15/07/07 Cemetery Mass Donabate

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Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Donabate, 15th July 2007
“Who is my neighbour?”  This is a question that has been asked right down the centuries, a question which has entered into common language; a phrase known well beyond the boundaries of those who know the Gospel, somewhat like the earlier question “Am I my brother’s keeper” found, as we know, in the very first book of the scriptures.
The lawyer in today’s Gospel, when he puts this question to Jesus, was probably expecting a lawyer’s answer, an answer which would quibble about which categories of persons would have been considered by the traditions as “neighbour” and thus would have been able to expect as an obligation from a fellow-believer assistance and care, and which categories would be excluded.
Jesus’ answer takes the lawyer by surprise, as do many of the answers of Jesus.  Jesus’ message is new.  It surpasses the messages of the past not just in that it gives a wider interpretation to the law; it turns our understanding of the law upside down in its newness.
If we look closely, Jesus does not answer the question “who is my neighbour”.  He turns the question around and asks “which of those proved himself a neighbour”.  He tells us not to quibble about who might be a neighbour and who not, but tells us rather “you must become neighbour” to anyone in need.  In the face of human suffering, each of us has to respond as neighbour without any classification or pre-judgment of the person who is in need.
The Gospel we have heard is known as the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, because it was not the usually respectable citizens but this Samaritan, this stranger, this barely tolerated man, who is the one who makes himself neighbour to the man who was attacked.  We know little about the Samaritan.  We can simply presume that he must have been a frequent traveller along that road from Jerusalem to Jericho since he obviously knew the innkeeper well enough to get a promise of credit should that turn out to be necessary.
We know little about the Samaritan but we know absolutely nothing of the man who was attacked.  There is absolutely no detail about him in the Gospel; nothing about where he was going, what was his business, whether he was rich or poor, citizen or stranger, black or white, believer or not. We know nothing and we need not know anything about him.  It does not matter.  The only important thing is that this was a man, a human being, who was in need. That is enough for the Samaritan to be moved to open his heart and his purse to help.  In the face of human need our heart needs to be moved to compassion and action without any prejudice or judgement.

But let us come back to this dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer.  We tend to forget that the dialogue does not begin with the question “who is my neighbour?”, but with another question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   This is the question that Jesus is challenging us to answer.  It is the question about the meaning of eternal life, and therefore of the meaning of life and of death.  It is the question we have come here today to reflect on.   Jesus is telling us that to live well and to die well and to enter into eternal life I must become neighbour, I must become one who cares and who helps and who heals and who restores all those whom I encounter along the path of my life.

We have come here today to remember our dear ones whose mortal remains rest in this cemetery.  We remember them for the good that they did and the love that they showed to us during their time with us here on earth.   They were “neighbour” to us in the sense that they were good to us just for what we are and not for personal advantage or gain; they were the ones who when we were weak and hurting did not turn away or pass on by, but like the Samaritan carried us, healed us and restored us, sparing neither love nor money.   We pray that the good life they led will open for them the door to eternal life.

Eternal life is the fulfilment of life here on earth.  It is the fulfilment of the type of life that we lead here on earth, knowing however also that Jesus, through his death, has prepared the path which purifies us from our sinfulness and human weakness so that we can have life with him in fullness.    We remember our loved ones knowing that they still love us and that they love us now with a love that is even greater than when they were on earth, since that love has been purified through passing through death to new life with Christ.

When we remember the lives of our loved one, we reflect on the meaning of life.  We reflect on the fact that we already sow within us the seeds of eternal life here on earth through being neighbour. We prepare eternal life within us through being neighbour ourselves and through creating together a world of neighbourliness, a society where all people are cared for and loved.

The Good Samaritan is example for all.  He is example for what he does but also he is example because he is the opposite, the antithesis of these who either ignore suffering or pass on by for whatever reason. 

The Good Samaritan of today’s Gospel is also the opposite and the antithesis of those who attacked the poor man in the first place, of those who feel that they can impose themselves and their ideas and their power by violence.  As we reflect here today on lives well-lived we cannot as a society but express our horror at the revolting new culture of violence which now in Ireland is almost daily claiming lives in stabbings and murders, as we have witnessed again this weekend.  This is a new culture of meaningless violence which only creates a climate of vengeance and fear and retaliation. It is a culture which breaks down and destroys neighbourliness. That is not the direction which life in modern Ireland should be taking.

The levels of violence and the repetitions of killings are reaching levels which are truly close to an emergency for our society. I appeal to the government to convoke a summit of a wide range of leaders in society, not just those involved in the important work of law enforcement, but of all those in society who are in a position to forge a new national consensus to address the roots of this violence.  We must take a stand as a society. Too many lives have been wasted.  Too many families shattered.

The Good Samaritan was an ordinary man, not a celebrity.  Like most of us his was a name that only a few friends and loved ones knew.   But he was a man who cared and who took his responsibility seriously to the last detail.  The wounded man is taken up into his own arms, he is carried and cared for and paid for until he is ready to return restored to be a participant in the everyday life of their community.

Also today for us, our reflection on death is one which should send us back into our everyday life renewed and restored through recalling the good lives that we commemorate here today.  We go back committed to living our life to the full, in the true sense of the word, not of a life where we go on our way and ignore the plight of others, but convinced that it is in loving and giving and caring that we really become ourselves and become persons about whom others can be proud of and looked up to.    We recall our loved ones here whom we are proud and grateful to have encountered along our path and from whom we learned so much about what life and death is really about.

May God reward them for what they did and meant for us and may we take up the example of their goodness and as the Gospel tells us:  “Go, and do the same yourself”.