29/09/09 Parish and Evangelisation

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Church of the Assumption, Dalkey, 29th September 2009
I am pleased to be with this evening as you celebrate as a Parish Community the anniversary the dedication in September 1841 of this Church of the Assumption.   It was one of the first Churches built in the period after Catholic Emancipation.
The post-Emancipation period was a period of great renewal in Catholic life in Ireland.  It was interestingly also a moment of evangelical renewal in Protestant Churches. 
What was happening at that moment?  The Church lives within historical realities.  Its workings are never isolated from the society and the culture in which it lives.   Right throughout history there have been dark moments in the life of the Church and there have been moments of renewal.  There have however been moments of renewal which have been misdirected and have failed to have broad impact within the Church, much less in society. 

Interestingly, one of the characteristics of true renewal in the Church has always been that renewal of the Church has flowed out into broader society and has had the effect of purification and renewal of society and of bringing forward the common search of all, believers and non-believers, for the good, the truthful, the just and the loving. Just think of the effects on Irish society of the Second Vatican Council!

Another characteristic of true renewal is that it has most often not begun with the renewal of structures but renewal linked with a charismatic or prophetic figure.  Just think of the impact of Saint Francis on the Church of his time, on society in his time, and his impact right down to our times.   Institutions do not generally generate reform, but reform of institutions becomes an essential part of renewal.

The Gospel story we have just heard of the calming of the storm appears in all three synoptic Gospels, even though in slightly different locations and in slightly different terms.  The Gospels were not written as biographies according to our way of thinking.  There are many differences in the order in which the various events are reported in the four Gospels.  One Gospel often goes into greater detail than others. 

The Gospels were written at a particular moment in the history of the early Church and were inevitably coloured by the events of the day and the audience to which the message was being proposed.  This is not to say that they are only relevant to those times.  It does mean that we always have to understand the message in terms of the context so that we can understand it correctly.

The text we have just heard was important for believers to hear at a time in which the Church was encountering difficult times, with the early persecution of Christians and when divisions were appearing for the first in the life of the Church?

This story was given emphasis by the Evangelists to remind a troubled early Christian community that even though it might appear that Jesus was asleep to their concerns he was really never far from them.  The same applies to our times if we have faith.  It is Jesus who rebukes, that is, turns the table on the harshness and turbulence and anxiety which can affect us as individuals and as a community.

The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not a God of repression but a God who cares, and cares deeply even though we might feel that he is very distant from our lives.  Jesus is still today the same Jesus of today’s Gospel who brings calm and vision and hope in troubled times.

When we look at the Church and at society in our times there are many reasons why we might feel justified in feeling that these are troubled times for the Church.     The Church in Ireland today of is very different to that of 1841 when this Church was built.  There are signs of tiredness as well as renewal.  We are moving towards an even more different Church.  Numbers who attend Mass regularly have gone down.  We have a serious shortage of priests.   The world around us has become much more secularised and less religious.  At times religion and believers are ridiculed.  Scandals have brought disillusion and anger at the Church.

There is always a danger in such a situation that we close in on ourselves, that we develop a siege mentality and that we rush for comfort in what is familiar, among those that we know, avoiding risk and then perhaps failing to allow the perennial newness of Jesus to enter into our hearts and a surge of Gospel energy to renew us.

An inward looking, a ghetto church would be just a religious sect and not the Church of Jesus Christ.  No matter what circumstances the Church lives in, it must always remain true to the message of Jesus which is a message of love and of good news. When we possess good news we can never keep it just for ourselves.   The message of Jesus Christ is a message which we should joyfully spread and allow to reach out to others.
       There are those who feel that the Church is on the path to inevitable decline, as numbers attending Church go down.  We will not – certainly not in our life time – see a replication of the type of mass-Catholicism in Ireland that we knew in the past.  Perhaps to be honest we should say that we did not know such mass-Catholicism, in the sense that we did not know it correctly.  We failed to notice the many areas of Church life which were without deep roots and which completely collapsed in the face of the encounter with a more secularist culture.

       We have to ensure that the Church really lives its mission.  A smaller, but renewed Church can be powerful in its own way.  I was struck by a comment made by Pope Benedict to journalists on his flight to the Czech Republic last week, one of the most secularized countries in Europe.    Asked about the role of the minority community of believers in that country, the Pope responded: “normally it is creative minorities which determine the future”.   And he added that the Catholic Church should consider itself as a creative minority with a heritage of values belonging not just to the past but which are living actual values for today and tomorrow.  

Evangelization is about bringing that heritage of values which come from the teaching of Jesus Christ back into our lives and into our world with renewed energy.  It is about making those values real in our lives and in the world around us.  Debate about religious values belongs not just to the chat shows.  A pluralist society needs mature dialogue around the fundamental questions of the day, between believers and those who doubt, those who seek and those who reject.

But to dialogue as believers we must not just know the content of our faith but be people of faith.  As believers too we are people who seek; people who seek to know God and to make our knowledge of God deeper day by day, through prayer, through our knowledge of the Word of God and through our sharing in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist. The moment we cease to seek God in our lives is the moment when we accept a false God.

I believe that one of the biggest challenges that face us as Catholic Christians today is our lack of familiarity with the Scriptures.  We need to know the Scriptures more clearly and we should look more closely with the manner of the transmission of the faith witnessed to in the Scriptures, at the way Jesus taught and evangelised.

The task of Evangelisation is a task for the whole Church.  In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul asks:  “How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard; and how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him”.   This task of proclamation is the task of every Christian.  It is the task that has been carried out for generations, throughout all the ups and downs of history.  There has been a continuous chain of transmission of the faith in the name of Jesus from our past heritage to our present times.  To interrupt that change would be to impoverish our future.

Jesus alone can bring the deeper calm that we all long for.  His strength is with us on our journey, even though, like the disciples, our doubts remain about the effectiveness of his presence.  The disciples undertook their journey not knowing what it held for them, not knowing the severity of the upcoming storm. But in their faith, as the Gospel says simply: “they followed Jesus” on to the boat which was their future.  Evangelization requires that we too follow Jesus through the risks of worldly life, knowing that in all our doubts and anxieties he will watch over us.