Homily at Lusk Retreat

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MASS AT THE END OF THE YEAR OF FAITH PARISH RETREAT  Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Saint MacCullin’s Church, Lusk, 22nd March 2013

“I suppose that none of you will be surprised to learn that the question I have been most often asked in the past few days is:  what do you think of the New Pope?  Certainly – unlike a few of my friends – I made no money from Paddy Power on the election of Cardinal Bergoglio.  I was surprised when the Senior Cardinal Deacon pronounced the name of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  Knowing the Senior Cardinal Deacon personally quite well, I could see more than the glint of a smile on his face when he made the announcement knowing that he was bringing surprising news to those gathered in Saint Peter’s Square and around the world.

 The event of the Conclave and the election of the new Pope was an event which had great media echo. Nearly four times more journalists came to Rome this year than came for the election of Pope John Paul II.   RTE’s statistics showed the event had one of the highest news audience for years.   When Pope Francis spoke with the almost six thousand journalists who were in Rome for the Conclave he said that he would give his blessing in silence because of the fact that a large percentage of those journalists present were not Christian and many were non-believers.

 Why such interest in the new Pope and in the Church from people of such a variety of backgrounds?  Obviously, for some, the interest did not go far beyond the colour of the smoke and the folklore.  And to give some credit to the Vatican officials, on this occasion after centuries of confused message they did get their smoke signals right.  The worldwide interest, however, went much deeper and Pope Francis seems to have managed to interpret that something well. 

 I said that I was surprised to learn of the election of Cardinal Bergoglio, a man of 76 years of age and one who certainly was not looking for the position.  But my initial puzzlement was immediately changed when I heard the name he was to choose:  Francis.  In that name was a mission. 

 Saint Francis of Assisi was one who set out to change the realities of his day and especially the realities of the Church of his day.  He heard the call of Jesus in a dream:  “Rebuild my Church which has fallen into ruins”.  Initially he felt that the message was about poor condition of the Church building where we was at that precise moment, but soon he realised that the call of renewal and rebuilding was a much wider one, just as what had fallen into ruins was not just a building.  Francis set out then to renew the Church and he set about his task not with the conventional wisdom of lengthy lectures or books or strategies but with a witness of simplicity of life, humility and poverty.   Could that be a realistic approach?

 To many of his time, Francis was just a naïve idealist who should be left alone to cause as little harm as possible, while the powerful and the established could get on with their way of life and their use and misuse of power.

 But it would be very misleading to think that Francis’s was the sort of simplicity which could be woven by a spin doctor or that it was the simplicity of one who is weak.  The simplicity of Saint Francis – which Pope Francis wishes to adopt – reflects something much deeper which makes it simplicity with strength   Saint Francis showed that a combination of idealism and integrity can bring change.  He showed that words and strategies can be elegantly formulated and inspiring, but they may not speak to hearts and that only a true change of heart can bring about renewal in the Church.  

 We should never underestimate the power of the naïve idealist.  Those who have vested interest and personal ambitions and ideas about themselves may not initially realise it, but they have every reason to fear the idealist.  Anyone who has followed closely the events of these early days of the ministry of Pope Francis will have been struck by the humility and simplicity of the man and his constant stress on poverty: personal poverty, love for the poor and a Church characterized by poverty.   But anyone who has followed the events of these days will also have been impressed by the new Pope’s determination that no-one is going to put him into their mould.    We pray this evening that the example of Pope Francis’s humility and simplicity may truly lead to a new beginning of renewal in the life of the Church.

Pope Francis in his homily on the Feast of Saint Joseph reminded us that just as Saint Joseph was the protector of Jesus in his early years, the vocation of the Christian today is that of being a “protector”.  And he illustrated what that means in very simple terms:

“It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. We must be protectors of God’s gifts”

Pope Francis is reminding us that his simplicity will not create the renewal that the Church and humanity need just on its own.   We must all learn that sense of simplicity, of responsibility to protect each other.  The failings in the world and in the Church come when we fail, and where hatred and envy and pride and sheer lack of interest in the good of others begins to dominate.  My prayer is that your Parish mission will have been an occasion in which you as individuals and as a parish which has have helped you to renew your sense of true community in which we all learn to care and to encourage and to support one another especially to care for those – as Pope Francis reminded us – “who are often the last we think about”.  The credibility of the Church will be determined by how we reflect in our lives and in our community what the love of God means.

The Gospel reading we have heard is about the notion of credibility.  It is about why one believes and in what one believes.  Jesus is in an intense discussion with Jewish leaders who decide that he is a blasphemer and that he should be stoned to death. 

They make their judgement about Jesus in terms of their own narrow understanding of the law.   They feel that they have in some way the right to interpret God’s law to fit in with the norms of their own little world.   They do not feel it necessary to look even superficially at the work of Jesus, at his way of life and what is revealed in it.  They are so caught up in the certainties of their own narrow worldview that they confidently call blasphemy the very one who reveals who God is: Jesus Christ.

The temptation for us to create a God of our own and to judge others according to our definition of God is a temptation which recurs with every generation.  We feel that we know what God should be like.   We create a God who suits our ideas and who can provide a space in which we can feel good and comfortable or even a God who can be made cohabit with our own with our own sinfulness.

The message of Jesus is a message of love and a message about what is true in our lives.  It is not an easy message or one that leaves us comfortable in our own little world.    If we try to create a God of our making then we end up end up with the wrong answers about God.  We end up alone where we started in life. We end up like those who wanted to stone Jesus and arrest him:  they think they know Jesus and can capture him but “he eludes them”.   

Pope Francis has given us some very significant signs and gestures about how he understands his role as Bishop of Rome and successor of Saint Peter.  He does not want us, however, just to look at these gestures on television and feel good about them and fell good that we have a new Pope like him.   There is not much good in having a new Pope if we do not make our own what he is saying and teaching and doing.  There is not much good in having a new Pope if we do not change ourselves and reflect more effectively in our lives the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ

The election of Pope Francis has shown us just how much interest there is all over the world in the person and the message of Jesus Christ.  Here in Ireland, while recognising the failures of the Church, we have to regain our confidence in the message and teaching of Jesus and win especially our young people for that message through the credibility of our own lives.   That is the challenge which Pope Francis sets for us in the Year of Faith.” ENDS