Homily for Ash Wednesday delivered at the Dundalk Institute of Technology by the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady

21 Feb 2007



Ash Wednesday – 1:00pm on 21 February 2007

Homily given in Dundalk Institute of Technology by Most Reverend Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

Faith, not fate, is what directs our lives – Archbishop Brady

Last Friday, a new beacon of hope was set alight, fittingly enough under the Fr Mathew statue in O’Connell Street, Dublin. The launch of the Pastoral Letter: Alcohol – the Challenge of Moderation has been warmly welcomed as a source of hope, especially with its call for a discussion on the place of alcohol in our culture.

Discussion is important – especially well informed discussion which will lead to action and changes in behaviour.  What Ireland now needs is people who model moderation and embody the values of temperance in every aspect of life.  We need to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.  That is what Jesus did.  He never asked others to do something which he himself was not prepared to do.

Above all, we must not surrender to the kind of fatalism that leads to despair, the kind of fatalism that says “Ah, sure there is no hope of a change.  You know the Irish and the drink!  It does not matter what happens, they will go on the same oul way.”

Faith, not fate, is what directs our lives.  Hence, this question suggests itself.  Has the time not come for us to ditch, once and for all, the caricature of the drunken Irish and to consign it to the realm of history along with the slur of the Fighting Irish?

In my opinion, the time certainly has arrived and the beginning of Lent certainly seems an appropriate moment to face the challenge.  The Good News of every Lent is full of hope.  The hope that it really is possible for each and every one of us to change our lives and to change them for the better.  As the Pastoral says: “You alone can do it but you cannot do it alone.”

Every Lent the Church calls us to rise to meet tremendous challenges – challenges which only discipline and difficult choices can overcome.  This Lent the message of Pope Benedict seems particularly relevant to the struggle to come to terms with a lifestyle of stress and excess.  The Holy Father talks of the danger of the illusion of a self-sufficiency that is impossible.  He warns against turning in on ourselves and, through fear of death, becoming subject to life-long bondage.  This Lent there is a direct challenge to each one of us to welcome the love of Jesus and spread it around with our every word and deed.

Pope Benedict challenges us to recognise the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment.

Certainly stress and excess wound human dignity.  It leads to contempt for life and to exploitation and a lot of lonely and abandoned people.  But what is the remedy?  Pope Benedict is crystal clear, only Christ, the wounded Healer, can really soothe our damaged self-esteem and self-respect.  A civilisation of love has no time for exploitation of any kind.  The tragedies of loneliness and abandonment can only be healed by a renewed experience of God’s love – given to us in Christ – a love that each day we, in turn, must
re-give to our neighbours, especially to the one who suffers most and is most in need.


Father all powerful and ever living God,
Each year you give us this great season of grace to renew our spirit and to purify our hearts.
You ask us to express our thanks by self-denial, to master our sinfulness and to conquer our pride.
We are to control our desires, serve you in freedom and show to those in need, your goodness to ourselves.
You have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting and works of mercy.
When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.