2/1/11 Diaconate Homily

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Saint Saviour’s Church, Dominick Street, 2nd January 2011

This morning we join in the joy of the entire Irish Dominican Province as three men

Denis Murphy,
Maurice Colgan and
Brian Doyle

are called to the order of Diaconate. We join in the joy of their families and friends, at this moment in which these three candidates are called as Deacons to be heralds of the Gospel in the Church and in the society of today and of tomorrow.

The Bishops of Ireland have called on the entire Catholic community to dedicate today, the first Sunday of the New Year, to prayer for the needs of our nation at this time: to pray for politicians, civil servants, economists and those who order our commercial, economic and financial life that they will receive the wisdom and courage to build our future on the principles of justice, solidarity and the common good, with a particular concern for the vulnerable and the poor.

We join in that united prayer of the Irish Church and we pray that these candidates and of all us will take this moment of the first Sunday of 2011 to commit ourselves once again to living out the Gospel more fully and more authentically through renewing our own lives and contributing thus to renewal of the Church and the society in which we live.

Recognising that this is something that we cannot achieve by our own human efforts alone, we turn at the beginning of this Eucharist to that power which comes from God, who alone can purify us from our sinfulness and fill our hearts with true and enduring hope.


We are at the beginning of a New Year and despite the many reasons for being anxious there is something about a New Year which always makes it a moment of hope.   That hope springs also from the Christmas season.  It is the hope that comes from the message of the incarnation of the Son of God, a mystery which radically changed the meaning of hope for humankind through the mysterious union between God and our human nature.

The Christmas message changes our whole value system. The God of power and might came among us not under the signs of power, but in the sign of the poverty, precariousness, powerlessness and simplicity of a child.  That message turns our understanding of God upside-down; it turns upside-down our understanding of what is important in human life.

Today is a moment of hope also as we come to invoke the Holy Spirit on these three men called to the office of deacon, on their journey towards the ministry of ordained priests.  This solemn liturgy is a sign of hope and renewal for our Church.  It is a sign of hope and renewal for the Irish Dominican Province; it is a sign of hope and renewal for each of you yourselves – Denis, Maurice and Brian – as you journey on your own path of commitment to live out the Gospel and to spread that message of Jesus, God made man.

One of the most significant moments in the Rite of the Ordination of Deacons is when the bishop consigns to each of you the book of the Gospels and reminds you of the special mission you take on today with regard to that Gospel:

Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are;
Believe what you read
Teach what you believe
And practice what you teach.

The Gospel of this Sunday, still in the Christmas season, is a reflection not on the circumstances of Jesus birth, but on who the child is that is born and what is the deep significance of his mystery for us.

Who is the child that is born?   The child that is born is the Word of God.  The Christian God, the God who is Trinity, is not a God closed in self-glory.  God is Word. God speaks. God communicates, not just in words, but through saving actions.  God is the one who brings salvation.  God is our hope.

Throughout history, God’s people were unfaithful.  But they experienced a God who was always faithful to them.  It is God’s fidelity that opens for us a path of hope, no matter what our situation may be.   It is God’s saving power which reaches out to us still today in our weakness.  That saving power reaches out to us in the wilderness and exile of our lives, when we are anxious and disoriented, when we feel lost and abandoned or misunderstood.

God has spoken in various ways throughout history.  He spoke firstly in creation and continues to speak today through creation.  He spoke through the law and the prophets in the history of salvation.  In the mystery of the incarnation he communicates in a totally new way:  Jesus becomes one of us, a human bring.

God communicates with us in a totally new way.  Pope Benedict has recently published an important document – Verbum Domini – on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”, fruit of the Synod of Bishops held two years ago.  The revelation of the Word at the incarnation, he recalls, is no longer primarily a revelation in discourse, concepts or rules.  The Pope writes: “Here we are set before the very person of Jesus himself; Jesus himself is the definitive Word which God speaks to humanity”.

The same theme was stressed, in a slightly different way, in the single text most quoted by Bishops at that Synod.  It was another text of Pope Benedict himself, from his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.  “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with…a person [Jesus Christ] which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction”

We are particularly conscious today of the need for renewal of the Church in Ireland.  Denis, Maurice and Brian, you as deacons and as future priests – as ministers of the Word of, in and for your own generation – are called to a special leadership role in that process of renewal.  In particular you are called to share your own relationship with the Lord with young people who despite many years of religious education have not been adequately led beyond the ”discourse, concepts and rules”, of which the Pope spoke, into true knowledge of Jesus the person.

