FEAST OF SAINT KEVIN 2017
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Pro Cathedral, 3rd June 2017
We celebrate the Feast of Saint Kevin who, along with Saint Laurence O’Toole, is one of the two Principal Patrons of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It is interesting to note that both of these Saints are linked with the historic Monastery of Glendalough. Both were Abbots of Glendalough, Saint Kevin remaining in that position until his death, while Laurence O’Toole became Archbishop of Dublin at a crucial time in the history of Ireland and in the history of the Irish Church.
The two readings that we have heard, address the question of pastoral leadership. The first reading reminds all those who exercise pastoral leadership in the Church that they are Christ’s “servants” and “stewards” entrusted with the “mysteries of God” and that each one who exercises pastoral leadership has, through the way they live, to be found worthy of Christ’s trust.
The Gospel reading is the well-known Gospel of the Good Shepherd who gives himself entirely for the life of those entrusted to his care.
Today we are at a crucial moment in the history of the Church in Ireland. The Church faces challenges of change: the numbers of those who actively take part in Church life has diminished. The number of priests and vocations to the priesthood has fallen. Vocations to religious life are less numerous and right across the board it looks as if the appeal of the Church is something which attracts a generation of the past while young people – despite their idealism and generosity and goodness – feel alienated within and indeed alienated by the Church.
What is the place of the Church in a changing Ireland? Some would say that the Irish Church has lost its sense of direction, and seems content to watch a downward trajectory not really knowing how to stop it or change it.
On another front, there are those who would actively wish to see the Church remove itself or be removed from any organised presence in Irish society and that while we should be prepared to recognise the good that was done in the past by some individuals, they would wish to see the Church as institution retreat into irrelevance.
Among those actively involved in the life of the Church many would say that they are attracted and indeed find a deep need of spirituality but have little interest in or understanding of an institutional Church. Faith and spirituality are purely personal matters.
Is there something that Church leaders of today can learn from the historic roots of this diocese in Saints Kevin and Laurence O’Toole and their bonds with Glendalough? What does that link with our origins say especially to me as bishop and to priests and lay leaders in the Church?
I associate three special bonds between Saints Kevin and Laurence O’Toole and our time. Both had a prevailing sense of poverty, a sense of prayer, and a sense of community.
Saint Kevin was renowned for his poverty and not just in the extreme austerity of his own personal life-style. Kevin’s poverty was not just the poverty of physical austerity. It was much more a deep response and dedication to the Lord and detachment from the non-essentials of life. This is well summed up in the prayer of this morning’s Mass. Saint Kevin’s poverty is about a heart “turned away from all that would betray us”, a heart which profoundly recognises “that Christ alone is our goal and our reward”.
Poverty if not blind renunciation. It is about trying to live in a way that sees what is really relevant and important in life. For a leader in the Church, attachment to the non-essential betrays both ministry and our true humanity.
One key to understanding Saint Kevin’s sense of poverty comes from his sense of prayer. Prayer places our hearts open before the Lord, recognising that he is Lord. Prayer helps us to live in way that leads us closer to God. Prayer enables those who exercise leadership in the Church to understand that they can only do so when they realise that they are “servants” and “stewards” of the “mysteries of God”.
The servant and steward knows that the one who exercises leadership in the Church is not a celebrity who seeks the personal limelight. The effectiveness of ministry and leadership springs not from business methods or showmanship or celebrity but through the manner in which the life of the minister is seen to be worthy of the trust of the Lord and leads others towards the Lord.
The third dimension of the holiness of both Kevin and Laurence is that they were formed, not in a culture of individualism, but in the shared prayer and shared life and shared ministry of Glendalough. Ministry in the Church is always a ministry in communion. The priest is not a free-lance general practitioner, but one who belongs to a Presbyterate and exercises a ministry in communion.
The fact that many who share some sense of the mystery of Christ find that the Church as institution alienates them says two things. Firstly, we have to recognise with brutal and candid honestly the many ways in which the history of our Church as institution has been alienating: alienating for people who have encountered it negatively and alienated from the message and the image of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, it means that we have to find new models of community and replace the sociological image of “institution” with the religious concept of “communion”.
The Church in all of its dimensions must appear as the communion of those who are formed by and represent the merciful Jesus and Jesus the servant who revealed his own divinity through giving himself out of love for us. The way in which the Church in Ireland reveals that Jesus is the key to being relevant in today’s world.
Let us look at one final dimension of ministry that emerges from our readings. All ministry must be missionary. Jesus reminds us in our Gospel reading: “there are other sheep I have, that are not of this fold”.
A missionary Church is a Church that reaches out. It must reach out not in a domineering or condemnatory manner. It must reach out in a way that touches the heart and the humanity of each one. It must reach out in a way that respects others, accepts them, welcomes them in their dignity, and guides them.
The Church must be a community that reveals Jesus as the one who leads us away from what betrays hearts. It will do this through the way believers show – through the way we live and care – that we truly believe that Jesus Christ alone offers true meaning and hope.