Bicentenary of Ballycoog Church

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Fifteenth Sunday of the Year 2016


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

Church of Saint Kevin, Ballycoog, 10th July 2016

“I have a great interest in history and there is no doubt that has over many centuries this area of County Wicklow has been intertwined with many significant events in the history of Ireland.  But my particular interest in history is not in the big picture, but more about local history, the history of communities and of people.  I was really pleased then to receive some weeks ago from Collette Kavanagh a copy of the history of this Church and of this community written for the occasion of the bicentenary.

The book chronicles the history of the Church and it contains a wealth of information about the various elements and artistic works which mark the Church.  But what shone forth for me above all were the references to people, the human elements:  one can feel the great affection the community has for the priests who ministered here and also the affection that the priests who ministered here maintain for Ballycoog even after many years.

There was a sense of pride in the young people:  the school, the first communions and confirmations the altar servers, as well as the sacristans and others who contributed to the life of this Church and this community over generations.  The long list of parishioners who died over the years showed me how important this Church is for all of you at moments of sadness and mourning.  The book is not a history of the past:  but a history of what endures: of values, of commitment, of pride in achievement, of good families, and of care of those in need.

We have heard a Gospel reading with which we are all very familiar.  It is the Gospel of the Good Samaritan. This Gospel story has put the word Samaritan right into everyday language. The word Samaritan has become synonymous with helping and caring.

The first thing that we have to remember, however, is that at the time of Jesus the term Samaritan had a different sense.  The Samaritans were not liked by the Jewish people of the time. The Samaritans were marginalised, almost despised.  It was not considered respectable for a Jew even to talk with a Samaritan.

When we remember this, we begin to understand how Jesus deliberately sets this story in a polemical and indeed provocative context.  Who are those who ignore the wounded man and walk the other way?  They were the priest and the Levite: the ones with status in the community, the respectable ones.  The one who shows mercy, on the other hand, was the outsider.  Jesus redefines respectability.  Respectability is not about title or celebrity or status or office: it is about goodness and integrity.  Interestingly when we look back at the history of this community it is those who quietly showed goodness and integrity that are those who are remembered with affection and pride.

Let us look a little more in detail at the actions of the Samaritan.  Unlike the others who pass by, he notices and he stops.   He is immediately moved with compassion. He begins to take care of the wounded person. He picks him up his own arms, he carries him.   He brings him to a place where he can rest and recover.  He even pays what he thinks this is going to cost and promises that he will back afterwards to ensure that everything has taken place as he wished.

For us believers in Jesus Christ, charity and caring are not just moments of short-lived emotion:  they require that Christian to be hands-on and determined to see that anyone who finds themselves troubled or abandoned is genuinely cared for, not just for the moment but for the long term.

Our rich and developed society is filled with men and women who feel abandoned on the roadside of what we call modern progress.  Today more than ever there are men and women who suffer anxiety and distress, who are lonely or abandoned, who have lost their way in life and are not sure where to turn, who have even lost the hope to live.   There are those who are homeless and have to live on the streets.  There are, however, also many other ways in which men and women and young people are “down and out”: through anxiety and hopelessness or dejection.  There are the elderly who are lonely.  There are young people who seek meaning. These men and women are sometimes on our own street or townland or in our families.  Very often we do not see them and pass by because we are afraid to get involved.

Margaret Thatcher once claimed that there was no such thing as society.  For her you looked after yourself or in extreme situations the government might rescue you.  The history of this area reminds that society in the best sense of that word is alive and well here and that we need society.  We need a society which is active and participatory, a society which brings a dimension that an anonymous government on its own will never be able to attain.

Let us come back to our Gospel reading.  There is one key word in the Gospel of the Good Samaritan which we could overlook as marginal but which is truly the key to understanding our Gospel.  That word is compassion.

Anywhere the word compassion appears in the Gospel it as a hidden code-word which means Jesus himself.  Compassion is the sign of the action of Jesus.  For us also having compassion – being compassionate – is the key to following Jesus.  Compassion in the face of suffering is not about observing from safe side-lines.  It is about being close to people and carrying them in their woundedness.  It means embracing with the very depth of our humanity anyone who is deprived in the very depth of their humanity.

We all know who the Samaritans in our lives have been.  We are all indebted to men and women who have taught us lessons about caring and self-giving and helping.  We all know those who gave us self-confidence and a sense of self-worth through not putting themselves at the centre of things.   These hidden Samaritans, through their humble caring, are also authentic teachers of the faith, often better teachers that those who like me are called to be teachers.  The truth of the Gospel can only be taught through love.  It is good to remember that I could know the entire catechism off-by-heart and still be a very nasty person.

Let us look at one final aspect of the Gospel reading.  We tend to forget that the question “who is my neighbour”, asked by the lawyer, is in fact not the most important question asked in this reading.   The lawyer had asked an earlier and more fundamental question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  We can all ask questions and discuss in comfort who my neighbour might be and then go home feeling good.  What Jesus is saying to us is that if we want to enter the kingdom then we have not just to admire the Good Samaritan but, as the final words of the Gospel reading says, we have to “Go and do likewise”.

My prayer this afternoon is that this Church and the community around it may continue for the years to come to grow in being a place where people are formed in their faith and are inspired by the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ to radiate into their own lives and into the community something of the compassion of Jesus.

My prayer especially is that the young people of this area will experience in their lives – through our love and compassion – how beautiful the love of God is.  May that love support them in their day-to-day lives and lead them renewed and caring on the path to the God’s kingdom.  May they confidently realise that they belong to a great tradition of faith which has stood this community well over the years so that they can confidently say today that “tomorrow belongs to God”.