Feast of St. Laurence O’ Toole

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin


Pro Cathedral, 14th November 2016

Those years in the middle of the eleven hundreds when Laurence O’Toole lived were turbulent times. It was a period of great political upheaval among the Irish princes which concluded with Norman rule and new difficulties for Laurence’s people.  On numerous occasions he attempted to intervene on behalf of his people but his efforts were rejected and he was even held prisoner by Henry II, who just years beforehand had had the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Thomas a Becket murdered.

Those years were difficult years politically, but also socially.  Dublin was prosperous city; it was also a city marked by appalling poverty. Laurence reached out to care for the poor and the neglected.  He set up centres for the children who had been abandoned by their parents or who were orphaned in the city.  At the same time, the city was marked by high levels of violence and corruption.  Sadly Dublin had even become a centre of trafficking in slaves.  Dublin needs in every generation to look at the social challenges that arise and especially those questions which can recur and even worsen in every generation.  Today, we must address the violence on our streets, the dramatic crisis of homelessness, and a social divide which keeps some permanently in precariousness.

Those were difficult years politically and socially, but also religiously.  Morale and discipline among the clergy had diminished.  The new Archbishop was called at only thirty two years of age from the seclusion of the Monastery of Glendalough to guide a troubled Church.  He began his renewal of the Church by calling for renewal in the spiritual formation of the priests and people of the Diocese.  He rebuilt Christ Church Cathedral making it even then a Cathedral worthy of any major European city but more importantly he invited Augustinian monks to take charge of the Cathedral Chapter in order to make it a powerful centre of prayer and renewal.

Laurence travelled across a war-torn Europe to attend the Third Lateran Council in Rome in 1179. He tried to negotiate a peace between the different Irish political groupings. Henry II refused to meet him as he was angry with Laurence for having damaged his reputation with the Pope and because of Laurence’s popularity with the Irish people. Prevented from returning to Ireland, Laurence went to the Augustinian Monastery of St. Victor at Eu in Normandy and died there on 14th November, 1180.   Only forty-five years after his death he was canonised by Pope Honorius III at the instigation of the people of Eu who were so struck by his piety in the final few days of his life.

Laurence O’Toole had a great influence on the political situation of his time.  He was not however a political figure.  He was a Churchman and a man of God. It was his integrity as a man of God rather than any political agenda which permitted him to have influence in society.   He was a true spiritual leader who tried to witness to the care of Christ for his people and for the society in which they lived.

Men and women who live their faith with integrity can bring an added quality to their everyday work.  Disenchantment with religious faith is not nearly as widespread as some who forecast the end of religion might prophecy.  Many indeed look to the Church to offer its contribution to the challenge of how we root our values in today’s society. The Churches urgently need to find new language for such engagement and the Churches must build bridges of new and perhaps surprising partnerships.  The message of Jesus is ever new.  If we do not realise that, then we run the risk of smothering the newness of the Gospel with our own small mindedness and fear.   The Gospel does not belong just within our Church walls; the social Gospel does not belong in our libraries and archives or on the letter pages of our media.

Christian values will flourish in a secular society only when lived Christianity flourishes.  Where Christianity is not lived with authenticity and integrity it will end up killing its own values.

I am very happy that we have with us today a group of priests who are celebrating major anniversaries of their ordination.  They represent what is best among Dublin priests, men who have given – and continued to give – their lives with great dedication to the service of the Gospel and to the care of those entrusted to their ministry.  On this the Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole, principal patron of the diocese, we join with them – and their classmates who cannot be with us – in celebrating.  We also learn from their lives how important for renewal of the Church is that fundamental renewal in faith and in prayer and in the celebration of the Eucharist as a central point of their lives, after the example of Saint Laurence O’Toole.

We need new priests to keep that tradition alive.  We need candidates who are prepared to dedicate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel, to witnessing to the love and compassion of Jesus and who can pray, teach prayer and witness to the meaning of prayer in a world where what is not quantifiable does not seem important.

Laurence O’Toole was a true shepherd and pastor of his Church.  But when we talk about shepherds and pastors we always have to remember that there is only one Good Shepherd and that is Jesus himself.  And that Good Shepherd is one who leads by giving himself, even laying down his life for his sheep.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls on us to allow the power of his self-giving love to be our guide in serving others and in rooting out of our hearts all traces of self-centredness and arrogance.   It is when we go out cleansed and renewed and live the Good News in our hearts and in our lives with integrity that the men and women of our time will come to realise just how much the message of Jesus Christ is truly Good News, badly needed Good News even in a secularised society.