Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole

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Homily Notes of


Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin


Archbishop of Dublin




Pro-Cathedral Dublin, 14th November 2012




          On this Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole we launch the Year of Faith in the Archdiocese off Dublin.  In announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict recalled that the “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church”.


          Many of us are less than enthusiastic about the many International Years that we celebrate, some of which are truly worldwide, and some with limited impact.  In the Church there are many who – not always without good reason – are tired and anxious about so many International Days and International Years and feel that they are simply moments of short-term enthusiasm which leave us at their conclusion not very different to how we were at the outset.


The aim of the Year of Faith is different.  Speaking of the Year of Faith Pope Benedict stressed that “to enter through that door [of faith] is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime”.  The Year of Faith is not just another Year; it is a call to something that is truly fundamental for our Christian life and for the Christian community.


          Not just in the highly secularised societies of the West, but across the entire Church there is a growing realisation of the need to revive a faith that runs the risk of being eclipsed by some aspects of the dominant culture in which we live.  We need in a new and more robust way to examine how we can transmit that faith to those who though baptized have drifted away from the Church and whose understanding of who Jesus Christ is has been so weakened that even though they lead a good life, they effectively live their lives with only minimal reference to Jesus. 


We would be foolish not to recognise that this process of distancing from the faith begins among many of our young people very quickly after they leave school or indeed already even while they are at school.   The call to the Year of Faith is a call to the entire Church to awaken again its sense of mission.


I always have to be careful in speaking to a congregation like this one here this morning made up of people who are active and committed in their personal Christian lives and in their parish communities, not to give the impression that I am giving-out to those who actually attend Church about those who do not attend Church.  You might justifiably ask; “why blame us, we are doing our best?  Encourage us!”


The call is to New Evangelisation is not about blaming anyone, not you, nor those who have drifted away from the Church. It is not about blame.  It is about a rallying call to live the faith in a different way.  


In Ireland we know that 84% of the population ticked the box “Catholic” at the most recent 2011 census.  But we also know that only about 30% of the Catholic population in this diocese practices on anything like a regular basis. The New Evangelisation is the challenge that we all have to reach out to that 54% of the population who still feel that in some way they wish to be part of the Catholic community, but for whom the Catholic community has become somehow become for them marginal to the way they live and to their world as they understand it.


In the face of the challenges of the day, in the face of a culture where the place of faith can easily be marginalised, we have to have the courage to stand up and present and live our faith as something beautiful that is perennially new.  It is the news that Jesus died and rose again for us, so that we might have life; that we can know and encounter that Jesus, because he reaches out to us. In a personal encounter with Jesus Christ we begin to understand the meaning of our own lives.  In the encounter with the God of love we learn what love, the new commandment of which our Gospel spoke, truly is. 


To preach Jesus we must know Jesus.  New Evangelisation is not about new gimmicks or programmes or strategies.  Before we can evangelise we must allow ourselves to be evangelised through the Spirit.


We have to ponder, under the guidance of the Spirit, what salvation means, why it is that Jesus died to save us.  The temptation of the men and women of our era is to think that salvation is like progress, simply our own work, the work of human progress, the work of human cooperation. But the facts of history show us that it is not as simple as that.


 Certainly no one should think that there is no need or no obligation to place human talents and capacity at the service of the good.  But we would also be very naive to think that human progress has always been linear and always moving in the right direction.  Human history at all times is marked by a series of contradictions and ambiguities.  We have witnessed extraordinary human progress in our life time, but we have not eliminated hunger or war or discrimination or greed.   


In Ireland in recent decades an era of poverty and hardship was transformed into years of prosperity, but at the same time we were all contaminated by a sort of ideology of progress and prosperity.  It took time to see that that vision of progress was very mixed, with wonderful idealism and creativity and so many success stories, but how much did we notice how that vision of progress was being subtly polluted and undermined by waters that were indeed very murky and where greed and corruption dominated and not a few became driven by a sense that wealth had become for them a sort of divine right which could be pursued and achieved at the expense of anything or anyone else.


New Evangelisation is a call to return to what is essential in our faith.  In our encounter with Jesus Christ we are called back to what are the true and fundamental values of life and of how we should live as God’s family.  


The Church – as the community of believers – has also to be evangelised as indeed has anyone called to leadership in the Church.  Our lives are also marked by contradictions and worldliness and indeed even by failures in the exercise of their calling as Shepherds or leaders.   We need evangelisation.


What is New Evangelisation?  There is, of course, a sense in which New Evangelisation is not new.  There have been other moments of New Evangelisation in the history of the Church.  Think of the extraordinary renewal of the Irish Church immediately after Catholic Emancipation.  Think of the renewal after the Second Vatican Council.  Today we remember the renewal at the time of Saint Laurence O’Toole.  He was a man called from the solitude of monastic life to renew the faith of the people of this diocese at a difficult an unsettling political climate.  Laurence was tireless in his efforts to bring peace and to address the challenges of poverty.  He was a modern bishop.  This man who loved solitude travelled and was at home and was known and respected across Europe.  He travelled to Rome for the Lateran Council.  He tirelessly journeyed around Europe in search of dialogue with the Norman rulers in his attempts to bring peace to a troubled and violent Ireland and to the divisions of the emerging city of Dublin.


But Laurence’s impact in the political and social life of his time was due not just to his political acumen.  He was recognised and respected above all for his holiness.  His canonization was advanced by the people of the small town of Eu in Normandy where he died after being there for just a few days, so struck were they by this man of faith.  His faith was the driving force of his mission in life, even in the political and social life of his times.


In a remarkable talk by the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury at the recent Synod of Bishops, he spoke about the place of holiness and contemplation in the New Evangelisation and in the contribution of the Church to society.   He talked about how our faith contributes to our living more humanly.  By “living more humanly”, he said he meant: “living with less frantic acquisitiveness, living with space for stillness, living in the expectation of learning, and most of all, living with an awareness that there is a solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment”  And he concluded: “Unless our evangelisation can open the door to all this, it will run the risk of trying to sustain faith on the basis of an un-transformed set of human habits – with the all too familiar result that the Church comes to look unhappily like so many purely human institutions, anxious, busy, competitive and controlling”.


The Year of Faith is not just about plans and strategies and programmes.  It is about the manner in which we authentically live our faith as a gift received from the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ and who calls us to witness in a world which is doubting and uncertain, but also a world which thirsts for meaning and hope.  New Evangelisation is about witnessing in the way we live to what Jesus means in our lives.  Witnessing meaning is fundamental to the New Evangelisation, as we are called to witness the fact that there is a “solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment”.   ENDS