Homily at Mass with Carmelite Provincials

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Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin,   Emmaus Centre, 22nd October 2013

“See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit”.  These words reflect a constant theme that we find in all the Gospels. We must be ready.  We must live in constant alert.

The very early Christian community took this to mean that the hour of judgement and the return of Jesus was at hand and would most likely come in their own lifetime.  If we look a little more closely at the passage of Saint Luke’s Gospel which we have just heard, we can see some subtle difference in Luke’s presentation. Luke does not mention the future.  Rather he transforms the understanding of being alert from that of a forecast of future distress into a description of an attitude to be adopted in the present.  

Luke’s message is that it does not matter whether the judgement will come in his listeners’ own lifetime or whether it expands into an unknown future: there is still only one attitude to be adopted by the believer at any time and that is the attitude of being alert.

Over history, the situation has repeated itself;  in which those who had to face the challenges of a changing culture, felt that their response was in fact one of being alert and of discernment, only to find at a later moment that they had in many ways actually missed the point, or had got it only partially right.  I think of the certainties of the immediate pre-Conciliar Church, which were not the certainties of a few leaders, but of mainstream Catholicism.  Some of these certainties became identified as being distinguishing characteristics of what being a Catholic meant.  However, they often missed the point.

We never live a totally disincarnated life; we live within a particular world and within a particular culture.  We breathe in the air that is around us.  We are all children of out time.   We often fail to grasp, as we go through history, just how we are affected by the cultural environment in which we live and how that environment can lead us to loose something of the sharpness and the originality of the Gospel message.

You can see this, for example, in the manner in which the Church responded in history the challenges of poverty and social care.  At moments when the secular flavour of the month was institutional care, the Church built institutions which were bigger and more institutionalised than even the Victorians were capable of, and it now falls to your generation of superiors to sell some of these buildings or at least to find an alternative use for them.

The Victorianism is not just an isolated example.  It is not confined to buildings.  Even the term “best practice”, which we like to use, is something that inevitably varies with the times as reflection and analysis changes.  We live in a particular culture and we have to challenge that culture.  This does not mean, however, that faith tells us that we should take refuge in a sort of comfortable and safe “churchy” culture.  Faith requires courage and farsightedness.  Faith involves taking risks and not opting always for the safe option.   “Being alert” means always being sensitive to dis-intricate what in a particular cultural moment is alien to the Gospel message and indeed damaging for the human community.  That is not always easy.

Coming together as you do in these days is an exercise into what “being alert” means for your Congregation, especially on a European level.  The Church in all European countries is facing many of the same challenges.  We live in a new context marked by rapid change.   “Being alert” means that we have to ask ourselves constantly how far we understand the changed situation and how easily it can occur that we – almost unknown to ourselves – propose solutions to the challenges of the future while still being trapped in the culture of yesterday.   “Being alert” involves discernment and ruthless honesty.

Just as some of the certainties of pre-Vatican II Catholic culture were found to be failings, we have also to take a sharp look at the manner in which the culture of the Church has evolved after Vatican II, which also took place within its own cultural situation.  Perhaps the easy acceptance by most Catholics of the changes emerging after Vatican II was due to the fact that they seemed to respond to the changed cultural world of optimism and cooperation and scientific success and reconciliation among peoples that was emerging after the terrible wars of the first half of the twentieth century.

There is a sense in which the detachment of men and women religious should give them a particular sensitivity in discerning what is essential in the Christian life and recognising and putting aside what is contingent. 

I am very grateful to the discalced Carmelites for what the do here in this diocese of Dublin.  I think of the Parish in Berkely Road.  But I think above all of the wider Carmelite charism which has been present here in Dublin for centuries and which continues to enrich the entire believing community.

Clarendon Street Church has a special place in the heart of almost every Dubliner.  It has for generations been a part of Dublin Catholic life.  It has adapted to changing times and must continue to adapt to that special pastoral challenge of being a city centre Church.  In the past a city centre Church could well have become a sort of sacramental supermarket or service-station.  Today it is called to be something more.  Urban people are mobile.  They are on the move.  They need places of silence and prayer; they need places where, perhaps with a certain degree of anonymity, they can seek reconciliation; they need opportunities for faith formation and especially for prayer, contemplation and holiness. A Church without a vigorous and robust presence of the charisms of religious life would be a poorer Church.  Religious can teach a doctrine, but most effectively they teach through their lives and their ability to share an interiorised spirituality with others.

“Being alert” is not just a question then of being dressed for action. It is a question of how we dress.   It is also about discerning the action that we need to take and ensuring that we are rightly clothed for that action.   

There is a crisis of faith in modern European culture; there is no point in trying to ignore it.  But there is no way either in which that crisis will be addressed by simply going back to the familiar.  The challenge is much more radical.  It involves learning individually and institutionally to shed anything that is not really pointing in the right direction regarding evangelization and that may mean shedding things to which we may have attachment.  It also involves remembering that we will only capture the hearts and minds of the new generations if our witness to Jesus Christ is spoken in the language of encouragement and optimism, of courage and of integrity.   

I wish the blessings of the Lord on your work in these days as you discern about being alert in today’s society and once again I give thanks to God for the service and witness of the Carmelites in this diocese and in this country.