Third Sunday of Advent 2020
MASS WITH DUBLIN ACCORD STAFF AND FAMILIES
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Joseph Terenure, 12 December 2020
We celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent. In our Gospel reading, we encounter the figure of John the Baptist, who is sent to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. There is also a tone of joy in our Mass as we look forward more keenly to the birth of the Lord. Each year, the staff of Dublin Accord, our marriage care agency, with their families celebrate a Mass before Christmas. This year they are joining us on line and I greet them.
We are called to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Let us turn now to him and ask from him forgiveness of our sins and the gift of conversion to a simple and more authentic style of life.
Once again in today’s Gospel we encounter the extraordinary figure of John the Baptist. As we prepare for the celebration of the birth of the Lord at Christmas, we meet John as the one who comes ahead of Jesus, re-awakening expectation and hope, calling people to penance and conversion.
Who is John the Baptist? John is a prophet and a witness. As a witness John‘s life is entirely dedicated to understanding and living out the message of salvation. John’s life-style is determined by that message and nothing else. He lives in the wilderness isolated from any establishment of political power or of the temple. His food and clothing are signs of absolute austerity and simplicity.
John stands starkly alone with his prophetic call. He is not surrounded by spin doctors, or managers or sponsors or others who try to make his message more palatable. He never compromises. He speaks with clarity, with a clarity which will finally lead him to imprisonment and death. He never compromises his uncomfortable message, yet the people keep coming to John. Why: Integrity attracts.
Who is John the Baptist? This is obviously a question which was being asked widely. In today’s Gospel, John is confronted by messengers from the Pharisees. They want answers about who he is.
Do John’s answers satisfy? Integrity attracts, but integrity does not give easy, simplistic, ready-made answers. Integrity changes the goalposts of the questions we ask. Integrity upsets our sense of security; it challenges each of us to search into our own hearts as to what integrity really means for us.
John’s identity belongs clearly to the tradition of Old Testament prophets. He is an ascetic preacher who goes into the wilderness. He stands for an uncompromising distancing from the general life style of the day. He stands for a break with empty tradition and superficiality.
Even though he was and remained a Jewish Saint, John the Baptist is a symbol of the Church. The figure of John serves as a warning to us today, to all believers and to the Church of our need to draw our strength from Christ alone, rather than from identifying with the cultural patterns and fashions of the day, which in any case come and go.
Faith is however never a flight from reality. It is not a comfort zone into which we can retreat and ignore the tough and demanding questions of today. Our faith must be twenty-first century faith. Our faith has to be lived in whatever world we live in, but it never simply belongs to that world and must be such that it enables us to discern and break out of what is conventional.
This is not easy. John was anything but a comfortable prophet and witness. The message of Jesus is not a message which can leave us comfortable or passive. The opposite of prophecy and witness is empty conformity. The opposite of integrity is not just dishonesty but also apathy and resignation and not doing anything.
I greet the staff of Dublin Accord who join us on line. Accord is the marriage care agency of the Archdiocese of Dublin. The figure of John the Baptist recalls the challenge that in our day families and parents face in passing on the deep values of faithful love and selfless care from one generation to the next. John’s life style was one of discerning what is really essential and rejecting what is shallow and superficial. It is the opposite of a lifestyle of consumerist exaggeration and what Pope Francis calls a throwaway society. I am astonished for example of how much food is wasted and thrown away in our societies.
I am very much aware that I am also a victim of that culture. With my impending retirement, I am clearing out wardrobes and presses and bookshelves and I see just how much all of us end up collecting what is not necessary. John’s absolute austerity and simplicity in his food and clothing and lifestyle were the building blocks of his integrity.
Accord reminds us that families are the place where modern day integrity is shaped. Parents must guide their children to simplicity in life and parents must learn from the idealism of their children and their commitment to a healthier human and physical environment. Families are the place where modern day integrity is shaped through respect and dialogue.
John the Baptist was the first prophet to appear in Old Testament tradition for centuries. He re-awakened expectation and signalled a new future in Jesus Christ. Like those who encountered John the Baptist in the wilderness once we encounter Jesus, we can never again be happy to return ensconced in the comfort and superficiality. ENDS