30/08/06 150th Anniversary of Passionists in Ireland

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Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, given at Mount Argus on Sunday, 30th August ’06, to mark the 150th Anniversary of the presence of the Passionist Order in Dublin and Ireland.
“Take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life”.  These are the words we have heard just now in the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy.  They remind us of how right throughout the history of salvation God revealed his laws and custom that we may have life.

Jesus takes up this same thought in today’s Gospel, because over time it seemed that a whole profession of casuists – Pharisees Scribes and others – had emerged who had become so obsessed with the laws and the customs that they had allowed the fundamental message of life to fall into the background.
God’s law is there that we might have life. The Christian message is not a negative rule book or even a book of maxims about being good.  It is above all about a person, Jesus Christ, who has appeared among us, who enters into our lives and changes them.  He allows us to engage with him as he reveals to us a God who is love.  Jesus mission is to bring us life and life in its fullness.  Even more, Jesus presents himself, his very own identity, as life:  “I am the life”; “I am the resurrection and the life”.
The Gospel reading reminds us then that we do not worship God with “lip service”, with the outward observance of rules, but by something deeper and more authentic which must go on within our heart and our lives.
But if we were to limit our reading of today’s Gospel to just that observation, a valid observation which we all need to recall, we would not have fully understood what Jesus was saying.
Jesus condemns the Pharisees and Scribes not just because of their lack of personal integrity.  He accuses them of emptiness in their teaching.  They teach “only human regulations”, they “cling to human traditions” rather than to the message and the commandment of God.  Jesus condemns them because they preached in God’s name a message which was not that of God.
Jesus is teaching us that the promise of life that God spoke of through the prophets cannot be attained by human regulations, human traditions and mere human arrangements alone.
We attain life and its fullness only when we allow ourselves to be guided by the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.     If we wish to prevent our human heart from being overcome by the evils of the day – and the Gospel reading provides us with a list which needs very little updating after two thousand years – then we must change our hearts to listen and understand what God commands.
We have come to celebrate 150 years of the presence of the Passionist Fathers here in Mount Argus and in Ireland.
It is hard to think back one hundred and fifty years and imagine what life was like in Dublin or in Ireland just ten years after the famine.   What is sure is that 1856 belonged to a time of extraordinary renewal in the Irish Church, a time of life and vitality.   Cardinal Cullen, then Archbishop of Dublin, had dedicated much time to consolidating the great religious orders of women and men which had emerged in Ireland during the time of his predecessor Archbishop Daniel Murray.   Next he began to attract other religious orders from abroad to come to Dublin and bring with them a wide range of charisms which had not been able to emerge within Irish Catholicism during the difficult period before Emancipation.
In the years around 1856 when Mount Argus first welcomed the Passionist community, Cardinal Cullen, you might say, changed the map of Dublin.    Four years earlier – in 1852 – the Mater Hospital was opened in Dublin.  Four years later Blackrock College and Terenure College would open.   In 1856, alongside the Passionist Fathers here in Mount Argus, the Oblate Fathers came to Inchicore.  University Church on Saint Stephen’s Green had just opened, an essential dimension of the vision of a University of Cardinal Newman.  The Daughters of Charity opened their first house in Dublin in North William Street one year later; coming from Drogheda where they had just established their first house in Ireland.  The following year the Jesuits came to Milltown Park.    With a period of ten years many of what are today the landmarks of Catholic Dublin – physically and also in what they signify – were built.
But what was happening was not an exercise in real estate. All these institution and buildings were about bettering the life of people. For example, Cardinal Cullen particularly wanted the Passionists to come to Dublin because he knew of their work in Britain with poor Irish emigrants.    It is interesting today to reflect that the coming of the Passionist Fathers and the renewal that they brought to the Irish Church sprang from the way they cared for Irish who were outside their own country.  Renewal of the Church in Ireland today will also mean developing caring pastoral structures to ensure that those who come to our shores now are helped to live their coming here as new hope, new horizons, new opportunity, new chance to fulfilment for themselves and their children.  I know personally of how the Passionist Parish and its schools and teachers in Huntstown in West Dublin are doing pioneering work in this regard today.
Mount Argus was established at a time of renewal and vitality in Church life.  It very soon became itself a symbol of renewal and vitality of the Christian life in Dublin and farther.   The early Passionists got things done quickly.  The first Church here in Mount Argus was built and blessed within months of the arrival of the first Fathers.  A year after its foundation Blessed Father Charles began his charismatic mission here.
Soon from this foundation new foundations sprung up in Glasgow and in Belfast, both of which were to influence the Catholic culture of those cities right down until our day.  These Passionist Monasteries and the others which developed later became places close to people in their daily lives and aspirations, aware that the preaching of the Gospel must be linked with the concrete situations in which people live and Passionist houses have remained true to this mission until our day. In this they showed that preaching the message of the Gospel in any society does not lead – as some would today tend to portray – to alienation and subjugation but is a true and vital contribution to the fabric of any society.
Mount Argus and indeed the great Monasteries founded from it like Saint Mungo’s in Glasgow and Ardoyne in Belfast always had a character of their own.   They were big.   As a child, when I came here to Mass with my parents, I was struck by the dimensions of the Monastery here in Mount Argus.  It seemed to be a power house of priests.   It was a power house of prayer and encouragement to lead the Christian life to the full.  It was a power house of great preachers.  From here the word of God was preached and the lives of many were changed.   It was a place where the story of the passion and death of Jesus was preached as a message of life.  Within a short time Mount Argus had left its imprint for good on the life of Dublin and of Ireland.
The Passionist Monasteries were attentive to the aspirations of people.   Some of the leaders of 1916 came here on the eve of the Uprising to reflect and pray and who knows also to agonise about their enterprise.  Ardoyne, on its part, stands out as a beacon of support and integrity amid the struggles in its neighbourhood.  Mount Argus has long links with An Garda Siochana.  How many times have I been here as honour was rendered to dedicated members of the force who had contributed so much through their lives and service to the stability and security of our society.
Now Mount Argus must look to the future.  I see the word downsizing in the commemorative booklet.  Numbers are down but I hope that there will be no downsizing in the sense that Mount Argus would be any less a power house of what is best in the Passionist tradition and charism.   This has been a powerhouse from which the word of God has been preached as the source of what the second reading called: “All that is good and everything that is perfect”. This diocese needs such a power house.  Ireland needs it.  We will need it all the more in the future.
The strength of the Passionist tradition in Ireland has been its ability – to use again the words of the second reading – to “accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you”.
Those who are called in a particular way to preach the Passion of Jesus Christ and those of us who hear their word are called to “accept and submit to that word” through the way we live.   Jesus’ passion and death constitute the key to new life.  In his self-giving love for us, even unto death on a cross, Jesus revealed to us just how boundless his love for us was.
In doing this he revealed to us what God is like.  Jesus chose to reveal the God of power and might not in clinging to the outward expressions of authority, power or popularity, but through self-giving love until the end.  In this he showed us that in defining the meaning of life, in 1856 or in our time or at any moment in history, giving is just as important as having.
The future cohesion of our nation will be not built just on our enjoying the fruits of economic prosperity, but in ensuring that that prosperity is shared in a way that all can reach fulfilment in life, within the beauty of creation which has been given to us as our home and in the community of the members of our human family.
We thank God for the way in which over these 150 years the Passionist communities here in Mount Argus and around Ireland and abroad have touched and changed the hearts of so many and led them to see in the law and the call and the love of God the true path to life.