14/11/2010 Homily for Feast of Laurence O Toole

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 14ththNovember 2010



We celebrate the Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole, Principal Patron of the Archdiocese of Dublin, whose relic we venerate today in this Pro-Cathedral.
Laurence O’Toole in the difficult times in which he lived was not afraid to walk courageous and risky paths to attain peace and to preserve and renew the life of the Church in Dublin. He travelled across Europe to Rome to attend the Third Lateran Council in 1179 and returned with a special mandate of the Pope to carry out reform of the Church.
Today the Church in Dublin is on a path of renewal at another difficult moment in its history.  This morning we have a special sign of the concern of Pope Benedict XVI for that renewal, with the presence among us of Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston who begins his Visitation to the Archdiocese.  We welcome Cardinal O’Malley and we welcome above all the prayerful support that Pope Benedict wishes to give to our diocese – and he confirmed that to me personally at our meting last week in Rome; support to priests, religious, lay women and men and especially support to those who suffered abuse.
There is never renewal in the Church without repentance and conversion. That is why we turn now at the beginning of our Eucharist to the Lord and recognise our need of his forgiveness, his healing and his strength.




Laurence O’Toole was the first Irish Archbishop of Dublin.  His predecessors were Norsemen, with few links with the rest of the Church in Ireland.  Laurence was the first Archbishop of Dublin to be consecrated by the Archbishop of Armagh rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury, marking the end of Viking control of the Dublin Church.

Curiously Laurence was also to be the last Irish Archbishop of Dublin for many generations.  Dublin was to become a Norman settlement and all Laurence’s immediate successors were to be Norman.

Those years in the middle of the eleven hundreds were turbulent times. It was a period of great political upheaval among the Irish princes which concluded with Norman rule and new difficulties for Laurence’s people.  On numerous occasions he attempted to intervene on behalf of his people but his efforts were rejected and he was even held prisoner by Henry II, who just years beforehand had had the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas a Becket murdered.

Those years were difficult years politically, but also socially.  Dublin was prosperous city; it was also a city marked by appalling poverty. Laurence reached out to care for the poor and the neglected.  He set up centres for the children who had been abandoned by their parents or who were orphaned in the city.

At the same time, the city was marked by high levels of violence and corruption.  Sadly Dublin had become a centre of trafficking in slaves.

Those were difficult years politically and socially, but also religiously.  Morale and discipline of the clergy had diminished.  The new Archbishop was called at only thirty two years of age from the seclusion of the Monastery of Glendalough to guide a troubled Church.  He began his renewal of the Church by calling for renewal in the spiritual formation of the priests and people of the Diocese.  He rebuilt his Cathedral, Christ Church, making it a Cathedral worthy of any major European city and he invited Augustinian monks take charge of the Cathedral Chapter and make it a centre of prayer.
Laurence travelled across a war-torn Europe to attend the Third Lateran Council in Rome in 1179 and was appointed as Papal Legate for Ireland. He tried to negotiate a peace between the different parties. Henry II refused to meet him as he was angry with Laurence for having damaged his reputation with the Pope and because of Laurence’s popularity with the Irish people. Prevented from returning to Ireland, Laurence went to the Augustinian Monastery of St. Victor at Eu in Normandy and died there on 14th November, 1180.   Only forty-five years after his death he was canonised by Pope Honorius III at the instigation of the people of Eu who were so struck by his piety in the final few days of his life.
Renewal in the Church is vital at any time in the Church’s history.  The Archdiocese of Dublin today is wounded by sinful and criminal acts of priests who betrayed the trust of vulnerable young children.
This behaviour has wounded the body of Christ.  People have lost their trust in the Church.  For many young people the recent scandals have become the final element in their alienation from the Church.

The Church in Dublin is called to renewal; and once there can be no renewal without conversion.  That conversion, in its turn, requires recognition of what was done wrong in the past – particularly to the weakest.  True renewal is a painful process.  It is not about putting the past aside, but of bearing the wounds of the past – and the truth of the past – with us on a painful process.  There can be no healing with real conversion, conversion to the message of Jesus.

Laurence O’Toole had a great influence on the political situation of his time.  He was not however a political figure.  He was a Churchman and a man of God. It was his integrity as a man of God rather than any political agenda which permitted him to have influence in society.

Irish society can only benefit from a renewed and healed Church.  Laurence carried out his reform of the Church in Dublin addressing up front the corrupt and violent culture and behaviour of the Dublin of his time.  Today scandals have damaged the Church at a moment in which society needs to encounter the message of Jesus, not as an abstract ideology, but as the combined witness of faith of a believing and caring community.

Today in Dublin there is deep rooted violence and disregard for human dignity.    There is a frightening level of violence in our city.  We have seen also corrupt and deceptive behaviour which disregards the plight of individuals and shows scorn for the common good.  Human life has become cheap for criminal gangs who wish to impose their power on others; the common good has been scorned by reckless economic speculation and greed.

Our country and all of us felt that we had overcome the harsh times in which many of us grew up.  We looked forward to a situation in which all could enjoy a decent standard of living and a climate of equity and solidarity of which we could all be proud.  There was expectation that all our children would have real opportunity and hope for their future.

Almost overnight, things have changed and we find a different scenario before our eyes:  one of insecurity for many, where precariousness touches not only those who were already vulnerable and on the margins of opportunity.

There is anger among people.  There is a sense of insecurity, not just about the measures that must be taken to have our economy return to proper functioning, but above all about the human and social costs that this will bring.

Anger and insecurity can lead to violence.  There seem to be some who would wish to turn legitimate protest into negative agitation and violence.  People are rightfully angry but we know that violence if not the answer.  It never has been. Violence and gestures of disrespect for individuals are not the signs of democracy; they are not the signs of respect for human dignity.

Laurence O’Toole was a true shepherd of his people.  He was a true spiritual leader who tried to witness to the care of Christ for his people and for the society in which they lived.  His influence was due to the quality of his own life and piety.  A renewed Irish society needs its spiritual roots.  Many of those who are survivors of abuse remind me just how important spiritual healing is for them and they have rarely found that in their Church.

Laurence O’Toole was a true shepherd and pastor of his Church.  But when we talk about shepherds and pastors we always have to remember that there is only one Good Shepherd and that is Jesus himself.  And that Good Shepherd is one who leads by giving himself, even laying down his life for his sheep.

The Good Shepherd is calling his Church to renewal. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls on us to allow the power of his self-giving love to be our guide in serving others and in rooting out of our hearts all traces of self-centredness and arrogance. In this Eucharist, we celebrate that self-giving sacrificial love of Jesus.  Nourished by our participation in the Eucharist may we go out cleansed and renewed, to live the good news in our hearts and in our lives and to bring the good news of Jesus to the Dublin of today.