Sixth Sunday of Easter 2014 FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF SAINT MICHAEL’S CHURCH
Homily Notes of Most Rev, Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Michaels’s Church, Dun Laoghaire, 24th May 2014
“Very often as a child, when we would return from family holidays, we would get off the old Mail Boat here in Dun Laoghaire and walk with suitcases in hand up to get Mass in the old Saint Michael’s Church. I can remember some years later returning home, then a young seminarian, to see the remains of the burnt out Church still smouldering. The Church fire here was a dramatic event which touched so many people’s emotions as their landmark Church was no more.
It took time and the remarkable courage and vision of Mgr Boylan, at that time an elderly man and not a man who enjoyed good health, and this community, to come up with the idea of not rebuilding the old Church, but to construct something new, in line with the changing architectural and liturgical practice of the times. Today we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of that Church.
It is a Church which has survived the test of time and indeed has grown with the times, through new art work and shrines and especially through the signs of participation which mark the daily and weekly liturgies of this great parish and of the wider parish of those who pass through the town centre and who come to visit the church.
We live in more challenging times than was the case forty years ago. The important thing is that in the face of challenge we do become paralysed with anxiety or that we revert into the false security of things past. Monsignor Boylan was a man rooted in the Church of his own youth, but he was courageous and farseeing enough to understand that the future of the Church – and not just the building – does not consist in trying to reconstruct the past, but in opening up to the present and the future, with all the ambiguities and challenges that this brings with it.
Many things have changed in the life of the Church in these forty years. The task of the Church remains the same. The Church is called to evangelize, to preach the message of the Gospel in today’s world. The Church cannot be a closed comfort-zone for the likeminded. It must be a place of real reaching-out to people where they are. It must have the ability to present the teaching of Jesus Christ courageously and in a challenging way.
The call of Jesus is not always easy to discern. The disciples in today’s Gospel reading are puzzled by what Jesus means when he speaks of his no longer being with them. They had never fully understood what Jesus was telling them. They had looked on his humble and caring presence among them as a prelude. His glorification, they felt, had still to come and the apostles saw themselves as hopefully basking in the fruits of his glory.
Jesus tells them that they had misunderstood his message. He tells them that he will enter into glory in a manner which they find hard to accept. He will enter into glory not in the framework of earthly triumph, but by total self-giving even until death. His glorification will not lead them to political power.
But Jesus tells them also that he will never abandon them and leave them orphans. After his return to the Father a new relationship will exist. The Spirit will come to establish a new bond between Jesus and his followers.
Those lives of spirit-filled people – the believers in Jesus Christ – must then be different to those who do not live by the spirit. There are many who are frightened and feel insecure in their faith in our times. There are many who get so caught up in observance of the external rules of being a believer that they seem to loose the capacity to be loving and forgiving people and lapse into anxiety or fear or even bitterness.
The first reading from Deuteronomy told us not to be afraid and not to take fright. In the face of difficulties at any time in history the message of the first reading remains true: “God carried you, as a man supports his child, all along the road you followed until you arrived here”
The law of Christ is the law of love, not that of servitude or anxiety. Through opening ourselves to that love we become God’s friends. This is a remarkable affirmation, which must have been puzzling to the hearers of Jesus. In the pagan religions God appeared most often as a God of fear, a distant God, isolated from his people, demanding, revealing his nature above all in the powerful and awe-inspiring forces of nature, in volcanoes and inaccessible mountain peaks.
In Jesus Christ we are admitted to friendship with God, with all that involves. We know what it means to be with friends: we feel secure, comfortable and well in their presence, they offer us support, by simply knowing that they are there for us.
We experience the presence of Jesus among us though prayer. How many thousands of men and women will have called into this Church over the past 40 years to say a short prayer? There is a beautiful phrase in Pope Benedict’s dedicated to prayer in this sense:
“When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude …; if I pray I am never totally alone”.
God’s love is generous; there is nothing miserly about the way God shows his love; he allows it to shine on all, saints and sinners, the wise and the foolish, young an old.
The Church is called to be the expression of that love of God. The Church is the community where the word of God is proclaimed, where Eucharist is celebrated and where the ministry of love is exercised. The Eucharistic community, nourished on the word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ, must be recognised as the community where that love of God radiates and people see it unmistakeably as a caring community, which reaches out to all.
Love is demanding. Yet what would a world without love be like? What if the self-giving of love were to be replaced or society dominated by self-seeking, self-gratification, self-satisfaction or self-enrichment?
Our communities must be communities in which no-one is forgotten. They must be communities in which the young can flourish in their hopes; where the sick are cared for with dignity and the old in security, recognition and gratitude, where the anxious are given confidence and hope.
We celebrate the anniversary of a building, but that building would remain simply a shell were it not for the living stones of those who over the past twenty five years have given of themselves, have supported one another, and have been welcoming to others. The building would remain an empty shell were it not for those who have come here to pray, to thank God in moments of joy and success and to seek his help in darker and sadder moments of their lives. This building would remain an empty shell were it not to have become a true tent of the presence of the Lord, in the Eucharist and in the community which the Eucharist has nourished.
The Eucharist compels us to become “bread that is broken” for others, and to work for the building of a more just and fraternal world. Each of us is truly called to be bread broken for the life of the world. Jesus calls each of us to share in his mission. We thank God for the response that has come from this parish community over the past forty years and today. ENDS