to change Europe.  This requires a more robust and discerning politics towards Europe, recognizing the immense value of the European project as well as the challenges that the creation of a pluralist Europe entails in our times.

Within European political culture there are certainly tendencies towards a more secularist, positivistic and relativist philosophy.  But these tendencies will not vanish by ignoring them or simply by criticizing them from the margins or from outside.  What is needed is a critical engagement from within.

Christians in Europe should assert their commitment to Europe and unashamedly bring their contribution within the democratic opportunities that are available. A truly pluralist Europe on its part should not feel threatened by the Christian message, which is a message about a God who loves, a message capable of enlightening and enriching the European project.

A few days ago, I had occasion to say that Ireland needs a poverty strategy.  Irish Christians need also a European strategy:  they need to be engaged in the debates, challenging with all respect for those with differing views any dominance of relativist tendencies, working for a Europe of internal solidarity and of solidarity with the poorest nations, witnessing to the basic values which a Christian vision can foster, and supporting European initiatives for peace in our continent and farther afield.   Our public servants and elected representatives should be encouraged and sustained to bring to the European project, the values which have consolidated the best of our Irish experience.

Laurence O’Toole was one who in the difficult times in which he lived walked the unsafe paths of a tense Europe as one committed to peace and the harmonious living together of different peoples.  The Church in Ireland today, especially its lay men and women, can learn from his steps.  Commitment to a better Europe involves engagement, rather than resignation or simply lamenting from the sidelines. 

It was the people of Eu who recognized the courage and the saintliness of this solitary and courageous Irish witness to peace.  Europe today needs such witnesses.  We pray that through the intercession of Laurence the Irish/European consciousness and responsibility of our Christians will be awakened and renewed.

And you, Aloysius, Colin and Stephen, as you begin your new ministry as deacons, remember this saintly and prayerful man, a Good Shepherd and an untiring servant of his people, who drew from his prayer not just the courage to be a witness to Jesus in the concrete situation of his world but who brought renewal to the Church of Dublin.