Mass for Opening of the New Law Term

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin  Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Saint Michan, Halston Street, Dublin 1st  October 2018



“We come to invoke the Holy Spirt to protect and inspire all those who work in our nation in the administration, promotion and fostering of Justice as we begin a new Law Term.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Unity.  We make all our Christian prayer “in the unity of the Holy Spirit”.  That means that our prayer and our Christian life are brought into the unity of God himself, into the Trinity.  It also means that the Christian life should have a special focus on fostering unity. Unity is a gift of God and it is a very special gift because unity is in fact an attribute of God.

In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we saw how the first act of the newly emerging Church presented the message of Jesus in a manner that was understood by the many different people present in Jerusalem, each one in his or her own language.

The second reading stressed how the Spirit is the one who brings together the various different, yet necessary, gifts that are to be found within the human family.  One and the same Spirit was given to all and this Spirit, while recognising the diversity of the various gifts, brings them together into something even greater: a new unity in which Jews and Greeks, Slaves and full citizens are united and work towards a shared common purpose.

The Gospel reading then sets out what is at the root of this new unity in the Spirit:  it is the unity brought by love.   Love is the great commandment.  Love is the foundation of unity.

For some it seems difficult to discern the relationship between the terms commandment and love.  There are those who feel that today the Church – and they would say even the Pope – seems to be soft on the notion of commandment and prefers the term love.  Commandments can be defined, they say. Love is a nice word but hard to define and impose.

There are even those who would propose obedience to the commandments of God and his Church using a language that is anything but loving.

This is in fact not something totally new.  In the early days of the Church, divisions arose with factions gathered around individuals rather than finding a common purpose and allowing the central message of Jesus radically to challenge their lives.

Unity is a term that is on everybody’s lips yet there is a difficulty in really understanding how we foster unity in a broad culture of diversity.  Unity respects diversity.  Unity is not uniformity.  Unity should not exclude.

Unity of purpose is challenged in many ways in our world.   I was struck on the occasion of the recent death of the former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan by the many who wrote about his work for unity and peace as something that did not receive the response it deserved.  It was noted that the UN has not risen to its great challenge and call and that forces of division and protectionism and narrow interest seriously impede the emergence of a new and much needed unity within the family of nations.

Brexit, whether you like it or not, is a legitimate political reality but it is also a cultural reality which brings sharply to our horizons new and troubling forces of moving away from a broad and contemporary vision of unity and cooperation.

The law in the broadest sense of that term is about fostering unity.  The law is equal for all and is called to ensure that its application fosters that equality.  However, this fostering of unity is not simply a question of techniques.  Unity is not a mathematical project. The law is more than a rulebook or even the terms of a constitution.   The law always exists within a culture and its mission is to foster a culture of unity.

In too many parts of the world today, laws and constitutions exist on paper but their application is distorted by the lack of a true culture of unity and indeed can become even a parody of unity, using the language of unity to foster privilege.

Unity is not a mathematical process.  It must look more deeply at the factors which cause division in society and especially at those factors that give rise to exclusion. There is the question of unity in access to the law itself.  I think also about the exclusion in society of the marginalised and those factors that result in young people or particular categories of people starting out in life behind the starting line, never being able to realise their potential.  I am not suggesting that those who are called to administer justice should not respect the limitations of policy that are forged by the political sphere within a legitimate economic framework.

There are however many ways in which those who are called to administer a system of justice are very often those who encounter face-to-face many of the often the hidden hardships of life and exclusion.  I think of the extraordinary work of An Garda Siochana within our communities.  I think practical sections of our courts dealing with children, marital breakdown or domestic violence.

The administration of justice must contribute to finding ways like that experienced in the first Pentecost in which they can bring to policy a reflection and a language in which the anxieties of the marginalised are more truly understood and recognised widely.

In a society marked by serious lack of unity, we must look more closely at the meaning in law of social and economic rights.  Human rights cannot simply be abandoned to the category of vague aspirations.

Justice will never be attained by polemics and polarisation.  Unity is fostered by a society and a culture that brings to our attention the factors, which exclude from the unity the benefits that each citizen is entitled to attain.

We invoke this morning the Holy Spirit on all those involved in the wide sense of the legal profession.  That profession is a vocation to foster unity and peace.  It is called to scrupulously respect the unique dignity of every individual and of the various categories of those who could easily drift into being permanently marginalized.

May we become men and women who have the idealism and the courage to act as promoters of unity and may the Spirit of Jesus touch our hearts, our decisions and the ways we live so that we learn a culture of unity that responds to the challenges of our times.”  ENDS