Archbishop Seán Brady’s sermon for the National Novena at the Knock Shrine: “Following Christ in 21st Century Ireland”
22nd August 2007
Those who put their trust in horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards and mediums lack trust in God’s providence and are colluding with an illusion, promoting a fiction – Archbishop Brady
The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady, today delivered a sermon at the Knock Shrine on the theme: “Following Christ in 21st century Ireland” as part of the 2007 National Novena. Archbishop Brady celebrated the Mass of the ‘Queenship of Mary’ which closes the annual Novena. Knock is Ireland’s National Marian Shrine and is visited by over one and a half million pilgrims annually. During his sermon, Archbishop Brady says that:
- Those who confidently tell us that the Catholic Church in Ireland is an anachronism, a superstition of bygone days which has been rejected by intelligent Irish people, have greatly over stated their case. God is still active in people’s hearts.
- The land of saints and scholars has become better known as the land of stocks and shares, of financial success and security. Tragically it has also become a land of increasing stress and substance abuse.
- People are seeking to control their future rather than entrust their future to God’s promise and plan. The result is an increasing culture of insecurity and fear.
- Underlying this trend of ‘future telling’, is a fear of the future … It is evidence of the failure of a life without God to address the deepest needs of the human spirit.
- The challenge is to keep our lives focused on Christ amidst the distractions of increasing prosperity … in an increasingly secular, sometimes hostile culture.
- The big questions of people’s lives still remain: Why am I here? What will bring me happiness? What will happen to me when I die? For all its human imperfections, it is the Church which still holds the answer to these questions
Full text follows:
My sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,
I have been asked to speak to you today on the theme of ‘Following Christ in 21st century Ireland.’ In a different place, on a different day, this would have been a huge undertaking. The list of issues which face those who seek to follow Christ in the Ireland of today is very long. It includes the challenge of keeping our lives focused on Christ amidst the distractions of increasing prosperity. It includes bearing witness to Christ and his Church in an increasingly secular, sometimes hostile culture. It certainly includes the challenge of declining Church attendance, fewer vocations and the restructuring of parishes and other Church resources which we all took for granted for so long.
Yet, as we gather here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, as we celebrate the Queenship of Mary at the end this Solemn Novena, the scale of these challenges seems so much smaller. Indeed our Gospel reminds us that before the example of Mary, they become only one – to say Yes at every moment, of every day, to following Jesus. To say Yes to putting our complete trust in God’s word and in His plan.
The challenges may change in their detail, the culture in which we live might alter from one generation to the next, but the fundamental call of the Christian disciple remains the same in every age – to say ‘Fiat, voluntas tua’ – ‘Be it done unto me according to thy Word!’
Our consolation, therefore, is that as we face the myriad of challenges of being a disciple in 21st century Ireland, Mary is the perfect disciple today, just as she has always been through the first two millennia of the Church’s existence. As she aided the Church in its birth, so she remains our Mother and Protector in the trials and tribulations of our own time. She constantly reminds the Church here on earth that ‘nothing is impossible to God’, to trust that, in spite of the twists and turns of human history, ‘God’s promise will be fulfilled.’
In the words of the Second Vatican Council: “in her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent effect of redemption and joyfully contemplates, as in a flawless image, that which the Church itself desires and hopes wholly to be” (SC, art. 103). “Therefore [Mary] is hailed as a pre-eminent and singular member of the Church, and as its type and excellent exemplar in faith and charity… And so [we] turn [our] eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as the model of virtues.” (LG53 & 65)
And so it is Mary who reveals to us the essential virtue for those who wish to follow Christ in the Ireland of the 21st century. That virtue is Trust. Trust in the power of God to do all things. Trust that the Word of God is still alive and active in his Church in spite of the many earthly challenges which confront us in human terms. Trust is the opposite of fear. Trust is the fruit of perfect love, because perfect love casts out all fear. This is why the call of every disciple, begins with the call – ‘do not be afraid!’ ‘Do not be afraid Mary, You have won God’s favour!’
The Sunday before last, Saint Luke reminded each of us that, through Baptism, we too have received God’s favour: ‘Do not be afraid little flock’, Jesus said, ‘for it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom!’ Jesus then went on to warn of the dangers of becoming distracted with the concerns of this world, notably the pursuit of earthly possessions. He foretold a time when many would fall away from faith and become immersed in worldly concerns because they thought ‘the Master is taking his time in coming’. They had forgotten that eternity and eternal judgment is always close at hand. That the master would ‘come at an hour they did not expect’!
