Mater Dei Graduation 2014

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Holy Cross College Church, 21st November 2014

“So many people look on Christianity as a religion of commandments.  Actually, as our Gospel reading reminds us, Christianity is a religion of the commandment:  the commandment of love.

          But you will answer: “you do not love by command, love must be something spontaneous”.    If we were talking about married love, we would be very careful in affirming the idea that two people could be commanded to love one another, in a sort of enforced marriage.  Yet Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that “this is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you”.

          Perhaps in some sectors of Irish Catholic culture, for too long we stressed the many commandments and lost sight of the real commandment.    We got lost in the myriad of commandments and their relative sins that we enslaved ourselves and others in scruples rather than freeing them to be loving people.  Being a loving person, however, is of the very essence of being a Christian believer. 

          When we get trapped in the myriad of commandments and lose sight of the one commandment, we fail to understand who God is.  We can love one another only because God has loved us first and has created us as men and women in the image of the God of love.  When we get trapped in the many commandments we come to create for ourselves a distant and disinterested and judgemental God of rules.  When we do that we become unable to accept the love of God, of a God who even in judgement remains the God of love.  It is only when we allow ourselves to be loved that we are free to be loving men and women.

There is of course the other side to the story.  The freedom to love is made possible by abiding by commandments, not as externally imposed rules without any rationale.   Our relationships of love are very demanding.  There are written and unwritten laws of love. 


There is a sense in which we are called to love ourselves and to create that sense of self-esteem which frees us to be the people we are created to be.  But there is also a self-love which is simply egotistic and self-centred and narcissistic.  That type of self-love is the opposite of what love is.  Love means going out of ourselves, going beyond ourselves.   It means embracing, accepting, supporting, caring for and carrying the other.  The greatest love is that of total self-giving “laying down one’s life for one’s friends” as the Gospel reading recalled.  This is the greatest love because that is how Jesus revealed to us who God is, through laying down his own life.   Our God is a God who reaches out in love and whose call is that we respond as loving people.

I congratulate all the 2014 graduates of the Mater Dei Institute and I congratulate those who have supported and taught you.  In particular I congratulate your parents and your families who are today as proud as you are of your achievement.   

Graduation is an educational achievement but it is much more.  You go out now into a different stage in your life either in teaching or in some form of ministry and service in the community.  You bring with you the educational achievement that you have acquired here in Mater Dei but also and just as important you bring with you that package of values and ideals which spring from the Christian ethos of this Institute and which have come to make you who you are and which inspire what you wish to achieve in your life and with your life.

In a pluralist society there is a tendency to think that faith is only a marginal add-on to the reality of life and something which should remain marginal in the public sphere.  In speaking of the role of faith in education, the arguments become limited to the role of the Church as an institution in management and control. 

The true Christian, who integrates Christian values into every dimension of his or her life, should have no fear of being professedly and openly a believer.  Being a believer has nothing to do with proselytism or imposing one’s beliefs, but of living the integrity of one’s belief in such a way as to attract others to wish to share the values which make you a good, honest, caring and loving person, and thus want themselves to be an honest, loving, caring and loving person.

As you get to my age, inevitably you look back on your life and what you have achieved and how your life has been a personal history of not realising what one had hoped, of personal compromise, and often of failure. Pope Francis constantly describes himself as being a sinner.  And yet he appears as someone who is enthusiastically good and loving. Christian belief should convince us that failure should not lead to cynicism about the possibility of reaching the ideal.   When we feel that we are on our own, when we feel that we get on by being half-hearted and resigned, realising that God loves us can inspire us to pick ourselves up and regain confidence and begin to give of ourselves anew.

Our society needs new idealism, new energy, new courage and new generosity.  It is easy to get by with the minimum of commitment; it is easy to react to the frustrations that mark and at times dominate the current discourse about Irish society with negativity or even aggressiveness.  But what our society needs is that ever-new idealism, ever-new energy, ever-new courage and ever-new generosity and ever-new commitment to solidarity and care which are the real commandment of the Christian message, that message of a God who loves us and can show us what the path of love can achieve for us and for others through us. ENDS