Fourth Sunday of the Year 2019
VISIT TO THE PARISH OF SAINT LUKE, KILMORE ROAD
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Luke Kilmore Road, 3 February 2019
The scene of today’s Gospel reading is the same as the Gospel of last week. Jesus is in the Temple of his own village among his own townsfolk. He had read the text of Isaiah about the prophet who would be sent to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to all the oppressed and to proclaim a year of the mercy of God.
Then, to the surprise of his hearers, Jesus announced that this prophecy would be – indeed had already begun to be – realised in him.
The initial reaction of his hearers is one of wonder and admiration. They recognised his eloquence and the depth of his understanding of the scriptures. They are amazed that such wisdom could come from someone they knew and whose family origins they knew well.
However, the admiration of his townsfolk was short-lived. It was never true admiration and Jesus, already in this one of his first public acts, recognises himself as that “sign of contradiction” which Simeon had spoken about when Jesus was presented in the Temple when he was just 50 days old.
Jesus know their thoughts. He tells his kinsfolk that he knows that their only interest is to have him work some spectacular miracle as he had done elsewhere.
He begins to say that just as on other occasions God sent his prophet not to those who considered themselves pious, but to those who were on the borders of society, the same would happen to his townsfolk.
Their reaction moves quickly from awe and admiration to such hatred that the take him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built and try to throw him over the cliff.
Jesus was never made welcome in his own hometown. On another occasion, it is said that the lack of faith of his townsfolk was such that he could not work any miracle while among them.
Jesus however is not disheartened. He recognises what is happening and understands what he is experiencing is a deep affirmation of his own identity of his own identity.
What happened to Jesus still occurs in our Church and in our world. Jesus is not recognised and fully understood by many who feel that they are somehow close to him. It is others, the excluded, who seem to grasp his message in its depth.
Pope Francis not long after he was elected, gave an interview – then a very rare thing. The interviewer asked him as the first question: “Who are you, tell us about yourself.” Without hesitation, the Pope answered, “I am a sinner”. The interviewer repeated the question, thinking that is the sort of thing that Popes are supposed to say. However, the Pope repeated a second time: “I am a sinner.”
That is who Pope Francis is. A Pope who humbly recognises that he is a sinner can never be arrogant and nasty to any another fellow sinner. Jesus has a special love for sinners who begin to repent because they are the ones who recognize just how much they depend on a God who is merciful.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God of love and mercy. In the second reading of our Mass, we heard that great hymn of Saint Paul about love. Love is always patient, kind, never jealous, not resentful, does not take pleasure in the sin of other, is always ready to excuse, to hope and to endure whatever comes.
This is a very challenging vision of love. It is the challenge of love that married couples face daily. The description of love is not simply about us humans. It is not a sort of checklist that we can use somehow to check for points on the list of loving people. These dimensions of love are fundamentally about God. Perfect human love is a love that tries, even if imperfectly, to reflect something of the great love and mercy of God.
Being a Christian is a call to open our hearts to such a vision of love. The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be a Church in which that love is realised. But many have not and still do not experience the Church in that way.
Pope Francis on his visit to Ireland had strong words for the Irish Bishops warning them: “Do not repeat the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given a real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic Church”.
After meeting with some survivors of abuse, Pope Francis was physically shocked. When he arrived in Croke Park not long afterwards, he spoke to me and said that he would personally rewrite the introduction to the Mass he was to celebrate next day in Phoenix Park.
Late into the night, he wrote a text which spoke of a wide range of abuse: he spoke of the abuse of power, abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of representatives of the Church. He recognised that the Church did not offer to the survivors… compassion and the pursuit of justice and truth… He spoke of children taken away from their mothers and single mothers who tried to find their children that had been taken away, or children who tried to find their mothers, who were told that this was a mortal sin. He starkly added: “It is not a mortal sin; it is the fourth commandment!”
Ten years ago almost to the day, I exchanged letters with the then Chair of the Pastoral Council about abuse that had taken place in this parish and expressed my appreciation for the response here. I know, however, that many wounds of that time are still there.
Members and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ failed in what is central to who Jesus Christ is. Jesus remains a sign of contradiction against the failure of some of his believers to be authentic in grasping his mission and teaching.
The message of Jesus remains the same and intact. It is a message of love, a message of liberty for those who are burdened, a message of loving kindness and mercy. Let us open our hearts to that message and bring healing to all those who are burdened and bring healing also to the wounded Church of Jesus Christ. ENDS