Day for Consecrated Life
Holy Cross Church, Dundrum, March 25, 2023
Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell
I welcome you all—in person and virtually—to today’s celebration of consecrated life, religious women and men, as well those who have embraced a consecrated life, in other forms. We haven’t gathered since 2020, so it is good to be back in person for this celebration. I am conscious that some of you here struggle with challenges of illness and advanced years, but also the rapidly shifting sands of change—be they in society, in our ambient cultures, or within the communities and congregations, where structural change can be so much in evidence, and so rapid. I can assure you it is no different in diocesan life. The human path that we walk with its difficulties is the way to God. Our pilgrimage through time is God’s way of shaping us from within and without, by the events of history—which does not and will not stand still—as we participate in them and contribute to them. Gathering here today, this assembly is our way of witnessing for each other that, in the midst of change in the external points of reference, the one reality we cling to, is Christ who, while always new, is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).
We gather on a day that the Church dedicates to Mary. In celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation, what strikes me is Mary’s courage, and her trust in the word addressed to her. She is perplexed: she wonders what this greeting might mean (Luke 1:29), and yet somehow trusts in the goodness and providence of God who reaches right into her life. Almost startling herself, she steps into the unknown. She places her life in God’s hands. Her world changes, almost imperceptibly, but such is the character of much real change: quiet, hidden, silent. As you have discovered in living out your own vocations, these qualities are also the marks of God. This is how the Lord is: God does not have to shout, God’s glory is there for all to see, but has to be recognised. Silence, after all, is the language of God (St John of the Cross).
Like Mary’s decision, and most major decisions in life, our own response to the call of God was a step into the unknown. It was and remains a call to trust in the Lord, and in God’s providence. But there is more: our response is also a response to the cry of the poor. The opening lines of Gaudium et Spes—Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World expressed better than we could ourselves what we were doing with our lives. It said,
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts… (GS 1).
Our world is no longer the confident world of the mid-1960s which opened the doors of renewal on so many fronts. That said, the profound call of the Second Vatican Council, and its hope-filled faith, not only still rings true, but is even more needed today. For all its wealth and technological progress, our world is deeply riven with “grief and anxiety.” The world has changed, but the underlying needs have not disappeared. We have changed, our horizons have shifted, but our mission remains. To turn again to Gaudium et Spes: for the Church,
‘beneath all changes, there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, and forever.’ (n. 10)
Our call and our mission go hand-in-hand. As Pope Francis never tires of underlining, our mission “gives us the opportunity to return to God’s style that is closeness, compassion and tenderness…we cannot separate ourselves from life; it is necessary for someone to care for the frailties and poverties of our time, healing wounds and healing broken hearts with the balm of God’” (Francis, Beginning of the Synodal Journey, 9 October 2021). The opening lines of Gaudium et Spes bear repeating: “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” (GS no. 1)
Human weakness and the inexcusable scandals notwithstanding, this is where you have been, and this is where you have remained. In ways not always seen, you have stayed with people, “especially the poor and the afflicted, in their hopes and their joys,” and in “their griefs, worries,” and losses. Like Christ himself, you have remained among God’s people. Let no one undermine that contribution.
Without being empowered by Christ, without realizing that he is the one who enables us not only to follow him, but embrace the mystery of our lives, what have we to offer? Unless we are sustained by God, we cannot be ministers of the living God. If we are not sustained by the Lord, we can certainly proclaim ‘a god,’ but that ‘god’ will most likely be a god of our own making. As it says in the psalm,
They have mouths but they cannot speak; they have eyes but they cannot see.
They have ears but they cannot hear; … they have feet but they cannot walk.
Their makers will come to be like them, as will all who trust in them. (Ps 115:5–8)
In this perspective then, we may ask what it means to be minister of God in the Ireland of today? Our call is to witness to the closeness of the living God to all God’s creatures. The Holy Father sums up the challenge: “Our first duty is not to be a Church that is perfectly organised, any company can do this, but a Church that, in the name of Christ, stands in the midst of people’s troubled lives, a Church that is willing to dirty its hands for people…walking in the midst of and alongside our people, learning to listen and to dialogue, cooperating as ministers with one another and with the laity. Let me repeat this important word: together. Let us never forget it: together. Bishops and priests, deacons, pastors, seminarians, ordained ministers and religious-always showing respect for the marvellous specificity of religious life.” (Pope Francis’ Address to the bishops and clergy, St Theresa’s Cathedral, Juba, South Sudan, 4th February 2023).
We are blessed in our Diocese to have over 1,700 consecrated women, living out a diversity of charisms and ministries, sharing their dreams and hopes for the Church and our world, forming generous, imaginative, liberated, and liberating initiatives in response to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor. Our synodal journey—this way of being Church together—is enriched by the contribution of consecrated men and women. As religious life has long been an instrument of synodality, striving to involve all the members in the decision making and decision taking (see Working Document Continental Stage), religious are ‘teachers of synodality.’ On my own behalf, as the Bishop of this Diocese of Dublin, and on behalf of the many people who benefit from your service, I wish to acknowledge all this Spirit-filled work and give thanks. This is much more than ‘managing decline’. It is creating an environment—a framework—in which religious, priests and people together in the Archdiocese can respond to and draw strength for the life-transforming call the Lord puts before us.
Finally, I am very much aware that you are people who pray for me daily and support me in the knowledge that it is not an easy mission to be the Archbishop. In a particular way, I want to acknowledge the contribution of the enclosed religious orders. You bear witness to humanity’s radical thirst for God (see Psalm 63), to our faith in God’s tight embrace of all that he has created. The breadth, depth, and constancy of your intercession puts flesh on goodness of the Shepherd who “leads us to restful waters, to revive our drooping spirit.” (Psalm 23:2–3), as we sang in last Sunday’s Psalm.
May the Eternal Shepherd “lead us all to restful waters.” May his life-giving Spirit “revive our drooping spirits.” May the Spirit give us the courage to trust in the “message of the angel,” to hear anew, “…for with God nothing will be impossible.” May Mary’s “courage unparalleled”—to use Levertov’s phrase—stir our hearts, and renew our commitment. “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Archbishop of Dublin