Archbishop celebrates Mass with Congress Volunteers
Archbishop celebrates Mass with Congress Volunteers
“One week ago we set out on a journey of prayer and reflection, of song and silence, of renewal of our hearts and renewal of our Church. In these eight days the Eucharist has awakened in our hearts something which went way beyond our plans and expectations”
These were the words that I used just over three months ago at the conclusion of the final Mass of the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress in Croke Park. I think that without qualification I can say that over the months which have passed since that evening, our reflection on those busy days in June has if anything strengthened that conviction of just how much the Eucharistic Congress awakened in our hearts something which went way beyond our plans and our expectations. We come this afternoon to be with one another once again; to share experiences and memories; to express our thanks and to look forward to the future.
In expressing my thanks to you, I recall that in my short talk at the end of the Congress the one sentence which brought the most prolonged and intense applause was: “We thank the volunteers who made us welcome and assisted us and kept us in good cheer”. There was universal recognition then – and I consistently hear it still – of the fact that your enthusiasm was infectious and contributed in a very special way to the success of the Congress. The Church in Ireland is indebted to you.
Many people came to the Congress not knowing what to expect. Some came out of a sense of duty; some came out of a sense of curiosity; some came with their own fixed ideas; some were openly hostile. Something happened the moment one entered into the Congress which changed all of that. Many who came with a one-day booking, immediately decided to come back on the other days. Many who came sceptical not just overcame their own scepticism, but regretted that they had not done more at an earlier stage to get the message of the Congress across to others.
The Congress atmosphere created something special. The only complaint that someone came to me with was from one of the volunteers: she said to me “it’s terrible that people cannot get into the workshops”. Certainly it was terrible: people had paid to come and hear one or other of the speakers. Thank God – due in no small part to a courageous volunteer who apprehended the Archbishop – we were able to rectify the problem with repeat performances and with large screen projections. Now we can say that the overflow attendance at the workshops was indeed one of the most significant signs of the success of the Congress.
There are many who say that the Eucharistic Congress marked a turning point for the Church in Ireland. Is that true? How are we to discern which were the signs of the Eucharistic Congress which touched hearts and fostered deeper reflection on what the Church and the Christian life is about? What are, not so much the lessons to be learned, but rather the building blocks we can discern which we can used to construct a programme of new evangelization in Ireland for the future? The Congress showed us that despite the difficulties of the Church in Ireland there are also signs of hope and signs of seeking and searching in people’s hearts about what the fundamental values and attitude towards life must be and how we can find an answer to them in the person and message of Jesus Christ.
The first of these indications is that the overflow interest in the workshops indicates a real desire on the part of many of our brothers and sisters to have access to real adult faith formation. We heard wonderful catecheses about prayer, about marriage and the family, about living our faith in the public square. By adult faith formation I mean a formation in faith for adult Christians, which helps them address, in the light of faith, the realities and challenges of their lives as adult Christians in the adult world in which they live.
Secondly the atmosphere of prayer and silence which pervaded many of the events – and especially the prayer space – is sign that men and women, young and old, feel a need to step aside from the hustle and bustle of ordinary life and be alone first of all with themselves, and then to be alone with God. There is something special about silence. In silence you are on your own, you are stripped of all the superficial supports which we think are the ones which will make us look and feel as we would like to. In silence we are alone with ourselves, with our talents, but also with our inadequacies and worries and anxieties. When that silence becomes communion with Christ then our inadequacies become a real channel for the power of the Lord to enter into our lives and change our self-perception.
The third significant sign of renewal were the volunteers, especially the large number of young volunteers. I would love to have the opportunity to dialogue with you and your contemporaries about how you look on the future of the Church and how the experience of the Church you had at the Eucharistic Congress led you closer to Jesus and to understand yourselves in the light of his message. I will be holding a further catechetical encounter with young people in Clarendon Street Church at 7.30 p.m. on Thursday next to which all are welcome.
Next I would again like to express my thanks to the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and to the leaders of the others Christian Churches for an extraordinary common ecumenical witness and for the fraternal support they offered to this event of the Catholic Church. This is a sign of the common search that all Christians in Ireland are undertaking to renew the faith in a changing Ireland.
Finally there was something about the Eucharistic Congress which we are living again here today: the fact of being together, of supporting each other, of being proud of our faith and our Church, which can only be generated by our communion with Christ and our sharing in his sacrificial self-giving which we live in the Eucharist.
The Gospel reading that we have heard is a familiar one. It reminds us of the need to foster in our hearts a fertile soil for the reception of the Gospel. But it is also a parable which reminds us that from the very time of Jesus himself many did not have within them the receptivity to really understand his message and to make the Gospel their own. At the time in which our Gospel reading was being written, the Gospel was being preached to a world in which only a small minority had accepted the word of Jesus.
The Gospels illustrate many moments in which the teaching of Jesus was rejected. Think of his rejection in his own home town. It was not just that small pockets of the community represented ears and hearts that were unprepared to understand Jesus and his message. It is something greater. Rejection has always been a part of the history of evangelization.
Perhaps in Ireland we became so used to Christianity being the majority faith and having a dominant role in Irish culture that we fail to see that the ground of our culture is perhaps less fertile for the Gospel than we had imagined and its roots of our faith are often so fragile that in the rapid change in Irish the culture the distancing from the message of Jesus has become deeper and more widespread.
This does not mean that we become depressed or demoralised. The Gospel must be preached and preached fully and preached in its integrity even though the numbers of those who respond remains few, even though there are those who do not wish to hear it or those who become trapped within a culture which makes it difficult for the Gospel message to flourish.
Irish society is certainly marked by a strong religious sense. But vague cultural Catholicism is not the soil on which to construct a deep renewal of faith in today’s world. Faith requires deeper roots and those roots are built on our knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ, through familiarising ourselves with the scriptures, through deepening our understanding of the faith of the Church into which we have been baptised, through prayer, and through our sharing in the Eucharist.
Through our knowledge of and communion with Christ we can create that caring communion with one another which was not just the theme of the Eucharistic Congress but a characteristic mark of the Congress. It must become the mark of believers in Jesus Christ in the society and the world in which we live. Reform and renewal in the Church will not be attained simply by changing structures. The path towards reform and renewal in the Church will not be one charted simply by hearings or surveys. What is needed is a radical transformation of hearts and relationships, through a more intense living of our faith in Jesus Christ, through Communion with him and with one another. As we remember those great days of the Eucharistic Congress, let us commit ourselves, young and old, to that challenge this afternoon and for the months and the years to come.