Feast of St. Laurence O’ Toole

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

Pro-Cathedral, Thursday, 14th November 2019


“There is a book about my predecessor, Archbishop Edward Byrne, who was Archbishop from 1920 to 1940 called “Edward J Byrne, the Forgotten Archbishop of Dublin”.  He was in fact a remarkable man, having been a Curate here in this Pro-Cathedral Parish from 1902 until he became Bishop.  At that time, part of this parish was one of the worst slums in Europe and he was renowned as a visitor of the homes of the poor.  He was Curate here at the time of 1916 and the War of Independence.  As Archbishop when Civil War threatened he did everything he could to avoid its outbreak.

I mention Archbishop Byrne because next year we will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his appointment.  I mention the book because Saint Laurence O’Toole could also be looked as the “forgotten Irish Saint”.  We all know his name, but perhaps we know little about him.

Laurence O’Toole was a man of prayer having been a monk and Abbot of Glendalough.  Glendalough was a true powerhouse of spirituality in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It was also a place that had a powerful political influence on society.

At the age of only 32, Laurence was unanimously called from his monastery to become Archbishop of Dublin in troubled times.  He was reformer.  He renewed the liturgical life of the diocese.   He was known as a friend of the poor.  The poor could come to his residence where food was always available.  He was an ascetic and he fasted and did penance regularly.  He was a reformer of the clergy and he imposed his reforms.

He was indefatigable in defending he interests of his people and tried to ensure a peace in public life that would benefit all, not only the well-known Irish noble families or for the followers of the Norman king, but above all for the poor.

He attended the Third Lateran Council in Rome in 1179.  Just imagine what travelling to Rome was like in those days.   A year later, he headed out to France to seek a mediation for his people with the Norman King and he died suddenly in the town of Eu in Northern France in 1880.  Although he was in Eu for only a few days, he left such a memory of holiness that the people of that town progressed his canonisation that took place only 45 years after his death.

He was canonised in Rieti near Rome where the Pope was resident in 1225.  In a few years’ time, we will be celebrating the seven-hundredth anniversary.  He was   canonised by Pope Honorius III, the same reformer Pope who granted formal recognition to both the Dominican and Franciscan Orders.   We can well imagine that Pope Honorius saw in Laurence O’Toole another figure of a true reformer of the Church.

Laurence O’Toole was a saint for his time but also a model of what a Church leader should be in difficult times and indeed a model of what the Church of Jesus Christ is called to be in changing and challenging times like our own.

It is a happy coincidence today that we pay our gratitude and respect to Bishop Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Ray Field as they retire from their service as Auxiliary Bishops in Dublin. At the same time, we celebrate the ordination to deaconate of Frank Drescher, who is preparing for priestly ordination.  There is a sense in which our Mass today is a sign of the continuity of the mission of the Church and the way that the message of Jesus shows its relevance from one generation to the next.  Over the years, the Church finds renewed strength and the strength of renewal through the self-giving witness of its faithful ministers.

In our Gospel reading, we see how Jesus stresses in an uncompromising way that leadership in the Church is about service.   It is not about external titles or rank or popular recognition.  Jesus reminds us, “The leader must behave as the youngest”.  The youngest means the one who holds no traditional precedence.  The youngest is also the one who is haunted by the perennial youthfulness of the message of Jesus Christ, a message we must never allow to be trapped in human tradition alone.

The Gospel says that one day Jesus’ faithful followers will sit “on thrones in judgment”, eating and drinking at his table.    When Jesus talks about eating and drinking with him we always have to think back and remember that those who were invited to eat and drink at his table when he was on earth were not the powerful but sinners.  The official invitations to sit at table with Jesus do not come on gold-embossed invitation cards.  The sole valid invitation is a heart ready to repent.

The mission of the Church then and now is to call sinners to repentance through witnessing to the Jesus who serves. A self-serving Church is not the Church of Jesus Christ.   Jesus always spurs us on to go beyond ourselves driven by his love.

This morning we call to service as a Deacon in the Archdiocese of Dublin our friend and brother Frank Drescher.  The mission of deacon is a calling to crystallise in a way of life that essential dimension of the Church, to be like the Christ who serves.

Dear Frank when you receive the book of the Gospels, the sacred rite will remind you of the nature of your ministry as a Deacon:

“Believe what you read,

teach what you believe

and practice what you teach”.

This is a mandate to live a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel.  These words are also a mandate to all of us and for the Church today.

“Believe what you read” is not just an intellectual exercise.  It is not something that is attested to by a diploma or an academic degree.  It is attested to by the manner in which we accept the word and allow it to enter into our lives.

“Teach what you believe”.  Throughout the history of salvation, the Spirit has spoken to God’s people.  Today the Spirit is present helping us discern the language and the culture of the world in which we live. The Spirit enables the Word of God to be translated into human language.

Bringing the message of Jesus Christ to the frontiers of our society means breaking out from ourselves to follow Christ, breaking out from a tired faith based on pure habit and breaking out from being imprisoned in our own dissatisfactions and frustrations and false certainties which impede the creative action of God working in and through us.

Faith in Jesus Christ must open new horizons; it must open us out beyond human horizons.    It involves trusting in God’s love rather than just in the tangible securities of institution.  When faith leads to conformism, it has betrayed the very nature of faith.  Conformism falsely feels that it has attained certainty.

The ministry of the deacon involves an identification with that mission of service that is the essence of the Church.  All of us, and not just deacons, are called to believe what we read, to teach what we believe and practice what we teach.  We look at Saint Laurence O’Toole and the witnesses of the past.  Their greatness comes from the humility of their service.

We pray that through the intercession of Saint Laurence O’Toole our Church in Dublin will be renewed in holiness.  We pray that the Spirit will guide the Church to witnessing how the message of Jesus Christ can renew the culture of the times in which we live.  This occurs when the Church becomes an uncompromised witness of self-effacing generosity and service above all to the poorest.

May Mary, Mother of the Church and the great model to humility, protect us in our calling.  ENDS