2/2/2011 Homily for Day for Consecrated Life

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland

Saint Brigid’s Church, Killester, 2nd February 2011

The thread which unites much of our reflection here this evening is that of light.  Christ is our light.  He is the one who can dispel our darkness.  It is his light which brings brightness into our life and into our society and indeed into our Church even in those moments in which darkness seems to hover around us and in our midst.  When we live with the light of Christ, that light shines and not just brightens and enlightens but enables us to see things in a different light, to discern realities in a new way.  Consecrated life is a witness to that light of discernment.

The unique light to which consecrated life is called to witness is Jesus the Word of God.  Our God is not closed in, but a God who communicates and who loves.  The Word of God who is the light came into the world in Jesus Christ, yet, as Saint John notes in the prologue to his Gospel, the world did not know him.

More dramatically Saint John recalls that it was “his own people who did not accept him (Jn 1:11).    There are indeed also other occasions in which Saint John notes that it was his own disciples “who turned back and no longer went about with him” (Jn 6:66).    The light of Christ is in our midst, but we may not recognise that light or may even reject it.  Saint John would seem to indicate pointedly that being one of Jesus’ own is no shelter from the temptation to reject his light and prefer darkness. .

To live the light we must first of all know the light.  We have to know the scriptures.  It is in the scriptures that we encounter, as in no other source, the words and deeds through which Jesus revealed himself as the God of love.

Last year throughout the diocese we distributed copies of the Gospel of Saint Luke to our parishes and religious communities. I know that this was very much appreciated by you and that through you the word reached out to many. For that I thank you.

May I add this evening that the launch of that edition of Saint Luke’s Gospel was undertaken together with the Church of Ireland Archbishop John Neill.  On this occasion I would like to publicly express my good wishes and prayerful support to Archbishop Neill’s successor who was elected this afternoon, Archbishop Michael Jackson who was until now Bishop of Kilmore.  He has already worked in Dublin and we all wish him many years of fruitful ministry among us.

I would not like you to think that the distribution of the Gospel of Saint Luke was just an isolated gesture.  For me it was the beginning of what was summed up by Pope Benedict’s words in his recent Apostolic Exhortation of the Word of God Verbum Domini: ”Letting the bible inspire all pastoral activity”

“Letting the bible inspire all pastoral activity”!  This – especially for Irish Catholicism – is a revolutionary concept. A biblical apostolate is not one choice among others within a wide shopping list of pastoral programmes.  Any pastoral programme – indeed any Christian life – which is not focussed on the word of God as found in the scriptures will have failed in its task.  All our pastoral activity has to be permeated by the mindset, the spirit and the outlook of the Bible and especially of the Gospels.  This can be achieved only though a real knowledge of the texts themselves, read with the mind and the heart of the Church.

There is a section in Verbum Domini explicitly on “the word of God and the consecrated life” (#83).  I am not saying that you should limit yourself just to that paragraph. There is much to reflect on throughout the entire document.  But in that section on the contemplative life the Pope reminds us in particular that “religious life is born from hearing the word of God and embracing the Gospel as its rule of life”.

“Embracing the Gospel as a rule of life” is a fascinating concept.  The Pope goes on to describe the life of religious as “a living exegesis of God’s Word”.   Exegesis is a science which analyses the precise meaning of biblical texts.  What the Pope is saying here is that there is also another exegesis, an exegesis not of words, but of actions and life style and witness which can also authentically interpret the word of God.  We see this type of witness in the insights of your founders and foundersesses.  They did not just start a programme or a service; each of them opened up, at a particular moment in history, a new and peculiar path of Christian living which interpreted the word of God in actions and inspiration.

Religious life is always an ecclesial reality.  It is not just a way of saving your own soul.  It is a special witness in and for the Church.  The contemplation of the scriptures which is very much a part of all religious life is not for private illumination, but is charism for the Church.

This has been so right throughout history.  This was why I launched the Gospel of Saint Luke at Trinity College. I wanted to launch it just metres away from the Book of Kells, a remarkable witness to the loving and specialist care shown by Irish monasticism to presenting the word of God with the most graceful beauty and elegance that was available to them at the time.

Our generation of Christians has now to construct what will be the contribution which we hope to leave as our inheritance to those who come after us and we have to ensure that the of legacy of our generation that will be as striking and as effective and as inspiring as that of the Book of Kells.

What can that legacy be and where is the place of contemplative life?   Contemplative life is above all the calling and the witness of those, to quote Saint Augustine, “who put nothing before the love of Christ”.  The calling to consecrated life is a calling to reject false values.   The calling to consecrated life is even more: it is about understanding and sharing with others the real reason why it is worthwhile living, at a moment in which many fail to achieve meaning and hope in their lives.

Over the last twenty four hours a fundamental change has taken place in the landscape of this city.  There is hardly a single lamppost free from election posters.  We are facing three weeks of electioneering.  We will hear promises.  We will listen to analysis.  We will listen to promises being made and watch mud being slung.

There is no denying that there is a crisis of credibility in Ireland.  People are shocked and angry.  People are puzzled about what happened and why.  There is a climate of blame.  There is a climate of insecurity.

Where is the answer of the Church?   It is not the task of the Church to present some alternative or parallel election manifesto, no matter how noble its aspirations might be.   The task of the Church is not that of being just another social commentator.  The Church is a community inspired by the word of God which mediates meaning and hope to the many who drift lonely and alone in the turbulent sea of the deeper questions about life’s meaning.  The task of the Church is to bring the light of Christ as discernment about the deeper things.  The task of the Church is to witness to the mystery of redemption, a message that something radically different and hope-filled is possible

The challenge of each of us here tonight is to reflect on where light and darkness cohabit in our own hearts.  It is to see where light and darkness cohabit in the type of interaction we have in our communities.  A witness of division is not a witness to the light.   The challenge for me is also to see where light and darkness cohabit as bishop in the way I interact and respect contemplative life in the diocese and where I fail in my witness to the truth in love.

We look into our hearts not to see where we are right and where others are wrong.  We look into our hearts to see how in reality our witness is a true “exegesis of the Gospel”, knowing that the word of God can purify and open the way to a new enlightening with in our hearts.

Jesus came into the world and his own rejected him.  John is not afraid to state that in clear terms.  There is no attempt on his part to spin or to reduce or cover-up the consequences of such rejection.  He does not say that, yes, his own rejected him, but it was really only a few percent.  Rejection is a constant factor in the history of the relationship between God’s people and God.  The history of salvation is a history of infidelity on the part of God’s people, despite the constant fidelity of God.

So often we have turned faith in Jesus Christ into a reality of gloom or guilt.  We have favoured or at least acquiesced in individualism, even in faith, which has left people alone and isolated.   We have misused faith to induce people to be entrapped in a false culture of sin, while the dominant theme of faith of Jesus Christ is one that forgiveness and thus true liberty are always possible.

In such a culture the quality of community in consecrated life is an important barometer of how much consecrated  life is a true exegesis of the Gospel.

This evening we gather to renew ourselves.  We gather to give thanks to God for the witness of consecrated life in the Church of God in this diocese of Dublin.  Sister Elizabeth will list some of the special anniversaries which some of your congregations celebrate this year.  May I remember other anniversaries:  I think of the Golden, Silver anniversaries that many of you celebrate this year, or indeed any anniversary even the first.  We thank God that you have received the gift of fidelity and that though your response your life has become an “exegesis of the Gospel” of life, of liberty and of life.  May God’s grace accompany for many years to come.