Archbishop Martin’s sermon in Christ Church Cathedral on citizenship and service

04 Nov 2007


4th November 2007


Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Christchurch Cathedral, 4th November 2007

The grace of God has appeared”. There are so many signs of the fruits of the grace of God in our city and for these we have come here today to give thanks.

The grace of God has appeared… in the present age”: we thank God for the particular signs of the presence of his grace in our own time, rendered visible through the fruits of the human genius of our scientists and researchers, through the human endeavour of our economists and business leaders, through the talents of our writers and our artists, through the hand work of our craftsmen, through the daily vigilance of our medical, Gàrda and fire-fighting services, through political vision, through the care of generous parents and great teachers, through ordinary lives lived in goodness and in truth.

The grace of God has appeared… to redeem us from all iniquity”. We recognise also the presence in our world and in our city of sinfulness and iniquity and of evil. We call evil by its name. We denounce its perpetrators. We repent for the ways we share responsibility in this evil, we pray for conversion. But we do so with a hope and an optimism which is characteristically Christian, knowing that in the end, even in the face of the greatest evil, the grace of God will triumph.

Allow me in the first place to thank God for the particular grace that is represented this afternoon by the invitation of Archbishop John Neil and of Dean Desmond Harmon to me as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin to preach for the first time here in Christchurch Cathedral. My mother and her family who grew up here in The Liberties in different times would certainly be surprised to see me at this pulpit, but I know that they would be proud that we are all her together.

Together with Archbishop Neil I thank God for the warmth of our ecumenical cooperation. Together we thank God for our growing awareness of what we share in common, as preachers and custodians and stewards of the word of God. We recognise our growing awareness of our common responsibility for faith in our city and for the contribution of faith to the good of our city. Christian faith can never be individualist. Christian faith by its very nature inevitably bursts forth into genuine citizenship.

Over the last few years, the concept of citizenship has received a great deal of attention from sociologists and activists, from policy makers and politicians. The term “civil society” has taken on new resonance. Around the world civil society organizations have become real partners of governments and intergovernmental organizations with remarkable achievement.

Here in Ireland the Report of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship, published in March of this year noted that: Active Citizenship is not just for someone else…; it is about how we engage with each other and create together a set of shared values for a better society.

When we speak about the importance of citizenship we often tend to underline the great social benefits that result form the active participation of citizens in community activity. On other occasions we highlight the personal benefits that accrue to those same individuals. We attempt to show that those who engage in different forms of voluntary community activity are often healthier and more fulfilled than those who do not. We often appeal to enlightened self-interest and rationality as a motive for personal engagement.

I believe in something different. I believe that it is in the true nature of humans to be generous and that much of the volunteering we find in our communities is a spontaneous expression of what is best about humans. My convictions in this regard are rooted ultimately in my faith, in my faith in the fact that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.

The nature of the God in whose image we are created is to be found in self-giving love. The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that love is at the very heart of God. At the heart of our Christian Gospel is the liberating truth that God loved us first. Jesus, in his teaching and more particularly in his way of living, revealed a God whose love is unconditional and gratuitous. As Saint Paul puts it in our reading this afternoon: He it is who gave himself for us. Yet so often we fail to understand the simple, essential fact that God is love. Deus Caritas Est.

I believe that the most important contribution of Christian churches to the creation of a better society is to be found not simply in the extraordinary range of social services that they provide, notwithstanding the importance of that tradition of active care, but in upholding and insisting on the recognition of the dignity of each human person. The significance of that dignity was beautifully summed up by Pope Benedict XVI in his inaugural homily when he said: 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. Citizenship is the concrete realisation of the fact that each person in our community, without distinction, should be enabled to feel that they are willed, that they are loved and that they are necessary, that they belong.

The desire to be of service, to care for others, to create a better and more just society will never be extinguished in the hearts of humans. It would be naïve, however, not to acknowledge that the ethos of self-giving, volunteerism and good neighbourliness which contributes so much to the well-being of Irish society would be seriously threatened if our growing preoccupation with wealth and consumerism were to lead people to a more calculating concern just for their own individual interests.

