2/10/06 Homily for Annual Law Mass

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Homily of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of all Ireland
given at the Annual Law Mass
St. Michan’s Church, Halston Street, Monday 2nd Oct ’06.
We invoke the Holy Spirit at the commencement of the Michaelmas Law Term, a tradition in many parts of the world going back almost eight centuries, which has long become an established tradition also here in Dublin, in this Parish Church of Saint Michan in Halston Street, the Parish Church of the Law Courts which were established on their present site four hundred years ago this year.We invoke the Spirit. When we think of the term “Spirit” we think of something that is not visible and hence not trapped or confined within material boundaries, an invisible yet animating and vital principle.   This helps us understand how the Holy Spirit is the one who has direct access then to our hearts, to our interior thoughts and aspirations, to our weaknesses and hopes and has the power to animate us and to transform us.

The Spirit enters into our hearts and frees us from our fears and anxieties; from the walls of false protection we build around ourselves; from the limits we place on our ability to be truly loving people.  The Spirit breaks down within us those obstacles which prevent us from truly opening our hearts to God.

The Spirit therefore is also the one who urges us on to go beyond our limits.  The Spirit takes us beyond the pit falls of our human weakness and self indulgence, and opens for us the possibility of attaining the greater gifts that were mentioned in the second reading:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self control.

I suppose that your daily work in the administration of justice brings you closer with the less inspiring side of human life, into contact with those negative realities that were listed in that same reading: disagreements, feuds and wrangling, factions, envy, sexual irresponsibility and indeed many other issues which are not just against the law, but which day by day nibble away at and weaken the entire social fabric.

The law is there to repress crime. The mere repression of crime, however, will not guarantee the protection of citizens which is a primary responsibility of the State.  Citizens are worried and troubled when the State fails in its duty of protection.   The challenge of adequate protection of children is still an uphill climb in Ireland, where indeed State, Church and civil society are working, hopefully together, in the aftermath of clear failures in the past. Citizens are more and more concerned about the protection of their legitimate privacy in the face of new potentially highly invasive technologies. The term protection is the key word to understand the Refugee Convention of 1951 and questions still arise about our attitudes as a society and in our institutions towards those who come to seek asylum.  Citizens are worried about the protection of the elderly, the marginalized and minorities in the face of violence or intolerance.  Citizens are worried about the level of protection and care they receive when they are ill.  Citizens are troubled by any scent of corruption in the administration of justice and indeed citizens are troubled even when those who have committed crime are not protected.  Citizens are troubled when the defence of basic rights and legal entitlements becomes so expensive for the poorest.

The law is there to repress crime and to protect citizens. It is there especially to protect the weakest and to curb the ambition of the arrogant.

What about the fruits of the spirit?  Can they be enforced? The fruits of the Spirit are things that cannot be enforced from the outside; they must be inspired by the spirit from within our hearts.

There is however a sense in which the entire system of the administration of justice must be inspired by such noble principles.  The administration of justice must be spirit-filled, aware of its role and vocation within society to foster the highest ideals.  These must be the ideals which inspire each and every individual and group involved in the administration of justice, both in their personal life and in their professional activity.

Lack of integrity at any level of the system of the administration of justice or in the personal behaviour of those who bear responsibility within it inevitably damages the credibility of the system itself.  Where mistakes have been made or lessons have to be learned let them be learned rapidly. The credibility of the democratic system is at stake.

In the scriptural tradition, the working of the Spirit at Pentecost is contrasted with the division and confusion caused at Babel as a result of the shameless ambition of humankind.  The Church appears at its birth at Pentecost, as we heard in the first reading, uniting together people from all races and generations and background so that over and above linguistic and cultural difference all understand the message of Jesus.

The world needs the fruits of the Spirit.  A worldview based only on human ambition inevitably leads to divisions and confusion.   The remarkable scientific progress of the twentieth century was not sufficient to avoid the horrible conflicts and deadly ideologies which on many occasions brought shame on that century.   In our world today the world is marked by great wealth and extraordinary technological developments, but also by widespread extreme poverty and numerous humanitarian crises.  The unity of humankind requires more than science.

We live in a world in which for many individualism, self-affirmation and self-sufficiency become the driving force of human activity.  We experience still today situations just as those at the time of the Tower of Babel. Growth, progress, economic interest, profit and power – valid in themselves – are pursued for their own sake, without any regard for the consequences for others, for other areas of life, whether on the poor and excluded, or the environment, or on the global good of inclusion.

We pray today to the “Creator Spirit” as the one who helps us steer the path of human progress in another direction, within a framework respectful of God’s design for his creation, forcing us to transform our individualism and self centeredness into a response of generosity.

For the Christian, God’s design is not about an abstract, distant, disinterested philosophical first cause. God has communicated with us through a person, Jesus Christ, who came to reveal God as love.  Jesus reveals God as self-giving love, through accepting suffering and rejection.   We saw in the Gospel of two Sunday’s ago, how Peter was unable to accept the idea of a God who reveals himself through suffering and reception.  He obviously thought of the Christ as one who would come with power and the trappings of power.

What Peter seemed not to have noticed was that Jesus had shown his power. He had shown it through caring for the sick, healing those troubled and anxious, freeing people from the bonds of sin. The power of God is shown through mercy and healing.

In our time, it is the Spirit who takes us by the hand and leads us into the mystery of God’s own life, into a share in God’s own life of love. The one term which all the Creeds apply to the Spirit is “Holy”. The Spirit leads us in holiness, in openness to God, in allowing the divine life of God to penetrate hearts and change them, purifying our sinfulness and self-centeredness and making us into a Spirit-filled people, called to bring the values of the Spirit into the world in which we live and work.