Homily of Most Rev Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland at Duiske Abbey, Graiguenamagh on Trinity Sunday – 6th June 2004
6 JUNE 2004
HOMILY OF MOST REV SEAN BRADY, ARCHBISHOP OF ARMAGH AND PRIMATE OF ALL IRELAND
AT DUISKE ABBEY, RAIGUENAMAGH
ON TRINITY SUNDAY – 6TH JUNE 2004
As we stand here this afternoon in this old but obviously flourishing Abbey,
many precious streams flow together for me. My mind goes back 800 years ago
to Sunday 6 June 1204. On that day the Bishop of Ossory, Fern & Leighlin
flanked by the Abbots of Jerpoint and Killenny, formally blessed this site
for the new community of Cistercian monks who had recently arrived from the
Abbey of Stanley in Wiltshire, England. They had come at the invitation of
William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Leinster and Successor of Strongbow.
Duiske is now noted for its rare natural beauty but then it was described as
“a place of horror and of vast solitude”. Under the benign influence of the
monks it was quickly transformed into “a smiling valley of peace and Christian
charity”, to quote a recent newspaper article.
The story of the transformation of Graiguenamagh, the town of the Monks, is
a story of faith. It is a story of faith in God’s ability to make all things
new and to draw order and beauty out of the most unlikely places and events.
It is also a story of faith in the human capacity to do great things for God’s
I am very pleased to have been invited to step for a moment into the stream
of that faith: a stream that has flowed down from ancient times now into
modern Irish society in the 21st century. Part of this stream of faith is
reflected in the continual celebration of Eucharist and other liturgies in
this place since its foundation 800 years ago.
Because the Church “lives from the Eucharist” as Pope John Paul II told us
in an Encyclical last year, I have no doubt that this stream of celebration
has always been a grace: not only for the monks, but even more, for the
people of this land. People who struggled through those often bitter times
of invasion, agitation, conspiracy and suffering with little consolation
other than the Christian faith centred in this Abbey of St Saviour. Mass
continued to be offered here. The people gathered here with their priests
as regularly as they could, because, as Pope John Paul II said in The
Phoenix Park, 25 years ago, “…..For the Irish it was always the Mass that
The celebration of the Eucharist runs like a stream through the history
of this place and links us directly to those monks who arrived here in
1204. Likewise the Eucharist is the central stream in the history of the
entire Church. It links us right back to the upper room in Jerusalem,
to the hill of Calvary and to the empty tomb, from which Christ came to
live for all times and places, to be our Saviour and our hope.
Another special stream that flows for me here today is the memory of my
great predecessor as Archbishop of Armagh, St Malachy. His name means
‘Angel of the Lord’. Malachy, through his friendship with St. Bernard
of Clairvaux, was closely associated with the Cistercian Order and with
the movement for reform. The establishment of Duiske Abbey was part
of that great monastic reform of the Irish Church.
At the heart of that reform was a burning zeal for the values of service,
silence, simplicity, solidarity and hospitality. They are the values,
which make up the Cistercian ‘Rule of Love’. That rule was an effort
to express, in concrete form, the core message of the Gospel, an effort
to become what the Second Vatican Council called The Perfection of Love,
in other words, the model, in human terms, of the perfect community of
love, which is the Blessed Trinity, and whose feast we celebrate today.
At this time, the monasteries became powerful centres of community
cohesion and spiritual balance from which whole towns and villages
such as Graiguenamanagh sprang up and flourished. The speed and
permanence with which they did so suggests that these sources of
spiritual and community life touched on something very deep and
valuable within the Irish psyche. These values included a sense
of the sacred, a deep respect for creation, a sense of spiritual
balance, an awareness of the importance of community, of hospitality,
of solidarity with others, especially the weak and the vulnerable and
the importance of belonging to a specific place and people.
Until recently, these were the sort of values, which gave life meaning,
substance, and heart to the Irish people. Today, however, there is a
growing sense among many of us that that these same values are under
threat on a scale and in a way unprecedented in Irish history. So much
so, that many people are even beginning to ask the question, ‘Has
Ireland lost its soul’? Have we lost our spiritual and moral bearings?
Have we thrown out the best of the old for the worst of the new?
Until recently, for example, we had a great tradition of welcoming people
in this country. We even built one of our most successful industries,
the tourist industry, around the concept of welcoming others. But many
now have a concern that our sense of hospitality is being lost to the
more individualistic and aggressive forces at work in our society. Many
younger couples, for example, find it difficult to afford to rent or buy
a property in order to make their home. Many people have little contact
with their next door neighbour. More and more people tell me that they
are too busy to be involved in voluntary activities in the parish or
local community. More and more people are afraid to walk down the street
These are fundamental changes in Irish society, which are hardly for the
better. They are worrying signs that our reputation for hospitality and
neighbourliness is in danger of being reduced to a commercial façade, a
mask we wear for the tourists, an essential part of the ‘Irish brand’.
