Novena of Grace, Donaghmede

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 Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016


Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin


Holy Trinity Church, Donaghmede, 12th March 2016



“It is interesting how everyone likes Pope Francis but they like him best when he seems to be saying something they like.  It is hard to fit Pope Francis into our narrow framework of thought.


It takes time to learn and to grasp the way of thinking of Pope Francis.  Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, he knows what sin is.  The Pope knows what black is and he knows what white is, but he also knows that he and we live in concrete situations which are very often not just black and white:  our lives are grey and indeed murky grey.  We find ourselves in a world and in a Church which is not perfect and our own hearts are indeed distant from what is perfect.

The other evening I met someone who was upset because he felt that reforms in his parish were going four steps forwards, only soon after to turn three steps backward.  He was frustrated and seemed to look on this as failure.  But I reminded him that that is the pattern of most of our lives.  If anyone believes that they keep going forward always in the right direction, then they are either complete saints or they are fooling themselves.

Who is without sin?  Most of us are very good at keeping knowledge of our sins to ourselves.  We tend indeed to be in denial about our sinfulness.  If I were to ask myself: “where am I in today’s Gospel story?” I would most probably say that I would hope that I am more like the merciful Jesus.  In effect in this Gospel reading we are all characterised by the woman caught in blatant adultery.  The sinner caught flagrantly is a symbol for all of us whose sins may be less known; all of us are sinners; all of us are in need of God’s mercy.  Jesus alone is the one who is without sin; and thankfully for us all, he is not in the stone-throwing business.

We all fail.  We all make promises and resolutions and then fail to keep them.   Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans drew attention to something that is fundamental in all our lives.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…   I have the desire to do what is good, but I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do. What a wretched man I am!”

But then he then cries out:

Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We all fail, but Jesus is always there to welcome us back, to heal us and to help us begin again.

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis stresses that

“The Christian life is not about never falling down, but about always getting up, thanks to the hand [of Jesus] which catches us…  The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity, but to pour out the balm of God’s mercy all those who ask for it with sincere heart.”


Jesus Christ alone is the door of mercy?  He is the one who shows us what mercy is and shows us how to be merciful.


At the beginning of the first interview which Pope Francis gave shortly after his election, he was asked by the interviewer: “who exactly is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”  The Pope’s instant answer was: “I am a sinner”.  Then he paused and said: “Let me reflect on that”.  “No”, he said, “that is correct, I am a sinner”.   One who considers himself in the first place a sinner cannot be arrogant and harsh in his judgement of other sinners, but he is one who wishes to reach out and accompany men and women no matter who they are or what they do.


Too many men, women and children in our day have experienced the Church as harsh. Too many of us, believers and leaders in the Church, have been all too quick to change God’s mercy into our prejudice and intolerance and our vindictive justice.  We have been quick to judge.  We easily consider ourselves better than others.  We have created a harsh God and left the troubled scrupulous and guilt-ridden.  We have been so concerned with the ninety-nine of our institutions and our like-minded that we have not only forgotten the one who was lost but we have antagonised and alienating them in their feeling lost or abandoned.


The judgementalists in today’s Gospel, for all their self-righteousness retreat without doing a single thing of help to the woman.    It is only when human misery encounters God’s mercy that the life of the woman changes.  She is treated as a person; she is treated as a person who, no matter how she had disgraced herself, could still stand face-to-face with the grace and mercy of God.


Jesus’ logic is different to ours. In the face of sin he does not respond with fundamentalist condemnation; neither does he respond with modern-day liberal toleration.   Everything is not right with the woman’s life and behaviour. What Jesus does is to confront the woman face-to-ace and offer he the chance to begin again and sin no more; she goes away then from her unexpected encounter with Jesus as a woman healed, a woman renewed and once again capable of beginning again to live her life to the fullness of its capabilities.  Jesus does not wish for destruction, but that the sinner can repent and live.


There is an interesting way in which we can show mercy in our lives.  Perhaps there is one thing that troubled people today – and not just troubled people – look for when they turn to us for help.  Sadly in our world we are becoming less and less fit-for-purpose in responding.  It is a simple word: time.  The troubled, the lonely, those who are searching, those who are mourning, those who are angry all seek the gift of our time.  And we are becoming ever more busy!


Time is measured however not just with a stop-watch.  Having time is an attitude.  Giving time is a gesture of respect to the other, allowing them the gift of time for themselves to change and convert.  Giving time is a placing of ourselves on the same level as the other, rather than hastily either judging or imposing our solution to their problem or even running away as quickly as we can from engaging.


Giving our time is not always a question of hours.  It can even be of a few seconds.  When we see someone begging on the street we can pass by; we can throw some money in their direction; or we can simply say a few words to them and asks them are they all right, recognising them as a person.


One of the great images I think of about Pope Francis was when he was being driven around Saint Peter’s Square and he noticed a man whose face was completely covered with sores.  Pope Francis stopped and went over to the man.  He did not ask the man or those who were with him what disease he had.  He simply kissed him.


The Year of Mercy is a gift of the Church to us in order for us to purify and renew our lives and our hearts and purify and renew the Church. Mercy never imprisons; mercy never entraps us within ourselves; mercy frees.