DAY OF PRAYER FOR CONSECRATED LIFE 2010
Homily NotesArchbishop Diarmuid Martin
Terenure College, 2nd February 2010
Ecclesia semper reformanda est. The Church is constantly called to renewal. This was one of the classical calls at the time of the reformers, which was taken up again in its own way at the time of the Second Vatican Council. The Church is in constant need of renewal.
Renewal is something that it needed at any moment in the history of the Church and very few would deny that it is necessary today in our diocese and in our country; it its necessary for all groups within the Church; it is necessary in the personal life of each one of us.
The opening words in our prayer this evening were centred on the theme of light. Renewal means allowing the light of Christ to be visible ever more clearly in our lives and in the light of the Church. Renewal means addressing the factors which have dimmed our witness to the life of Christ, factors in the life of each of us, factors in the way in which we as live as institution.
People are searching for light and enlightenment, when moments of darkness have been revealed in the life of the Church, when society is marked by the darkness of corruption and lack of meaning. The call for transparency which is being made at so many levels of Church and social, political and economic life is itself a search for light. We need the light to help us discern between the shadows of light and darkness that battle of our hearts. Renewal means allowing the light of the Christ to become more visible, through us, for the good of the world.
The Church is continually called to renewal. The Second Vatican Council did not take on the cry of the reformers directly but reminded us about how the renewal and reformation of the Church takes place. It is not just reform of structures and personnel. These are indeed neecessary but they will only be truly directed towards reform and renewal if they spring from something more than sociological reflection or knee-jerk reaction or immediate response to criticism and failure. Renewal cannot be reduced to sound-bytes or media management.
The great moments and movements of renewal in the Church have always come from the renewal of charisms and the renewal of lives, as each of you will know as you reflect on the work of your founders and foundersesses and also of both the well known and the un-remembered saints who have belonged to and renewed your congregations along the path of history.
I am sure that many of those who helped us to understand our calling were not necessarily the ones who were public figures, but perhaps extraordinary men and women who quietly, yet deeply, touched hearts through the authenticity of their witness. I have often mentioned the effect on my own family of an extraordinary Little Sister of the Assumption, a French nun who worked with the poor and lived like the poor in Dublin, someone detached from her own roots and who after some years moved on to New Zealand where something else had to be done for the Lord.
In this diocese how many such Sisters have there been and are there still today? We thank God for them; we thank God for the way in which they have remained true to their special charism and have touched and changed hearts without asking anything in return. And with age they just keep going, exploring the new.
Vatican II stressed in a special way the universal call to holiness. The secret of the successful religious is always linked to holiness. We live in a world in which we have become dominated by systems. We believe that systems can be put in place within which almost anything can be achieved. Reform, in that vision, means putting into place new systems. It can also mean that when things go wrong we attributed the problem to systems failures, for which it becomes difficult to attribute personal merit of blame.
Systems alone are not enough. Even reform movements can become fossilized and come to hinder reform. A just society, no matter what systems it puts in place, will only be attained by people who are just and who live justly. A witness to the God of love will only be attained by those who live in communion with that God, both in their life style and in their prayer. A caring society, no matter what facilities and capacities it possesses, will only be attained by people who are caring.
In the Gospel which we have just heard, Mary carries out a ritual duty of taking her newborn child to the Temple. On such an occasion, the Temple would normally have been a busy, crowded place, bustling with families with the type of buzz that we would associate toady with what happens when there is a confirmation or first communion ceremony with huge extended family in attendance.
Amid all this confusion there was nothing extraordinary about that small family group of Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus. There was nothing that would made them stand out as in anyway different to the others, except perhaps their sheer simplicity. They passed among the crowd unnoticed and unobserved by all. Yet there is one man who happens to be carrying out his temple service on that day and he, totally different to everyone else, is prompted to see in this very ordinary family something quite extraordinary. What is it that allows him to be so different?
His actions, we are told, were prompted by the Spirit. This does not mean that his humanity had been taken over and guided autonomously by the Spirit. The Spirit does not act like a remote control which somehow or other guides our lives in a certain direction whether we like it or not, Simeon was guided by the Spirit because he was throughout his life open to the Spirit. He was an upright and devout man. This means that he was a truly just man and that his sense of justice was linked with his devotion, with his desire to understand what “Israel’s comforting” might mean. He was one who like Mary pondered the word of God to discern and understand the mind of God and what God’s plan was. Without openness to the Spirit the processes of renewal will only be external and in the long term empty.
It is very interesting that Saint Luke’s Gospel begins with this prologue about the birth and the early years of Jesus, the so-called Nativity Narratives. They do not attempt to give a day by day account of the early life of Jesus. They set the scene and give us criteria of discernment and understand of what is later presented in the individual aspects of the life of Jesus. Perhaps the most significant element in the Nativity Narratives are those three great Canticles which are recorded there and which until our time we still repeat day by day in the prayer of the Church: The Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimitis.
These prayers are each remarkable expressions of the understanding of the hope of Israel as expressed in the Old Testament tradition. Only those who those who lived in and belonged to a tradition of uprightness and devotion were able to recognise Jesus when he came. That is what made Simeon and Anna different; that is what made Zechariah different; that is what made Mary different. It was an understanding of the way the scriptures presented the hope of Israel enabled them to recognise Jesus while others did not.
You will know that I am placing knowledge of the Scriptures at the centre of the ongoing programme of evangelisation in the Archdiocese. I am delighted to offer each of you this evening a copy of the beautiful edition of Saint Luke’s Gospel which will be widely used throughout the diocese. Let us all begin our renewal by turning to the Jesus presented to us in the Gospel.
The Gospel is a message of life. It is about the life of God that was revealed in Jesus Christ. In presenting this edition of the Gospel, together with Archbishop John Neil, I quoted the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri who called Saint Luke scriba mansuetudinis Christi, the chronicler of the mildness or kindness of Christ. Luke’s Gospel is a Gospel about a kind, forgiving, merciful, caring, healing and reconciling God, who revealing himself in Jesus offered hope to the hopeless and special care to the poor and the troubled. When I entrust to you the Word of God, that is the God that you are being called to witness to and make known: the God whose loving kindness was revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Gospels are not something that you take up and read as a novel, straight from cover to cover. They are not books which you take up occasionally for momentary inspiration. My hope is that the distribution of the Gospel will be accompanied by a programme for aiding people to grow in their understanding of the Gospel. I hope that week after week people will take up and reflect on the Sunday Gospel reading.
I look forward to the religious of the diocese being a vital part of this process of evangelisation. I look forward to your playing a vital part in the process of a scripture-led renewal, through your cooperation in the distribution of the Gospel and in the process of deepening our understanding of the Gospel.
Understanding the Gospel is not just an intellectual exercise. It is about witness and what witness is more appropriate than religious life itself. I thank you for that witness and the many ways it contributes to the life of the Archdiocese of Dublin. Our diocesan renewal needs your authentic witness.
I hope and pray that as the Catholic community of the diocese of Dublin we will take this opportunity to turn to the Word of God and allow the Spirit to inspire us to know the ways of the Lord in our times.