When we speak of renewal in the Church, we speak not just of a necessary need to repent the criminal and sinful events which have emerged in these years concerning the abuse of children by priests and religious and the response of Church authorities.  Neither is renewal just a question of renewing structures.  It is not just about improving the image of the Church.

Renewal of the Church will only come through a radical reawakening of what the Church is really about.  The Church is the place where the unprecedented and humanly inconceivable newness of the Word becoming flesh is proclaimed and celebrated as reality.  Pope Benedict, in his document I mentioned, sees that the Word of God must become ever more central in the life of the Church, something which is especially needed in the Irish Church.

What he is speaking about is not about adding a new chapter to our catechesis, but of letting the Word of God inspire every dimension of Church life.  The Word of God is the soul of all theology and the driving force of pastoral activity.  The reform that is called for is truly radical and we are only at the very beginning. What is needed is not superficial change on the surface. Each of us has to begin to place the word of God at the centre of our own spirituality and of our Christian life. We have to know the scriptures, to love the scriptures, to understand the scriptures, to prayerfully read the scriptures.  All of us have to learn to take up the scriptures every day.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Dominican spirituality is the focus on truth – Veritas – and on the ability to contemplate and transmit that truth to others.   It is a spirituality which the Church needs today as never before.   We pray that Denis, Maurice and Brian, as they receive the Book of the Gospels in this solemn Rite, will truly commit themselves to that Dominican calling and will go on to enrich the whole Church with that charism.

Renewal of the Church means radically placing the Word of God at the centre of our personal life and of the liturgical life of the Church.  It means radical reflection of the nature of the preaching of the Word of God.   Preaching is not about moralising.  The message of Jesus is much more than a moral message.  We have to overcome, on the one hand, a sense of moralising which reduces the Christian message to a mere moral rule book or even a list of sins.  We have to overcome on the other hand also the temptation to forget about moral norms and reduce the Christian message to just about vaguely being good to others.

The Church is formed by the Word of God and the Word of God is entrusted to the Church.  Being a Christian is not about an individual ethos or way of life.  We are called to a Covenant in which we enter into dialogue with God.  We celebrate that covenant through reflecting on the word and through praying the Word. The liturgy is not just a social event; it is not a concert or a show or a celebration of ourselves which makes us feel good.   Liturgical reform is not about gimmicks, not about what one writer called “a Disney-ization” of the liturgy.   Liturgy is the place where the Word of God is proclaimed and becomes way of life for us.   Liturgy is the work of God, who speaks with us, who becomes our nourishment.   In the liturgy we do not create our own God.  God changes us, through his Word.

Our Gospel reading reminds us of how the Word of God changes us.     He is a Word of light; a light which can overcome the darkness that is in our hearts and in our world.  Christianity is not a religion of simplistic hope.  It recognises the presence of the darkness in our world.  I am still personally shocked at the darkness of the criminal violence which we encounter so regularly in our own city, which repeats itself in blind vendetta and only leads to the deeper darkness of grief and bereavement and despair.

It is striking also to remember how Saint John reminds us reminds us that that the darkness is not just among the unbelievers or the indifferent who do not know God.   When Jesus, the Word, came into his own domain the first not to accept him were his own people.  Denis, Maurice and Brian, you are called to be faithful in accepting the message of the Word.  The mission that you will receive today though the gift of the Holy Spirit must be kept fresh and alive and intact in your hearts and in the way you live, day after day.  You must day by day integrate your belief in what you read, the way you teach that belief, and how you practice what you teach.

Your mission will not be an easy one and it will not be immune to the perennial temptation to preach your own message rather than that of Jesus.  It is tempting to believe that our call is based on our own talents and abilities alone.  But do not be afraid: to those who remain faithful, who accept him, who are ministers and servants of his Word, Jesus does something that we cannot attain on our own.  In Jesus alone we encounter grace and truth, we become children of God.

Denis, Maurice and Brian may the Lord bring to fulfilment the good work he begins in you today.