Address by Bishop Donal Murrary at the Civic Reception in Limerick on Monday 16 June 2008

18 Jun 2008

18 June 2008

Address by Bishop Donal Murrary at the Civic Reception in Limerick on Monday 16 June 2008

I am enormously honoured by this Civic Reception and I greatly appreciate the tribute, however undeserved, that Limerick County Council is paying to me this afternoon. The pleasure of this occasion is multiplied by the fact that the occasion is shared with my good friend Bishop Michael Mayes and with the Franciscan community.

Bishop Mayes has been a very welcome and positive presence since he came to Limerick in the year 2000. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to know him and his wife, Beth as friends. It has been a joy to cooperate with him on so many things like our joint Christmas messages, launching the annual appeal for the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and taking a position on important issues such as the withdrawal of the Heathrow service from Shannon.

It is very sad that the Franciscans are leaving Limerick after so many centuries. We had a Mass of Thanksgiving to mark their service to Limerick on Friday. They were present not only in the city but in Adare and Askeaton. Two Franciscans, Bishop Patrick O’Healy, and Father Conn O’Rourke, were martyred in Klmallock in August 1579; their bodies lay in the Friary in Askeaton on the night after they were hanged. I was very glad last Friday to hear the Provincial, Father Caoimhín Ó Laoide, say that this was not farewell but au revoir. Please God the Franciscans will one day return to Limerick which has been part of their history almost since the beginning.

This afternoon, the County Council is recognising a very important aspect of the life of our society. I think it is true to say that we are a society which is searching for its identity and its values. For the last few weeks we have heard people repeatedly saying how confused they were about the Lisbon Treaty. I suspect that this is a symptom of a much deeper confusion – confusion about what we stand for, about what ideals and values should guide our lives and a consequent feeling that we are being asked to take decisions without understanding how or whether they resonate with our own inner convictions and hopes.

Whether we recognise it or not, our convictions and commitments come from what we believe human beings are and what human life is about. In other words, all our longings and hopes and choices come from our effort to become what we are capable of becoming or, to put it in religious terms, what our Creator has made us capable of becoming. Every choice we make is part of our search for happiness. But that means that, if we are to escape from confusion we need not just to understand the Lisbon Treaty but to reflect on our life’s goal. We need to understand ourselves.

In that search for understanding, one important reality identified by Pope Benedict is that, for those who believe, faith is the source of the energy, the seriousness, the truthfulness with which we take our role as members of society[1]. It is unfortunately true that religion has sometimes played a negative role and been divisive. But the first thing that genuine Christian faith calls for is a universal outlook. It tells us, for instance, that our lives will be judged by Jesus, who will speak in the name of people, whether at home, or in the developing world, or in refugee camps, or in disaster areas, or suffering under tyrannical governments, or on the margins of our own society (Cf. Mt 25).

Religion challenges us to a deeper awakening by offering a belief that there is a meaning big enough to make sense of the evils we cannot remedy and of the very desirable goals we could never achieve. Even if we loved with all our heart and soul, even if every possible effort was made, millions of our brothers and sisters have already died with their lives blighted by abject poverty, appalling injustice and violence, lack of resources of housing, health care and education. No matter how hard we try, that sort of poverty will continue to exist for many years to come.

The realisation that we cannot solve all the problems could give rise to a kind of cynicism which is not unknown in our country. What can overcome cynicism and distrust and confusion is a vision that makes sense of our lives, makes us understand that life is worth living, and assures us that our most wholehearted efforts are worthwhile. We need an understanding of what our life means and where it leads. We need to feel that we are participating in a common vision which does not underestimate who we are or what our life is about. It is not, as Pope Benedict put it that Christians “know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness”[2]. As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it “(Religion) answers the question increasingly unanswerable in other terms. The question: Who am I?”[3]

If I am right, this means that the real confusion, the distrust, the cynicism that we find around us have to do with a failure to ask and answer that question in a way that gives us meaning and hope.

No doubt there are other ways in which people get in touch with the deepest truth of themselves and most basic questions and the strongest energies which are expressed in a life founded on hope and on a vision of the dignity and mystery of human life. But Bishop Mayes and the Franciscans and I, together with the clergy and laity who work with us have tried as best we can to awaken and strengthen the faith that, for so many people, is the source of the energy and commitment and hope that any society needs in order to be healthy. In doing so I trust that we contribute something vital to the health of our community’s life, to calling forth a response to our challenges, and to the awakening the hope that we need in order to flourish.

In doing that we have, I hope, been contributing something which gives energy and hope to many of the things that you do in your role as local representatives and local government officials. It seems to me that the place where a renewal and strengthening our energy begins is not in international treaties or even in the political process. It begins in families, in churches and in local communities where we face together the meaning of life and death, of love and loyalty of hope and fear. In a world of commuters and constant movement, we need to find new ways of making space for the interaction on a human scale out of which our vision and our commitment and our participation grow. Our role as religious leaders, like yours, is about the vitality and the positive development of the life of our community. I hope that we can continue to work together for the benefit of the people that we are, each in our own manner, called to serve.

+Donal Murray

[1] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 28a.

[2] BENEDICT XVI, Spe Salvi, 2.

[3] SACKS, J., The Persistence of Faith, London 1991, p. 86.


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