Third Sunday of Advent 2016
MASS FOR THE WORKERS OF ACCORD DUBLIN
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Holy Cross Pastoral Centre, Dublin, 9th December 2016
“The Gospel of this afternoon’s Mass recalls once again that great figure John the Baptist. John’s task was to announce the coming of Jesus. He was called to reawaken a sense of expectation among a people that had grown tired and distant from God. He was called to bring renewal to institutional expressions of religion which, at the time, had often become fossilised into mere formulae or external ritual.
John the Baptist is indeed a figure who can well inspire the Church today in its efforts to reawaken a renewed sense of faith in a Church which is often tempted by tiredness and routine.
We celebrate our annual Mass at a moment of change in Accord Dublin. You have moved to a new headquarters. The review of the juridical status of Accord is underway and Accord Dublin is beginning a new period in its proud history in this diocese, focussing in a changed way on how we teach, support and accompany the realities of marriage and the family in today’s changing society.
As a young bishop, Pope John Paul II wrote a play called “The Jewellers Shop”. It was a simple play in which the principal character was a jeweller who looked out as young couples would stop by his shop window examining the wedding rings on display.
As he watched them, he began imagining who these different couples, with whom he had never spoken, actually were. He began to see that each was different and that for each of them their love for each other, their hopes for a future together were unique.
Most young couples today do not rush into marriage. For each, marriage and the future family they hope to form begin as a dream. They know that they face the most significant choice they will ever make in their lives. They know that their marriage relationship will constitute the most significant element as regards their future long-term happiness.
Each marriage begins as a dream: but as you know better than I do, marriage is not about constantly living in dreamland. People pass from emotional infatuation into the tough realities of consolidating a relationship in the ups and downs of complicated lives. There will be wonderful flashes in which the dream reappears. There will be moments in which the dream element vanishes as the relationship hits the stark realities of two people each, with their own failings and selfishness.
Marriages begin with a dream. Marriages hit difficult times. Marriages fail. Marriages begin anew. Your work in Accord Dublin touches each of these aspects. In schools you try to get across to adolescents the meaning of love and of sexuality. Your marriage preparation courses bring a touch of reality into the dreams. Couples go away from those courses, as you know well, grateful for an experience even if they had arrived on the first day not quite so enthusiastic. In counselling you are there to accompany couples as they try to find their way through difficulties and challenges.
Like the Jeweller in Pope John Paul’s play, you realise that each couple is different, that no couple is perfect, that there are many who face real challenges as they try to hold on to what remains of an initial dream which seems destined to be on the way to failure.
Pope Francis has given the Church that remarkable document his document Amoris Laetitia which is the fruit of the reflections of the world’s Bishops at two Synods as well as the contribution of married couples and experts from every corner of the world. Pope Francis presents a wonderful kaleidoscope of the teaching of Jesus and the scriptures on the beauty and the joy of marital love. He stresses the role of the Church to learn to teach that message in a language which will be understandable to the men and women of today. He stresses the role of the Church in accompanying men and women on the journey of married and family life, even when the initial dreams begin to fade or indeed fail.
No marriage is lived just in clear and abstract black and white realities. The Church has to understand the grey areas of success and failures, of joys and of disappointments. Repeating doctrinal formulations alone is not the way to accompany people on a difficult journey. Jesus’ method was that of accompanying. His method was to show that mercy is more effective than condemnation in changing people’s lives.
There are some in the Church who are unsettled by the ability of the Pope to place himself in the midst of the uncertainties of people lives. Some, even senior Church figures, seem to feel that the affirmation of certainties in an abstract and undoubting way is the only way.
There is no ideal family in today’s world. Indeed the really great families which we all know would be the very first to admit that their marriage and family life were far from ideal. That does not mean that we do not propose an ideal for all to aim at, not just before their marriage but every day in the grey areas of trying to live faithfulness in the fullest sense.
Accompanying is of course not saying that anything goes. It is being alongside those who are troubled pointing towards – and indeed representing – Jesus who gently leads us beyond the often paralysing doubts that beset us, gently leads us beyond our own limitations and the imperfections of our love.
John the Baptist indicates who Jesus is: “He is the one”. As we prepare for Christmas each of us should be asking ourselves just what Jesus represents for us in our lives and where we need to convert and turn the direction of our lives towards him, who will come in all humility at Christmas. Faith is not about empty formulae or external ritual. It is about authentically entering into the very life of Jesus Christ himself and witnessing to that life in our daily lives.
As we heard in the readings, the prophet Isaiah wrote “Do not be afraid, look your God is coming”; and Saint James wrote: “Do not loose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon”. We must be believers who come to know Jesus ever more deeply and who go out into daily life witnessing to what Jesus means to us, even among the uncertainties of our world.