24 April 2009
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s homily notes for the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the universal ministry of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass celebrated by Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin
Four years ago today, on 24th April 2005, Pope Benedict XVI formally began his mission as Universal Pastor of the Church.
There is a tendency in worldly and media reflection to use an anniversary as a sort of evaluation of how well a person is doing in their job. This is natural and in some cases may even be useful.
But to evaluate success we have to know what the appropriate criteria by which to evaluate are. All too often the criteria used are the subjective expectations of an individual, which can be unrealistic or uninformed. To evaluate a mission we need to know what that mission is about and what the means for achieving it are.
To evaluate the ministry of the Pope then we would have to go back and look at the programme which he set out for himself on that day, four years ago, when he began his mission. Secondly we would have to look at what is the precise nature of the charism of the Pope in the Church. Thirdly we would have to look more closely at how ministry is exercised in the Church.
The liturgical texts we have heard this evening help us to form some of the answers. The first reading, from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us of a central fact of any ministry in the Church, namely that “it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.
In fact, Pope Benedict in his inaugural homily four years ago stressed this very same attitude. He noted that his homily on that day was not a sort of “State of the Nation” programmatic speech. He said: “My real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history”.
If we reflect a little deeper, we will see that what the Pope is doing here is not setting out objectives and aims just for himself. The tasks he sets forth for his mission within the Church are also tasks for the mission of the Church. The tasks the Pope sets out for himself are tasks for us also. Our evaluation of the Pope’s mission must always come out of an evaluation of how we ourselves have responded to the mission of the Church and of all Christians.
So our evaluation is never that of the simple spectator, but of the believing Christian who must ask himself or herself, how much have I contributed to realising my role as a Christian in today’s word. Essential to that role is that of listening to the word of God and being guided by it, rather than placing our own ideas at the centre of our reflection.
The Gospel reading on its part stresses the role of Peter in the Church as one of feeding, of nourishing. We do this by listening to the Word of God and by living a life which is consistent with the word. Once again Pope Benedict XVI stressed in his homily four years ago: “The purpose of our lives is to reveal God to others. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is”.
The mission of the Christian in the world is therefore to now Jesus and to be his witness in the world. This is not a burdensome task. The Pope stressed: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him”.
Many of us fall into the temptation of missing this point. We become so concerned about the hostility of some aspects of modern culture towards religion. Change within the Church can make us insecure to the point that we cling to non-essentials and loose the sense of joy and beauty with which the word of God must be proclaimed.
The Word of God is not an abstract word. The Christian faith is not in the first place about a book or about a doctrine or about a moral code: it is about a person: Jesus Christ. In one of the most quoted phrases of Pope Benedict’s ministry, in the very first paragraph of his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est
the Pope recalled for all of us: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person [Jesus Christ] which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.
Speaking about the work of last year’s Synod of Bishops on the Word of God the Pope spoke of the centrality of that encounter with God in Jesus Christ: “God answers our questions;… with human words, he speaks to us personally. We can listen to him; hear him, come to know him and understand him. We can also realize that he can enter our life and shape it, and that we can emerge from our own lives to enter into the immensity of his mercy…; if our hearts are alert, and our inner ears are open, we can learn to listen to the word he personally addresses to each of us”.
If we wish to evaluate the success of Pope Benedict’s mission then we have to do so within our own hearts and within our own life within the Church. In that sense we are committing ourselves as the Church in this diocese of Dublin to a period of renewal, of evangelization, centred on the word of God so that our young people especially can come to know the scriptures and so that the upcoming generation can share in that experience Pope Benedict spoke of: “there is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ”.
It is in this encounter with Jesus that we encounter ourselves and come to know, as Pope Benedict stressed four years ago, that: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.
Annette O’Donnell, Archdiocese Communications Office, tel: 01 8360723