5/7/08 Ordinations Homily

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 5th July 2008


        Let us go back a little in the Gospel of Saint John and see the context in which Jesus is speaking.  In the lines immediately just before our reading, Jesus cries out:  “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”.   Jesus speaks about his “hour”.  It is a term that was used at the very beginning of his mission at the Wedding Feast of Cana and on numerous occasions in the course of his mission. 

The discourse of today’s Gospel takes place during the Feast in Jerusalem to which many had gathered.  Because of his teaching and the signs that he worked, Jesus was becoming a major focal point of attraction for the crowd.  The Pharisees look on with anxiety and resentment.

        The Gospel reading is not just a factual historical narrative about what had happened that day in Jerusalem but also an interpretation of those events, made some years later, at the time of the writing of the Gospel of Saint John, when the Church had begun to grow and to spread and be marked by diversity of members.

The Church was changing.  It was spreading and was spreading outside the framework of the original Jewish community out of which it first grew.  And change brings different reactions, including anxiety and fear.   The Pharisees see their world challenged as they realise, to use the words of the Gospel reading, that “the world has gone after [Jesus]” and they are not happy.
The words “The whole world had gone after him” are again an interpretation by John not just of that day in Jerusalem, but also of what had happened in the Church in the years since Jesus’ return to the Father.

At this moment in the Gospel narrative, some Greeks come to Philip and ask to see Jesus.    The Greeks ask to see Jesus, but curiously we are not told whether or not that encounter actually takes place. The words used are in fact symbolic: “to see Jesus” means to understand him; it means to understand and to recognise his claims.  Asking “to see Jesus” means that these Greeks are saying that they recognise him; that they accept his teaching and his identity.  The good news has spread to the Gentiles who are now the ones who truly recognise Jesus’ identity.

Jesus announces that his hour has come.  His hour has come because the Gentiles have recognised him. The Church is about to flourish despite the incredulity and the lack of understanding of some.  If we look at the Gospel we see the reaction of two other groups.  They are typical reactions which endure even in our times.  The Pharisees do not want to change. They are unwilling to move beyond their own viewpoint.  They oppose Jesus; they denigrate the newness of his message; they attempt to bring him down.  Another group had come because Lazarus was with Jesus.  They were there out of curiosity. They want to see Lazarus; they seek signs and gestures, they remain fixated on the marginal and the dramatic rather than opening their hearts to Jesus.   Both groups fail to recognise Jesus in his true identity.

In the Gospels the surprising growth of the Church is often presented in terms of a contrast in nature, such as that of the tiny mustard seed which grows to become the largest of trees in which the birds of the air (namely all peoples) would find their home.

In our Gospel today, John takes up this theme in another key. He talks not just about the fact of growth but of the “how” of growth.   If it is to bear fruit, the wheat grain must fall on the ground and die.   He is talking about the contrast between a dying to oneself which leads to fruitfulness, as opposed to a self-centredness which ends up in isolation.  The early Church is reminded that the success of its growth can only be attributed to the power which springs from the saving death of Jesus.

Any style of Christian living which does not follow that same path of dying with Jesus can only lead to isolation.  If they are to bear fruit, those who are called to serve the Lord must make a clear and definitive break from attachment to the things of the world.  Dying to self is the only true path to rendering fruit in abundance.

Today we gather to ordain to the priesthood three deacons of this Archdiocese of Dublin. They are called to a path which for the rest of their lives will require them day by day to attempt to discern and understand who Jesus is and what is his significance for their lives and their mission.

During this week I have had the extraordinary experience of meeting with those priests who this year are retiring from their current ministry having reached their 75th year.  It is wonderful to listen to priests who have dedicated over 50 years of their life to serving the Lord as priests in Dublin and who can look back with enthusiasm on their ministry, giving thanks to God and with a great sense of personal satisfaction and happiness.  Their dedication is humbling and we should all thank God for these priests of our diocese and for the many gifts of God they have brought to us through their lives and ministry.

        Michael, Richard and Dan today you take up that same call of the Lord.  Even though there are only three of you against many more priests who are retiring, you will bring new vigour and energy to our presbyterium.   