Let me be clear, I am not among the merchants of gloom who feel that a little bit of economic downturn might be good for the Irish soul. It is important that we recognise and, indeed, celebrate the great advances that have taken place in Ireland. Economic progress has brought the temptations of affluence, but it has also reduced the extent of the harsh poverty and the limited opportunity which characterised Ireland for so long. For that, we all thank God. But the temptations of affluence and consumerism are there.

Respecting the dignity of each and every human person requires that we must be especially attentive to the needs of those whose dignity is most easily overlooked or obscured. Notwithstanding the great achievements of the Irish economy, there are still today huge inadequacies, for example, in our public health services and there continue to exist communities where poverty and social inequalities are endemic. If we are not able to overcome these difficulties in a time when we still have plenty, we will struggle to ensure that the poor do not pay the highest price in the event of cutbacks in public expenditure. I would have a special concern for the elderly, especially those elderly who do not have private health insurance or adequate pensions or family to support them.

Many old people living on their own tell me that they live in fear. I have on many occasions drawn attention to the unacceptable increase in violence that has become a frightening mark of Irish society and Dublin. In the face of gangland and drug-related violence, just as in the face of the purposeless violence among young people, society as a whole must take a stand. That is what citizenship is about. There is no room to be complacent in the face of wanton disregard for human life. Too many lives have been lost. Violence is a blind alley that in the long term achieves only grief. Vengeance only rebounds on those who practice it.

The drug trade is in its own right violence, a trafficking in death and the ruination of lives, many of them young and vulnerable. Violence and the drug trade belong intrinsically together. Illicit drug consumption cannot be sanitized out of that equation. I find it particularly difficult to understand how in a society which rightly abhors any expression of double-standards in public life, there are those who attempt to make germ-free the bond between the sordid network of drug trafficking and violence and the socially accepted use of certain drugs as “recreational”. Double standards about the drug trade can never be made politically correct. It is certainly not socially correct. It is not correct for society.

The real seedbed of good citizenship is the family. As Christians, we share a challenging vision of marriage and the family. We have to support families. We have to support the family as an institution. We have to invest in enabling parents to realise the dreams, ambitions and hopes they legitimately have for their children. There is no way in which the State or society could ever effectively reimburse parents for the service they provide to society. Parents would not ask that. They are motivated by love and care and dedication. That is the unique gift to society of marriage in which the love of father and mother mirrors the love of God and the love of Christ for his Church. Parents do not ask a complete reimbursement for their service, but in justice they deserve never to be disadvantaged compared to others. Unfortunately, parents are not organized into an effective constituency. They need our advocacy.

In today’s world we must remember that citizenship is worldwide. The image we heard proclaimed in the reading from Isaiah: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” still permeates Irish culture. Thank God. We can be proud of the commitment of the Irish people to dedicate an appropriate and increasing share of our wealth to ensuring a more just and equitable world. We can be proud of the professionalism of our aid-workers and diplomats. We can be proud of the high respect that our defence forces enjoy in their work abroad in the service of peace. We have an opportunity to build our increasingly ethnically diverse Ireland into a model of how peoples of different backgrounds can work together and enrich each other. We have the opportunity to get things right. We can learn from the mistakes of others, but we should have the courage to develop our own Irish model.

We have come to pray and to commit ourselves to ensuring that the grace of God may appear authentically “in the present age”.

Since Archbishop Neil and I are almost identical in age, I know that he will not be offended if I say that our generation by now has more or less had its chance. The future of citizenship in Dublin must be taken over by our younger generations and I know Archbishop Neil will agree with me when I express the hope that the future of citizenship in Dublin will be taken up with special energy by a younger generation of Christians, inspired by the values which derive from their faith. Again I am optimistic. There is great goodness and generosity in our young people. Let them hear from us today a word of encouragement and hope and confidence in their capacity to transform society for the good. May they learn from us and our communities just how vital the Christian message of the love of God made visible in Jesus is for the challenge they face.

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