16/05/05 Trinity Monday

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Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Trinity College Dublin, 16th May 2005

I am grateful for this invitation to join with you on Trinity Monday, a day on which the community of Trinity College Dublin gathers to celebrate and to remember.  We thank God for the past year of academic endeavour; we remember those who in the past year have died; and we look forward to the future.


Trinity College is truly a centre of excellence and research.  It is, and always has been, an important part of the wider Dublin community to which it belongs.


No one should be surprised that, in Trinity College Dublin, an important part of this annual event should take place within a faith context.  Trinity was founded for the advancement of faith. Times have changed and Trinity today reflects very much the plurality of religious culture of Ireland and of its students.  Times have indeed changed and some of those who saw Trinity as being there for the advancement of one expression of faith might not be totally happy to see the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin standing here in this pulpit speaking about his version of faith.  And perhaps some earlier Roman Catholic Archbishops of Dublin might not look benignly either at my presence.  Times have changed, and they have changed for the better.


What is the role of faith and belief in today’s world? What is the role of faith in an institution of learning like Trinity College? I would like to make some reflections on that theme in the light of the two readings we have just heard.


Faith and science are not opposed.  The history of Trinity College shows that this is certainly the case.  Among Trinity’s greatest scientists, researchers and teachers were many who were clearly inspired by their faith. The dialogue between faith and science was an active and fruitful one throughout the history of this University.  And Trinity also offers hospitality to those who profess themselves as non-believers, as well as to many whose belief is not associated with any religious confession.


There is a certain paradox in the fact that very often persons of faith and persons dedicated to science have a common weakness:  they long for certainties, they feel that they possess their certainties. I would be foolhardy to try to give the impression that I belong to a faith tradition and a Church which does not espouse certainties.  But there is a true sense in which one must say that the path to belief and the path to science both pass through a journey of questioning, of openness to ideas, and above all of asking those questions to which there is no mechanical formula of response: the fundamental questions concerning the meaning of human existence and of hope.


In all of this, the authentic believer and the authentic scientist must share the same sense of honest seeking; they must share the same sense of having the honesty to say where doubts and questionings remain, alongside the certainties of faith and science.


The scientist and the believer, coming from different perspectives, must have the honesty to proclaim that they do not own the cosmos.   The scientist must have the honesty to recognise the limited character of his or her knowledge.  The believer must affirm that the cosmos and humankind belong to God, they are gift, and they are only the objects of our stewardship.   We all have the task of attempting to understand what are the fundamental laws of personal development, human interaction and care for God’s creation.  When we speak of care for creation, the concepts of responsible stewardship and of sustainable development can lead to a similar sense of responsibility for our cosmos.    In an increasingly secular Irish society, we must attentively work together in rooting our values and our responsibilities in such a way that all – believers and non-believers – can have a true sense of ownership of the project for a future just, honest and responsible Irish and global society.   Religious expression has its place in any pluralist society.  Trinity College with its Divinity Faculty witnesses explicitly to this fact.


Trinity College is rich in tradition. The first reading we heard this morning was a eulogy of the ancestors.  It sets out the variety of talents and the elements of goodness which were witnessed to in those who have gone before us:  kings, intelligent advisors, those who had understanding of the popular mind and those who in a broader sense were honoured by their contemporaries.  The reading recalls a world where the rich and the powerful lived peacefully in their own homes.


The Gospel reading provides another and a quite unique set of criteria for evaluating goodness.  It is not the rich and the powerful, but the poor, the hungry and the mourners who are called “happy”.  The rich, those who are well-fed and those who laugh are indicated as having found the wrong path and those who are praised by their contemporaries are warned to beware.


The message of Jesus has the capacity to turn worldly values head over heals.  It challenges our contemporary culture in which consumerism, the measurable and the marketable tend to dominate.  This applies even to Universities:  research is often driven in the hope of gain:  Universities are often also the victim of a mentality in which the use of public funds for education is very often coloured by a strictly utilitarian vision.


The believer in a university context must above all be a witness to the values of the Beatitudes.  The Christian believer must witness to a God who reveals himself through gratuity, through the gratuitous love revealed in Jesus Christ.  That gratuitous love is the true antidote to consumerism and to any view which treats human beings in a purely utilitarian fashion.
Living such a vision is the real challenge for the believer today.  I believe that so many in our world fail to make the leap to faith, because we as believers have never made that leap to the full.  We have never fully abandoned ourselves to the God who can make us free, but still cling on to the things we falsely feel can bring us security.  Faith is always a leap in the dark, but in the confidence that Jesus has not left us orphans.  We will never be able to lead others into the depths of faith and the joy of our hope if we remain entrapped in the limitedness of our current world vision.


The road to change and to reform in the Church is therefore always the path to conversion and evangelization.   It is the road along which the Gospel is preached in its essentials and people are called to “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mt. 3, 2).


Reform in the Church means deepening our understanding of the faith and of the demands the faith makes on us.  Church must always be listening Church.  This means above all listening to the word of God.  This is how Pope Benedict XVI, on the day of his solemn inauguration, described his mission: “My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history”.


But from such an attitude of listening to the word of God, the Church will also be more attentive to the signs of the times and more anxious to enter into dialogue with the sciences and scientists, with the culture of the day and with men and women of culture.


Knowledge of the divine is channelled by human reality.  God communicates himself to humanity through human persons, through human life.  How can finite men and women witness adequately to the God who is transcendence and absolute?  One answer is that the believing witness must be careful to remember that the only certainties he or she possesses are the certainties of God and be careful not to substitute them with certainties of his or her own. Such certainties might very well be attempts at finding false security.


Karl Rahner notes that “Persons are offended when someone appears to do God’s business and still is only a human.  They want messengers who speak more brilliantly, heralds who preach more persuasively, hearts that burn with a hotter flame…  But what is the terrible and happy truth?  Those who come are weak persons, who live in fear and trembling and must pray over and over ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’ and who must beat their breasts ‘Lord be merciful to me a sinner’” (Meditations on the Sacraments p.61).   And yet when these same weak persons preach the message of Jesus, the witness to a faith that conquers the world and they mediate the grace that makes redeemed saints out of lost sinners!


A humble and listening Church is the most appropriate instrument for dialogue with science.  It is so because in a humble and listening Church the scientist encounters not the preacher, but the message:  the message of Jesus which turns so many values upside down and demands that we use new criteria to evaluate goodness, and to guide the human project.