One of the striking dimensions of the lives of those priests who retire this year was their ability to change, to adapt to changing times, to address challenges which they could never have imagined when they entered into the seminary. The priests who retire this year were priests who entered the seminary before Vatican II but they are the giants of a great moment in our history as Vatican II and its teaching brought renewal in the diocese.  Change involves pain.  The ability to change involves also the ability to put aside, to die, to many aspects of our piety and pastoral practice to which we are attached.

Ministry involves never placing ourselves or our personal opinions in the first place, but Jesus Christ.  All ministry is instituted for the building up of the Church.  Ministry is always ecclesial; it is never the private property of the minister. As priests we are called to build up the ecclesial community through witness to the radical newness and the radical generosity demanded by the Gospel. We must learn to disentangle our lives from everything which hinders that radical newness from breaking through into our own lives and the lives of those we serve. 

Michael, Richard and Dan, you are entering the service of the diocese at a challenging moment.  Numbers of priests are down but ministry in the diocese is about to be enriched through a new service of lay men and women who will engage in the full time ministry in our parishes, as well as the introduction in the diocese of the permanent deaconate.    All of this takes place within a more fundamental renewal which involves so many believing Catholics assuming roles of personal renewal, of leadership and of service in different ways, reflecting the diversity of ministries which was mentioned in the second reading from Saint Paul.  We have and we need vibrant, dynamic parishes.

Saint Paul stresses that the diversity of gifts is given so that “the saints [can] make a unity in the work of service, building up the Body of Christ”.  This is indeed a definition of ministry: ministry is not about job descriptions but about becoming Saints.   It is about the call of all believers to true conversion and holiness not about of position, privilege, prestige or power.  This service involved is about personal holiness, not about structures.  Ministry is a service for the building up of the body of Christ, and for no other purpose.

Michael, Richard and Dan, the Lord calls you and sends you at a great moment, but a challenging one.   Your challenge will be to work and to pray in order to build the Body of Christ in this diocese for the years to come.  I appeal to you especially to reach out in your ministry to young people, to challenge them to become an active part of the sacramental life of the Church.  We see very few young people in our Churches.  We have to ask why so many good, idealistic and generous young people seem to find the motivation for their goodness apparently from sources other than the message of Jesus Christ.   The renewal programme which the diocese is beginning to undertake must include a special outreach to young people to bring them to be active sharers in our Eucharistic communities.

In these days over 200 young people are setting out to join Pope Benedict at World Youth Day in Sydney.  I invite them to take this privileged opportunity to renew their commitment to the life of the Church and on their return to look at establishing a new ministry of young people to young people, sharing with their contemporaries the special richness that faith and their prayer brings to their lives.

The coming years will be challenging year for the Archdiocese of Dublin.  The challenge we have to address is as significant as that which our predecessors encountered in applying the renewal fostered by Vatican II.   It will require change in pastoral practice and as I said change is never painless.  The ability to change involves the ability to put aside many aspects of our piety and pastoral practice to which we are attached.

In the Archdiocese we are about to launch far-reaching new forms of ministry within and among our parishes.  Let me say that there is no intention to close Churches nor to suppress or unite parishes except where there is a wish to do so.  But we must look at new ways in which we can group parishes into broader pastoral units, within which each parish will retain its identity but where groups of parishes will be served by a single pastoral team made up of priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers in a more coordinated way, always focused on renewal and evangelization.

This will mean change and challenge for many, not least for priests.  But we must all remember that bearing fruit always requires a dying to some of the things to which we might be most attached in order to allow the Church to grow anew and renewed. 

Michael, Richard and Dan you come from different backgrounds and have different personal histories and different talents. Your life takes new shape today as you are called to follow Jesus in a special way, which draws its origin from that eveing on the first Holy Thursday when Jesus left to his Church the extraordinary gift of ensuring his continued with us in the Eucharist, as nourishment and as real participation in the saving sacrifice of Jesus.

May you become in every aspect of your lives authentic ministers of the Eucharist, witnesses also to Jesus who on that same Holy Thursday washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of his self giving love.   May your ministry help realise in our times that “hour” of Jesus which opens the door of life and truth to those who hear his word.



Homily Notes ofArchbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland———–Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 5 July 2008