It is difficult not to see the echoes of Jesus’ concern in the trends of our own time in Ireland. The land of saints and scholars has become better known as the land of stocks and shares, of financial success and security. Tragically it has also become a land of increasing stress and substance abuse. And all of this has occurred as the external practice of faith has declined.
I believe many Irish people have not so much rejected their faith as become distracted from their faith. People are seeking to control their future rather than entrust their future to God’s promise and plan. The result is an increasing culture of insecurity and fear. What often appears on the outside to be a culture of confidence and certainty in Ireland is in reality a façade. More and more Irish people are becoming stressed out trying to bring a security to their lives that only trust in God can give. They are trying to control a future that is ultimately in God’s hands.
This is an empty pursuit. You see it in our fascination with property and wealth. Yet look at the dramatic shifts in the international financial markets in the space of a week. Look at the uncertainty of house prices, the potential for credit to dry up within days, even for the banks. You see it in our fascination with fast cars and consumption of the latest and the best. Yet look at the impact on our climate, on the beauty of our environment, on the sustainability of our world. You see it in our fascination with image and sexual fulfillment. Yet look at the consequences in terms of the stress and strain of keeping up with fashion, the increase in eating disorders and most tragically of all, of suicide among the young. The truth is that more and more Irish people are becoming trapped by the illusion of being able to control their future completely. They are putting their trust in an illusion, in things that will not satisfy.
One of the most subtle but disturbing signs of this underlying fear in Irish life is the increasing reliance of people on practices which claim to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, recourse to clairvoyance and mediums conceal a desire for power over time and a lack of trust in God’s providence. They are the new Irish superstition. Those who put their trust in them or take them seriously are colluding with an illusion, promoting a fiction. Tragically this has become a whole industry in Ireland – on the internet, on premium telephone lines, on digital television, in the newspapers and even at family parties! People who spend money on these pursuits would have more influence on the future if they gave their money to those in need. This would make a real difference to someone’s future instead of wasting money, time and energy on what is at best a vacuous form of entertainment.
In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: ‘All forms of divination are to be rejected…. They contradict the honour, respect and loving fear we owe to God alone… A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.’ (n. 2115/6)
Underlying this trend of ‘future telling’, is a fear of the future. It is a symptom of the insecurity that lurks behind the seeming confidence of modern Irish culture and life. It is evidence of the failure of a life without God to address the deepest needs of the human spirit.
The truth is that many of those who claim to set Ireland free from the shackles of religious faith in recent years, are now silent in the face of the real captivities of the ‘new’ Ireland: the increase in alcohol and drug abuse; the pressure to work and consume; the pressure to look good and have the right image; the increase in suicide and violence; the constant worry about finance and future security. It is not religious faith which is leading people to stress and despair; it is those elements of the ‘new’ Ireland which are increasingly empty of meaning.
What more and more Irish people are discovering is that a life without God is a heavy burden to bear. This is why Jesus told us that his yoke is easy and his burden light. This is why he invites those who labour and are overburdened to come to him that he would give us rest.
This is why also God will yet surprise us in the Ireland of the 21st century. Those who confidently tell us that the Catholic Church in Ireland is an anachronism, a superstition of bygone days which has been rejected by intelligent Irish people, have greatly over stated their case. God is still active in people’s hearts. The big questions of people’s lives still remain: why am I here? What will bring me happiness? What will happen to me when I die? For all its human imperfections, it is the Church which still holds the answer to these questions. The answer is Jesus – the way, the truth and the life! As Saint Peter said when others were walking away from Jesus; ‘Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life!’
This is why Mary always directs us to Christ. She knows that he alone can give us everything we need. Everything we need as disciples in the Ireland of the 21st century. Everything we need as a Church.
Mary abandoned herself to God’s will. She did not ask the Angel to tell her what the future would hold. She simply trusted God’s promise minute by minute, day by day. She trusted in the midst of the joys and her sufferings. This is the attitude of the Blessed. This is the attitude every disciple of Christ is called to imitate. It is the attitude of a perfect love, a love sustained by the Eucharist and prayer, a love which casts out all fear. This is the perfect love shown by Mary.
Yes, in recent years our confidence as Catholics, as disciples of Jesus in modern Ireland, has been shaken. But we have not been left abandoned. The truth of Jesus remains the same yesterday, today and forever! Our challenge is to bear witness to that truth more authentically, more convincingly, more faithfully. In this, as in all aspects of Christian discipleship, it is Mary who is our example and strength.
On this earth, in this time, we continue as disciples to wait ‘in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ’. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God. (n. 972)
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us. Queen of heaven, pray for us. Hope and comfort of the pilgrim people of God… pray for us.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)