As we await the visit of Pope Francis …

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Twentieth Sunday of the Year 2018


Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Sunday 19th August 2018


“In just one week, we will be well into the short but intense visit to Ireland of Pope Francis.  A short yet intense visit but also one with widespread expectation and joy and enthusiasm, while on the other hand a visit marked many anxieties about our Catholic Church in Ireland and wider afield and about the future of the Church.

The Gospel reading this morning is about the roots of the true life of the Church.  Jesus is the bread of life.  He nourishes us so that we can have life and bring life to the world.  The bread that Jesus offers is the bread that leads to fullness of life, both in terms of life eternal but also of what fullness of life means in this world in which we live.

The reaction by his hearers to the teaching of Jesus was not all enthusiastic.  The religious leaders begin arguing.  There is a sense in which that word “arguing” could be translated better as “murmuring”.  It is not just discussion: that is a positive thing.  It is a murmuring behind the back of Jesus: a negative undermining of what he has to say.

Jesus stresses that his gift to us is a gift of the totality of his existence – his body and blood – that then embraces us and enables us to become sharers of his divine life and his love.  Eucharist is the Mystery of Faith and also the Mystery of Love.  However, love is always costly and demanding.  Jesus showed his love in a special way on the Cross when he gave himself totally out of love for us. When we live the life that comes to us though the Eucharist we begin to share in the very love of God that is stronger than death and stronger than sin.

The Church is called to be a people that represents the love of Jesus in the realities of our world.  Sadly, that is not always the case.

The message of love shows up the darkness of sin for what it really is.  A Christian who does not witness to the love of Jesus is not an authentic Christian.  A Church that compromises on the integrity of the Christ’s message is no longer a Church that is authentic. There can be no compromise with the message of Jesus.

The Church is however made up of sinners.  All of us are sinners and sinners fail.  Sinners can however be led to conversion.  The power of love can purify our Church and us.  Murmuring deepens the darkness.  Only love purifies.

Love is never cheap. The purifying love that converts our hearts must involve a radical resetting of relations that have been wounded by our sins.  It is not enough just to say sorry. Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever.  Why does this not happen?  Why must such a simple affirmation have to be repeated so often? Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever everywhere.

As we await the visit of Pope Francis, we look at a complex horizon of our Irish Church.  The scandals of abuse in the Church have produced a deep-seated resentment among believers.  It is not just anger over the horror of abuse, but an anger at the role of Church leadership in compounding the suffering of so many in institutions for children, for unmarried mothers and for vulnerable women.  These were people who found themselves placed in the care the Church to be loved and respected but who so often encountered extraordinary harshness.  What is worse, they were in the main poor and vulnerable people, those who should above all have been the privileged recipients of what the love and care of Jesus Christ mean.  I keep asking myself what it was in Irish Catholicism that led to such a level of harshness.

When you add up all the categories of victims, you can see that the number was immense.  We still only know the identity of some.   It is not something that belongs to the past but a hurt that survivors and those close to them carry in their hearts every day of their lives.

The anger is not just about abuse but also about a Church that was authoritarian harsh, autocratic and self-protecting.  Rather than bringing the liberating message of the love of God, it imposed a world of rules to such an extent that it lacked respect for the personal life of many and especially of women.  We experienced a Church that felt that it knew all the answers.  We experienced a Church that failed to form mature consciences and help men and women grow in discerning a mature faith.  Faith requires rules and norms but there are also occasions where empty rules alienate from Jesus himself.

At this point, let me also forcefully add that there were and are so many examples of how the love of God is witnessed in the lives of good priests and men and women in religious life who never sought publicity or anything for themselves.    The light and goodness and the humility of their lives shone out and inspired and they are remembered with affection.  They too suffered through the abuse of others.

We also have great families whose generosity and fidelity, very often unrecognised, enrich society.   Families live and transmit the faith and the love of Jesus.  The World Meeting of Families must be an occasion to encourage and support families in their role in the home, in the Church and in society.  Families need support.  Young people need support to prepare for future family life.

What can Pope Francis say or do in a visit that will last little more than thirty-six hours.  Pope Francis is a kind man, someone who inspires and touches hearts.  I know that Irish people will extend a kind welcome to him.  People of differing voices are interested in him as a person and in what he stands for.  He is not going to be able to provide all the answers to the questions that people ask.  My hope is that he will speak kindly but also speak frankly.  The recent history of the Church in Ireland had its moments of real darkness.  We need a Church of light, a light that exposes darkness for what it is, and a light that is such that the mechanisms of cover-up and self-justification cannot extinguish or tone down.

My hope is that Pope Francis will challenge the Church in Ireland to be different, to be more authentically the Church of Jesus Christ in a culture that is different.

Jesus speaks to the Church in many ways and through many voices, voices that include not just the harmony of nice choirs but unpleasant voices that spoil the parties of the complacent, challenging voices that upset established wisdoms.  I hope that we will all listen to what Pope Francis says, discuss it, but avoid poisonous murmuring which can only undermine what we all wish to attain.

The Pope has to speak frankly about our past but also about our future.  We need a Church with confidence: not the confidence of popularity or arrogance but the confidence that comes from men and women captivated by the message of Jesus.

The bread that Jesus offers is the bread that leads to fullness of life, both in terms of life eternal but also of what fullness of life means in this world in which we live.  Our complex world still needs to be challenged by the radical message of Jesus.

As we prepare for the visit of Pope Francis, let us pray then for the Irish Church of the future.  Let us pray for those who still suffer the effects of abuse.  Let us pray for the lonely, the abandoned, those without hope.   Let us pray for those who are without a home.  Let us pray for those who are hurt because the Church does not adequately recognise their dignity.  Let us pray for all families.

Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of all believers.”