6 October 2009
Homily of Bishop Duffy for the Mass of the staff of the Commissions and Agencies of Irish Bishops’ Conference, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
Gospel: Luke 10: 37-42
When the Cardinal invited me to say the few words at this Mass, he suggested that I might allude to the Papal Visit to Ireland which took place thirty years ago last weekend. If I may speak personally, I was all of three weeks a bishop at the time and doing the best I could to cope with post-ordination fatigue and the bewilderment of the new brief. So, the three days of the Pope’s visit were an unexpected part of my introduction to being a bishop. What I shared with everybody in the country was, of course, a suspension of normal life for three days. Everybody was focussed on one person, there was only one topic of conversation, one objective in everybody’s mind, to make the man welcome, and to get as close to him as possible. There was no end of buzz and excitement, not all of it under the top.
After thirty years the obvious question keeps recurring: how does the faith of those millions of our fellow- countrymen and women who gathered to meet the Pope thirty years ago compare with the faith of the present generation? How do we read the extraordinary change that has taken place in the visible practice of faith?
Thirty years ago, we are told, up to 90% of our people went to Mass every Sunday. The percentage today among the younger generation is certainly not insignificant; but, we all know, it is much less than it used to be. Church practice is not of course the same as personal faith; but it’s the most obvious indication of faith there is, and, besides, it’s the way most people see it. Those most concerned, like ourselves here present today, do their best to console ourselves in a spirit of hope and courage and to keep our eyes open for signs of new life.
But whatever our mood or personal experience, or indeed our appetite for the subject, we cannot ignore reality because we have to face the consequences. Like Jonah in the first reading we may be reluctant, but there are a lot of Ninevites out there.
This evening, we have the rare opportunity to address this huge question as a specific group, as members of the Bishops’ Conference, commissions and agencies. Looking back over thirty years, I have to say that the workings of the Bishops Conference – the general organisation and practical management of the Conference – have improved out of all recognition. In 1979 the commissions and agencies were still in their infancy; their brief was rather loosely defined with no review procedures; they were uncoordinated and for that reason tended to work in isolation both from each other and from the Bishops Conference as a body. It is to the credit of everybody concerned that this is no longer the case, and that the many inspirational and valuable initiatives over the years have continued to develop and evolve to meet changing needs.
As the longest serving bishop at the moment, I would also like to assure you that I have personally seen the collaborative spirit of the bishops increase steadily over the years. When we meet together like this, and celebrate together as we do this evening, we are made aware, as we seldom are, of the extent and complexity of the project in which we are engaged and to which we are called. We are also made aware how much we have come to rely on our commissions and agencies for their invaluable professional input, their guidance and expertise.
We are told in the Gospel that Mary chose the better part. The reason is clear: she was the reflective heart and mind of that household. The generation who attended the Papal visit thirty years ago had no problem with this priority. They had no doubts about their identity and destiny as human beings, about where the unchanging foundation of their society lay, about their daily need to recognise the source of truth and goodness and inner personal freedom. In the meantime we have moved on. We are called to live our faith in a new and unfamiliar world. However uncomfortable this may be, however tempting to remain in the comfort zone of the past, the alternative is unthinkable, that we are left behind, mar Oisín i ndiaidh na bhFian.
And, if I may be critical for a moment – and I have to be careful to include myself in the criticism – I cannot help thinking that, within the Church, we still fight shy of bringing the more spiritual and intangible message of the Gospel to this new world, that in our otherwise commendable concern to attend every meeting and reply to every email, we may end up getting sidetracked, lost in good works. We go about the business of Martha, not, indeed, with less external deference but certainly with less than sufficient direct and energetic reference to that of Mary. Martha’s role is of course indispensable, but only when combined with that of Mary, and the immediacy of the Lord’s presence.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 087 233 7797