Shrine to Blessed John Paul II Opens

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Church of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Navan Road, 14th December 2013

“The Gospel of this afternoon’s Mass recalls once again that great figure John the Baptist.  John’s task was to announce the coming of Jesus.   He was called to reawaken a sense of expectation among a people that had grown tired and distant from God.   He was called to bring renewal to institutional expressions of religion which, at the time, had often become fossilised into mere formulae or external ritual.     John the Baptist is indeed a figure who can well inspire the Church today in its efforts at New Evangelization, as we too try reawaken a renewed sense of faith in a Church which is often tempted by tiredness and routine.  

John’s work was extraordinary.  He attracted thousands to come out into the desert to see him.  He wrought conversion on a vast scale.   John was a man who stood out. His strange dress was not chosen as a publicity gimmick or a trademark.  His message was one that spoke of rising above conventional ways of thinking, conventional expectations and attitudes.  He shunned the external amenities of a comfortable life because he wanted to show his absolute dependence on God. 

The figure of John serves as a warning to us today, to all believers, to the Church and to Church organizations 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. 

The Church is there to proclaim and live out the message of Jesus.  It is not there in any way to be inward looking and self-protecting, as Pope Francis continually stresses.  Renewal in the Church does not mean fitting in with the fashions of the day, just as it does not mean a Church closed in on itself.  Christians must reach out with the authenticity of John the Baptist to see that the message of Jesus is addressed to all.

Renewal in the Church means, if anything, tearing ourselves away from conventional expectations, attitudes and superficialities.  The Church in every age is called to be like John the Baptist, an uncomfortable reminder of how we must repent and allow the truth of Jesus to break into and enlighten the darkness that can subtly find its way into our lives or the life of the Church if we are not attentive.  

The message of Jesus Christ is a message of hope and thus the Church’s message must be a message of hope and courage.  That is the message of the first and second reading:  The prophet Isaiah wrote “Do not be afraid, look your God is coming”; and Saint James wrote: “Do not loose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon”.  We must be believers who come to know Jesus ever more deeply and who go out into daily life witnessing to what Jesus means to us.  I am delighted to see the efforts of renewal and education in the faith that are taking place in the parish.

This evening we bless a new shrine in this Church dedicated to Blessed Pope John Paul II, who is soon to be canonised.   We remember Pope John Paul with those same words that we heard in the second reading: “Do not be afraid”.  Pope John Paul – who ordained me bishop – was a man of courage, a man who addressed injustices: those that that existed under the communist system, those that existed anywhere where people were forced to live in poverty.  He was a man who sought to renew the Church.  He had a great concern and affection for young people.  I saw at first hand how Pope John Paul enjoyed World Youth Days and being with young people offering them the message of Jesus Christ as a message which generates hope and purpose, even within the difficulties of modern life.

Among his many documents, Pope John Paul wrote three social Encyclicals, looking at how the economic systems in our world and their workings affect people’s hopes and possibilities in life.  He spoke especially about human work.  He stressed the dignity of work and how work is central to the identity of the person, especially the young person.

One of the great social challenges of our country and of Western Europe today is the serious problem of youth unemployment,   It is estimated that the rate of youth unemployment in Ireland is almost 30%.  In some other European countries it is indeed higher.  I believe that the challenge of youth unemployment must become a priority policy in the immediate future.    Bailouts can come and go, but our future is in our young people and we are failing them. Work opens out hope. Young people who for years are unable to attain employment easily begin to give up hope and feel that their value and contribution in society are somehow disregarded.    Ireland needs a crusade for the creation of sustainable youth employment as an immediate post-bail-out social goal.

Even as he grew older and physically more feeble Pope John Paul maintained his concern for young people and his commitment to showing them that the real roots of hope come from following Jesus Christ.  The Christian message has the ability to fascinate and challenge in every age.    Our young people need to hear Christ’s message in its clarity and in all its demands.  I firmly believe that if we bring the challenge of following Jesus Christ to young people they will not fail us in the generosity of their response.  We need to help young people to see that the true foundation of meaning and hope comes in the message of Jesus.

John the Baptist indicates who Jesus is:  “He is the one”.  As we prepare for Christmas each of us should be asking ourselves just what Jesus represents for us in our lives and where we need to convert and turn the direction of our lives towards him, who will come in all humility at Christmas.  Faith, as I said earlier, is not about empty formulae or external ritual.  It is about authentically entering into the very life of Jesus Christ himself and witnessing to that life in our daily lives.”