Homily at Mass for Accord

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Second Sunday of Advent 2013


 Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

All Hallows College, Dublin, 8th December 2013

“Christmas is almost upon us. Indeed for weeks now we are being bombarded by the commercial preparations for Christmas.  Our newspapers come with colourful brochures about food and about gifts and about decorations which we are told are guaranteed to create the true Christmas atmosphere. 

 Whatever happened to Advent?  Perhaps in Ireland we did not have a strong tradition of popular celebration of Advent.  The Advent wreath which is today very popular is an imported tradition, but one which can help us to understand the season of Advent and to find a different way to prepare for Christmas.

 Advent is about hope and expectation.  It is about preparing for Christmas through the way we live.  Week after week, candle after candle, we move forward reviewing our lives and renewing of our lives in the expectation of the coming of Jesus.

 Today that special figure of the Advent liturgy appears in our Gospel reading:  John the Baptist.  John the Baptist is a remarkable figure.  He is the first prophet to appear among the Jewish people for centuries.  His preaching and his baptism create astonishing interest right throughout society. Even secular historians mention John the Baptist’s mission and the reaction his preaching created in society.  A climate of expectation emerges. 

 John’s message strikes a chord and literarily thousands of people go out to be baptised by him.  There was something in his life-style and his integrity and uncompromising honesty which became hard, even for his enemies, to challenge.

 His message was stark and uncompromising. It was a message of repentance.  He had no fear of challenging those who somehow or other felt that they belonged to a political or religious establishment, happily living ensconced in their own self-created security, feeling that they had no need to change.   Through his life-style John points the way for us to discover a new direction for authentic living.

 Let us look more closely at how the Gospel presents John.  Firstly he appears in the desert.  The wilderness in which he appeared was particularly barren; it had nothing of the sophisticated and comfortable amenities of life.  He clothes himself in the simplest of elements which were at hand, far away from the false security that we look for in fashion and designer labels.  His food was spartan and absolutely natural.  There was nothing sophisticated or incoherent or sham about his life-style.

 Jesus, when he comes, turns our ideas of power and might and security totally head-over-heals.  Jesus appears as a helpless child.  He appears in poverty and precariousness, away from any of the symbols of outward wealth and power.  This is the contradiction that we find in our way of preparing for Christmas:  how can we really prepare for the coming of Jesus through a consumerism which is quite the opposite to the way of life shown by both John and Jesus?

 I do not want to be a spoilsport.  Christmas is celebrated in so many ways.  It is a great feast.  It is a family celebration.  It is a celebration of joy.  It is a moment when people return home to be together and to refind the values of being with and for each other.  After all the preparations, there comes that moment when we step back from the competiveness and the all consuming rat-race of daily life and recognise the simplicity of childhood.  Christmas is so special that being alone at Christmas is one of the saddest of all experiences.    There is something about the message of Christmas which consumerism can never smother.  Christmas indeed has the ability to break through that commercialisation and to recall us to the better values of life.

 We prepare for Christmas, then, by trying to re-establish in our own lives and in our hearts the desire to create a world of truth, harmony and love, though the integrity of our lives.

 In Saint Matthews Gospel – the one that we have just heard – then introduces a group of Pharisees and Sadducees who take exception to John’s teaching and his criticism of them.  “We have Abraham for our Father” they say.  Right throughout history there is the perennial temptation for believers somehow to feel that that their understanding of faith is complete and correct.  They feel that they are gifted with a special divine favouritism and that they have no need to change.  All of us fall into that temptation.  We feel that we know what the Church should be like; we think that we know what Christ is like.  Advent challenges us not just to reject the emptiness of consumerism; the challenge is much more profound. 

The challenge for the Church is not just to adapt to modern culture, much less to cling to a closed culture of the past, but to be out in society challenging what is empty and false and witnessing coherently to the values that endure.

I find it interesting that many of the comments we have heard at the passing of Nelson Mandela noted that his greatest gift was his integrity, that he really lived the values he spoke about. 

 Your work in Accord is about integrity in life.  It is about preparing, helping and sustaining men and women within their marriage relationships to find personal authenticity.  Many of the challenges that individual marriages face come from the pressures of that lead us to search for fulfilment in what is really contingent and short-lived and cannot provide a real source of authenticity.

We are all a little like those Pharisees and Sadducees.  So often we feel that we have the answers, that we have “Abraham as our Father”, that we possess the truth or indeed that truth begins and ends in our needs and our ambitions.  When that happens then the very possibility of love becomes fraught and love quickly degenerates into a form of narcissism.  True love requires detachment from self and from a craving for possessions.  It requires and the ability to give and to share.

  By its very nature your work requires discretion and is thus not fully known. I thank you very much for the work you do right throughout the year, in education, in marriage preparation, in counselling and in administration. 

I wish you a blessed Christmas and that in entering into the essentials of the Christmas message you may find authenticity and fulfilment in your own lives and generosity in your service.  The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the God who loves us and challenges us to live as he did and find fulfilment in sharing and caring. ENDS