MASS RECOGNISING THE CONTRIBUTION OF THOSE INVOLVED IN STRUCTURES AND INITIATIVES OF THE IRISH EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE AND IN THE WORLD MEETING OF FAMILIES
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, 2nd October 2018
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God”? That is the question posed by the disciples at the beginning of our Gospel reading. In the text of Saint Matthew, the evangelist omits the original context that we find in the Gospel of Saint Mark in which this question was asked. In that Gospel we learn that the question arose because the disciples themselves admitted that along the way they had been discussing which among them who was the greatest.
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God”? How does Jesus answer the question? He calls a child to stand in front of his disciples. Jesus takes the question entirely out of the realm of protocol and precedence and rank. He tells them that a condition for anyone to enter into the kingdom is that they change and become like little children. He does not attempt to indicate special rank or privilege but indicates a universal call of all believers to change and change means repentance.
The greatest is the one who repents. It is not just that Jesus removes the question from the realm of protocol and precedence. It is something much deeper. Becoming like a little child means that each of us must have the humility to be ready to take the place of the most insignificant one within the Church community. No one has the right to precedence.
This process of repentance applies also to the Church. The Church must also take on the same role of being ready to witness to what humility and service mean in our world.
There is no place for arrogance or triumphalism in the Christian life. The Church must resist any temptation to be arrogant and triumphalism The Church must be and appear to all to be the place where the weak, where sinners, where those who are struggling feel not just welcome but rather become an integral part of a loving community that supports, sustains and carries them.
One of the strongest words used by Pope Francis during his recent visit was that phrase addressed to the Irish Bishops warning them not to repeat “the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic Church”.
That was a call to us bishops but also to the entire Church in Ireland to be authentically Church in the new and changing religious culture in Ireland. For some, change causes uncertainty and even anxiety. There is always a danger in such a situation that some close in on themselves, and develop a siege mentality and rush for comfort in what is familiar, avoiding risk and perhaps failing to allow the newness of Jesus to enter into and challenge our hearts.
Our message is not just an intellectual message. It is one that must reach out and change men and women into people who reflect, however imperfectly, the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ. The language and the activity of the Church must always be marked by a style that reflects that love.
Sadly, in the Church today one encounters a language of polarisation that can be bitter and personalised. It is a polarisation that excludes and divides people and smothers true prophecy. The truth of Jesus Christ can only be spoken in charity.
Many feel that the Church should be more vigorous in responding to the challenges that spring from a changed culture. Certainly, the Church must defend itself from unjust attack. The truth however does not need polemics. People’s minds and hearts will be attracted to the truth not by polemics but by the coherence between our way of life and the message of Jesus Christ.
The strength of the Church in our contemporary world will spring not from numbers or political influence but from that special strength which the Lord gives us in our weakness. We can only experience that strength when we renounce any sense of rank or privilege or superiority.
Once again, our Gospel reading gives us an indication of where we experience that strength. “They have angels in heaven”, we hear. Angels in biblical terms were those who offered praise and worship unceasingly to God. They were close to the face of God. They also had a special role of being messengers of the Lord in the worldly realm. They continue in that role today.
Repenting and trusting in the protection of the Lord, we realise that the Church finds power not in human strength but in a power that springs totally from trust in God’s faithfulness.
The angels are also those who project the Church from the powers of evil that are always present in our world and who invade the sacredness of our Church. Pope Francis has made a strong appeal in this month of October – to recite the Rosary and to add to the Rosary two short prayers – one in which we place ourselves under the special protection of Mary and the other, one of the prayers which were once said after all Masses, in which we place the Church under the special protection of Saint Michael the Archangel, in the battle against evil.
We come together this evening as a reflection of what the Church is and must be in today’s contemporary culture, where women and men, clergy and laity, the elderly and our young people, gather in prayer and in humble commitment to live the Christian life and to witness to what the joy of the Gospel means in our lives.
We thank God for the many ways in which the Church in Ireland is opening its heart to renewal. We rejoice in the encouragement that we have received by the visit of Pope Francis and at the outpouring of witness that appeared at the various events of the World Meeting of Families. We thank God for all those who contributed generously to making that event so successful and we ask the Lord to continue to open our hearts to allow Lord’s strength to lead each of us on the path of our Christian calling.
We pray especially for our young families like those who gathered round the Holy Father in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, that the Lord will strengthen them in their love and enable them to be true witnesses to Jesus Christ in their families and in our society. Together, may we go forward in new ways in bringing the knowledge of Jesus Christ to our society in the years to come. ENDS
On the second day of the Autumn 2018 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference, was chief celebrant at a Mass in recognition of the contribution of those involved in structures and initiatives of the Irish Episcopal Conference and in the World Meeting of Families. Mass was celebrated in the College Chapel of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.