Seventh Sunday of the Year 2020
MASS AND DEDICATION OF NEW PARISH CENTRE
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Patrick’s Church, Wicklow, 23rd February 2020
“I will never forget the impression I had when I came here to Saint Patrick’s Church some years ago on the day after it had been damaged by fire. It was just before Christmas and I expected to meet an atmosphere of gloom and sadness.
What did I discover? I discovered a community with their sleeves up, scrubbing every damaged corner of the building, determined that their Church would be open again in some way for Christmas and that the final restoration would be completed rapidly. It quickly became obvious to me that this Church of Saint Patrick means so much to the people of Wicklow.
The Church had been opened by my predecessor Archbishop Daniel Murray – a Wicklow man – in 1844, when he was himself at that time 76 years of age. Wicklow was then a small town. Today the population of the Municipal area is well over 20,000. What is more, while 13% of the population is over 65 years old, 33% is under 25. Wicklow has a young and growing population. Alongside being a proud part of the Garden of Ireland, Wicklow town area is commuter land, with its own problems of time spent each day travelling and the consequent changed family relations.
In the mid-19th century, poverty was rampant and the prospect of devastating famine, which was to strike one year later, was already widespread in Ireland. Yet there was a spirit of renewal within the Irish Church just fifteen years after Catholic Emancipation and Catholic Religious practice was beginning to grow again.
The people of Wicklow Town at that moment were clearly people of great faith and they wanted their faith to be seen, building this Church so visible above the town and the bay, as if to have it watch over and protect their community.
The Church building reflected then and still does today a sense not just of individual faith, but of the fact that faith can influence society: the Church built on the hill was a symbol of hope and of those values which would work towards new beginnings and a different future for all.
Times have changed and the challenge of building a faith-inspired community requires new beginnings once again. The opening of the new Parish Centre marks another stage of the presence of the community of faith here in Wicklow. I express my deepest gratitude to all who worked in the design, development and building of the centre.
The challenge for the Church in every new generation is to ensure that the Church does not become just a much-loved relic of the past, a type of museum to another time, loved and respected by all, but marginal to their lives.
The life of the Church must never become entrapped in the past. It must reach out to new generations, to a new culture. It must be in touch with the new anguishes and challenges of people. It must reach out to those who are marginalized and abused. Indeed, the Church must be in the forefront of asking questions and identifying who are the forgotten marginalized in our time and not find itself, as it had in the past, trying to justify not having known about abuse. I am concerned, for example, about problems of mental health and the failure to address adequately the needs of families with autistic children.
The Church must also encourage the creativity that marks our world and especially our young people. Faith must be alive and dynamic and seek ways to present the message of Jesus in a language that reaches out to new generations. I now that the Parish of Wicklow has become a place where lay men and women are bring formed to become active participants in the faith life of the future and the new Parish Centre will be a great boost in that context.
In the future, the Church will depend on lay leadership. This parish is already addressing the formation of lay leaders and I appeal to lay men and women, especially young people, to respond to the needs of the future Church. The Church needs you.
The Gospel reading we have just heard is part of a section of Saint Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus points out how his teaching changes the way we think and live. It is the section where the phrase is repeated: “You have heard what was said, but I tell you…”
Faith in Jesus Christ is not static. In today’s Gospel, Jesus take up the phrase of the Book of Leviticus that says that you must love your neighbour. Jesus does not change that law. In the Old Testament, however, neighbour meant those who belonged to your own community. Jesus teaches the same command “Love your neighbour” but he changes it to mean that our love must extend to all, not just to those we like and those who think like us. No we must love all, just as God causes the sun to rise on evil men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike.
The Church community must be one that reaches out to all and makes all feel welcome and appreciated. The Church must learn what being inclusive means. When we speak about the Church being more inclusive, this is not something that is due to the contemporary culture that prizes inclusivity. Inclusivity belongs to the very essence of the teaching of Jesus Christ.
God’s loving-kindness and goodness has been witnessed to over generations in this Church building and in the community that has grown up around it. This Church stands strikingly on a hill above the town, but it was never a Church cut off from the lives and the cares of people. The parish community must keep that tradition alive and realise it in a changing world. If the Church ever allows itself to slip into lethargy, then we are no longer talking about authentic faith and Church.
What will this Church mean to the next generation, to the young people of this parish, and how will it witness to the meaning of faith in the society of the tomorrow?
The parish must be alongside and welcoming to young people as they face their own demanding future. We need to work with young people and lead them to see how their own idealism can be enhanced by the idealism of the Gospel and can be a real encouragement for their lives. We must find ways to ensure that the young people of the parish will keep alive the pride that this community has in their Church, as I saw on that evening of the fire.
Faith is not conformity; it is challenge. When we talk about new beginnings, we must remember first of all that Jesus Christ came to bring radical newness. He entrusted his followers over the centuries with the task not just of passing on the faith, but also of keeping that faith alive in different generations and in a changing world.
Faith is demanding. Faith does not always leave us comfortable. Faith in Jesus Christ is not simply some form of devotion that leaves us comfortable but isolated from reality. Jesus is the one who opens our hearts to be shaken up by the challenge and transformative power of the Father.
I congratulate once again all those who work at the service of the parish and in the community. God has blessed the parish with great priests, Father Donal Roche and Father Pat O’Rourke. Perhaps I should have said God and the Archbishop has blessed the parish with great priests. Your priests tell me that they are blessed with willing co-workers. May the Lord continue to bless this parish and this town of Wicklow and all its people. ENDS