We live in a world of constant noise and haste. Our ears are constantly
exposed to the ceaseless chatter of talk, the rap and pop of digitised
and downloaded music, and the endless melodies of mobile phones as they
ring in the street, the car and yes, sometimes even in the church. It
is hardly a coincidence that it was a Cistercian Monk, Thomas Merton,
who said of this phenomenon as early as the 1960’s:
The world of man [and woman] has forgotten the joys of silence, the
peace of solitude, which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness
of human living. Not all are called to be hermits, but all need enough
silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of
their own true self to be heard, at least occasionally
(From The Silent Life by Thomas Merton)
We all need times of silence if life is not to degenerate into mindless
superficiality. The monastic tradition of Graiguenamanagh is a powerful
reminder to modern Irish society of the need to recover something of this,
‘sound of silence’, that sacred space in which the ‘still small voice
of God’ can be heard within our souls.
I am convinced that if people were to turn off their television sets,
take off their headphones or disconnect their mobile phones for just
one day each week, they would notice a significant improvement in their
mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. That would make more space
for reflection, prayer and conversation with God and with others,
particularly with their families. As a result, our nation, as a whole,
would be better off.
‘Unless there is a still centre in the middle of the storm,’ wrote a
monk in the 4th century ‘and a secret room in their heart where people
can stand alone before God, they will lose all sense of spiritual
direction and be torn to pieces’. I believe that more and more people
in modern society have a sense of being ‘torn to pieces’ both spiritually
and mentally by the noise and pace of modern living, a sense of being
morally, mentally and spiritually fragmented.
This loss of direction can been seen in various ways. It is evident
in a loss of courtesy and respect in human relations, in an increase
in violence and aggression generally, in a loss of the sense of
responsibility for and participation in the common good. In its most
extreme and painful form, of course, it becomes manifest in an
alienation from life itself. For some, this alienation can take the
form of self-harm or, ultimately, self-destruction.
Suicide is a complex and a sensitive issue and those bereaved by such
a tragedy deserve the greatest pastoral care. It is difficult not to
wonder if there is significance in the fact that the recent dramatic
increase in suicide rates has coincided with a time of reduction in
spiritual influence and religious practice and with a lessening of
community cohesion and social stability. Recent figures reveal that
444 people aged 15 to 24, took their lives last year, compared to 293
who died in road accidents. By any standards this is an urgent issue
of serious public and political concern which deserves and demands
the same effort and resources from Government, health care and pastoral
organisations as other life care issues such as reducing road deaths.
There is a ‘crisis of meaning’ in our midst and it has serious and
practical consequences for individuals and for communities. We all
have something to offer in response to this crisis. We need to accept
that the spiritual life of a nation, its system of values, traditions
and beliefs, are just as essential to its success and cohesion as are
the pursuit of wealth or of individual freedom. We need to find new
ways of working together, maturely, with mutual understanding and respect,
to rebuild the social cohesion of our nation.
Of course we cannot reproduce the idyllic simplicity of the lifestyle
of the monks of Graiguenamanagh, but we can learn important lessons
from their approach to life.
One such lesson is that God wishes us to live in the world in a manner
that provides a healthy, balanced and relatively simple lifestyle that
can sustain all his children equally. There is enough for everyone’s
actual need but not for everyone’s greed. We ask the saints of this
place to help us learn this important lesson for our time.
My prayer is that Malachy – the ‘Angel of the Lord’ – may inspire us
at this celebration to join in the struggle to bring forth a renewed
people of God, a people worthy to do the work of the Lord, Jesus in
the 21st century.
I am sure many people would love to have a community of Cistercians
back here in this Abbey, so wonderfully restored and refurbished and
my congratulations to all concerned, offering excellence of liturgy
and providing an undeniable spiritual force in contemporary Irish
society! Others would perhaps agree but would add, as of equal
importance, that what we need always is the presence of adult believers,
formed by Jesus Christ and from what I have heard of your celebrations,
especially the Youth Mass, I think that presence is assured.
This last wish is very close to my own heart as bishop, and a bishop
whose motto ‘learn to know Jesus the Christ’ must inspire the formation
of such adult believers. For, only in such an adult, Christian milieu
will the Trinity come to be truly known and valued and the deeper
significance of 800 years of Christian fidelity here where they the
Dubh-Uisce and the Barrow embrace, be appreciated.
I find the words of Jesus most apt for this occasion:
If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me;
Let him come and drink who believes in me.
As Scriptures says ‘from his breast shall flow fountains of living water’.
For from the hearts of those who build their lives on the example of Jesus,
will flow streams of living water to irrigate and refresh a jaded, dying
world and this, I believe, is the most desirable stream of all.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)