Archbishop Martin's Homily at Notre Dame-Navy Mass of Thanksgiving
I welcome you all to this Mass of Thanksgiving here in Dublin Castle. I welcome to Dublin and greet the many visitors with us from overseas, especially Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and the President of Notre Dame University and his colleagues, and the components and supporters of both teams in this afternoon’s game.
We come together to pray, to listen to God’s word and to celebrate the Eucharist. The Gospel reading challenges us to reflect on how we are called to live our faith in today’s world with alertness and commitment. As we begin our celebration, we ask God’s forgiveness for the many ways in which we have failed in that calling.
Like many parables in the Gospel, the one we heard just now seems simple to understand but contains deeper meanings which we could easily overlook. The obvious interpretation – perhaps the dominant one in Saint Matthew’s presentation – is that God will come at the end of time and will judge us in terms of how we use our talents. God wants us to develop our talents and our abilities and not waste them and it is on the basis of how we use, or misuse, our talents that we will either “share in the masters delights”, or “be cast into the darkness”.
But this interpretation poses problems? What sort of image of God does it present? Are we really being told that God is like the Master in the parable who is described as a ”hard man”, a tough and nasty man, who seems to pride himself with this negative self-image? The Master of this parable is hardly the image of the God of mercy. The only interest he has is to make the highest possible profit on his estate when he goes travelling. He shows very little real interest in any of the servants and their personal talents; they are there simply to be used for the Master’s interests. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not like that.
The parable appears in Saint Matthew’s Gospel after two other parables – which we have heard in the readings of these days – which are both about trust and being alert in life. They are about readiness in life not just to attain rewards, but because readiness and keenness have a value in themselves. Trust and readiness is not just some sort of insurance policy in case the Master returns early, they are dimensions of the way we should live as believing Christians. The Christian faith must be lived to the full with enthusiasm and alertness and determination.
We thank God today for the work of Notre Dame University over the many years since its foundation. We do so here in Dublin, in Ireland, knowing that Notre Dame owes much to the spirit and determination of Irish Catholicism as it was translated into the different society of the United States of the nineteenth century. That same sense of determination has kept the university alert, generation after generation, to the changing needs and challenges of the times and especially to fostering that fruitful dialogue and mutual enrichment between faith and reason in the search of truth and in the of service to the human family – which is what real academic excellence is about.
The presence of the Catholic Church in the educational landscape of the United States – at every level – is quite extraordinary. Catholic Colleges and Universities in the United States have attained the highest significance, combining as they do academic excellence, special care for the less advantaged and a contribution to building a Catholic culture, especially for lay men and women who take their place as Catholics working for the true progress of society.
An article in the London news magazine The Economist last week reported that there are 244 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, noting that seven of the 25 leading U.S. law-schools are Catholic – including Notre Dame. Perhaps I should not say to this congregation that the article went on to say that of the remaining six, five are run by Jesuits.
The presence of the Catholic Church in the educational landscape of the United States – at every level – is quite extraordinary. At times here in Ireland there is a latent fear that Catholic schools and Catholic higher academic institutions are somehow a little outdated in a pluralist and increasingly secularised world. Your experience in the United States – one of the most truly pluralist societies in the world – can be of help to us here in Ireland to identify better the manner in which in the future our Catholic academic institutions can be understood not as narrow and sectarian, but rather as effective vehicles of academic excellence which bring to society an openness of mind, a concern for truth and a commitment to and a concern for the common good.
The contribution of Catholic academic institutions to the good of society is not something that extinguishes the ecclesial nature and vocation of those institutions. Their Catholic identity is an essential part of the package which has built their excellence. Indeed one could rather say that any downplaying of their Catholic vocation and identity could well result in a downgrading of their academic excellence.
A this juncture in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland we have to focus our energies more clearly on how to ensure that our presence in the educational system of a more pluralist Ireland is one that is truly Catholic but marked also by openness of mind, a concern for truth and a commitment to and a concern for the common good. At a time when there are indeed those who would prefer to see the Church banished to the margins of the “public square”, we must be asking where today we can find new ways in which we can, in today’s culture, render the public square a more fertile ground for the Gospel.
I remember Pope Benedict XVI on the occasion of my ad limina visit to him some years ago asked me the question: “Where are the points of contact between the Church in Ireland and those areas where the future of Irish culture are being formed?”
We have to ask then what are the characteristics of the today’s Ireland that make it particularly difficult to speak of God and to touch the hearts of Irish men and women? What are the areas of Irish culture which seem most receptive to the message of the Gospel? What are the moments in the lives of individuals where they are most in need of the words and presence of Jesus? Which are the collective moments when the Church has something special to say to the nation?
The answer to many of these questions is linked with the concept of New Evangelisation, understood as a profound renewal in faith and in a coherent and authentic witness to that faith in the world and in the culture in which we live.
We have today to face the challenge of ensuring that we prepare new generations of Christians who can with competence and idealism be truly at the heart of our political and economic, social and literary culture, alongside persons of different viewpoints, but fully inspired by their Christian vision and able to bring to society those spiritual energies which spring from the Gospels and Catholic tradition.
On both sides of the Atlantic we face a new and challenging future. In each of our cultures and societies we must be prepared to address those challenges with that enthusiasm and alertness and determination that our Gospel reading encourages us to do.