15/4/06 Easter Vigil Homily

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 15th April 2006

          We are gathered at this most solemn moment in the Church’s year: the holy night of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We have listened to a series of readings which recount for us the major elements of the history of salvation, the great saving acts of God, beginning with creation, recalling the many ways in which God intervened in history to save his people:  the calling of Abraham, the miraculous passage through the Dead Sea, right up until the great mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, when Jesus definitively overcame sin and death and through rising from the dead opened for us the way to life.

God’s loving-kindness and his fidelity guided the people of the Old Testament. God remained faithful even when they rejected him or drifted away.  Today it is Christ the Risen Lord who is our guide through the passage of life.  With the gift of baptism we receive a new life – a truly new life – which protects us notwithstanding the fragility and the ambiguities of biological life and indeed the hostilities we encounter in the world we live in.   Just as the people of the Old Testament had a yearning for the Promised Land, Baptism instils in us a yearning for a new world, freed from the evils of sin, violence, hatred, greed and exploitation which flourish in our contemporary world.

We are not left drifting and without direction in this complex and confusing world.  We have a guide in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, who through our Baptism gives us the inner force to go through our lives faithful to the God who had always been faithful to us.  We belong to his people, the Church, which is his Mystical Body from which we draw life and light.

The procession into the Church was a symbol of what it means to be inserted into new life in the Church.  Through the power of the Risen Lord, the primordial fire breaks forth into to the darkness in the form of  small points of light which slowly open out into the formation of a community, a sea of light which finally envelopes the entire congregation, the entire Church and the entire creation.

This evening in Baptism five young babies will be initiated into our believing community; they will receive the germ of that light which with the help of the Christian community they will bring to fruit as their lives progress.

        The Gospel reminds us of the scene on the first Easter morning as the holy women make their way to the tomb, still undeterred in their love and respect for Jesus, but filled with doubts and fears after his death on the Cross.  They come to anoint his body; to carry out those rites which probably, because of the haste with which he had been buried, it had not been possible to carry out.

They meet the angel who tells them two things.  Jesus is risen.  He is no longer there.  His tomb is empty.  And then he says “He has gone before you into Galilee”.

Jesus himself had indeed said earlier: “After I am raised again I will go before you into Galilee” (Mk 14:28). What is the meaning of this affirmation?  Saint Matthew, in his Gospel (Mt 4:15) taking up the Prophet Isaiah, gives us the old tribal names for the regions around Jerusalem.  At the time of the prophet, Galilee was under foreign occupation and was called “Galilee of the Gentiles” or “land of the heathen”.

Jesus went ahead of them then into the “land of the heathen”.  This indicates first of all that with the resurrection the message of Jesus would begin to spread way beyond the confines of the Jewish world, way beyond even those areas where Jesus himself had preached. With the resurrection the Church begins to bring the message of good news and new life to all peoples

The Sacrament of Baptism which will be administered shortly reminds us that that process of passing on the message of Jess is still being carried out, to all people and to every succeeding generation.

The risen Jesus goes ahead of them to Galilee.  There is a sense in which in every age Jesus is encountered in the” land of the heathen”.  Jesus is encountered in a society, in a concrete culture, in the ambiguities of specific cultural, economic and political systems.  These are inevitably different to the culture of the Gospel and the believer is called to discern and indeed to influence and to change those cultures.

The Gospel is encountered in a culture which is inevitably not the culture of the Gospel, even though it may possess may of the characteristics of the Gospel message.  We live in just such an ambiguous culture today in Ireland, a culture where there is a widening tension between Gospel and culture. But that was always the case.   It is no good looking back to a possible golden age of Irish Catholicism.  That would probably take us very far back into early history, or would only be a question of a very few brief special periods in our history.  There is no point harking back to a dreamed of past.  The challenge for the believer is to himself or herself encounter Jesus and to bring his message to flourish in the world in which we find ourselves, be that even if only in part a “land of the heathen”.

        In these days as a nation we are reflecting on both our history and our identity.  Ninety years ago, this Pro-Cathedral, its clergy and its parish were in many ways at the heart of the human dimensions of the time and of the events of 1916.   In our time, we too as believers living in the Ireland of today are called to witness to the Gospel in the real cultural situation in which we live.

I was struck by a recent comment of Pope Benedict speaking to the clergy of Rome.  He spoke of: “the great defection from Christianity which has occurred in the West in the past 100 years”.  They are strong words; words that in the past we might have thought referred to other parts of Europe, but not to Ireland.  The process of secularisation has taken root also in our culture.  And roots do not grow just overnight.  The roots of Irish secularisation have been there for some time, but perhaps we have been negligent in noticing them.

It is interesting that the first reading this evening was the reading from the Book of Genesis about the creation of the world and the beautiful harmony of elements that God wished creation to possess, but which were later destroyed by the sinfulness of the human family.

This vision contrasts with secularist thought which would wish to see religion reduced to the private sphere.  Religion, it is said, is a private matter and should have minimal influence in the public domain.

But secularist thought can go further and can even influence the cultural climate and even believers themselves. Secularist thought can begin to drive a wedge between God and his creation.  From saying that religion is a purely private matter it is easy to go on and to affirm that God has no real relationship with the world, that the world is not in fact permeated with divine thought.  In such a situation faith becomes not just a matter for the private individual, but just a thought of the private individual, totally divorced from reality.

It is always important to recall that pluralism does not mean secularism.  Believers have the right and the duty to be present in the societies of which they are part, bringing the liberating message of a “God who is love” and who challenges all to make love the fundamental principle which should guide relationships between people.

There is a phrase in the inaugural homily of Pope Benedict noted which is striking:  He says: “we are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God.  Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.

That is the message we should take home with us this evening.  That is the message we should take with us as we bring our contribution to the building of a new Irish society.  The Risen Lord is our guide.  Throughout history God has cared for his people.  Today we are called to continue to witness to that care, showing that only through the risen Lord will we have a truly just society in which everyone will be seen as willed, loved and necessary.

Homily Notes ofArchbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland———–Pro-Cathedral, 15 April 2006