20 November 2009
Address of Archbishop Martin at the Mater Dei Institute Graduation Ceremony 2009 in Dublin
Speaking notes of Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Graduation Day is always a great day and Graduation Day at Mater Dei has a character all its own which reflects the spirit, the nature and the mission of Mater Dei.
I am happy to see the mixture of degrees that are being awarded here today: degrees in Religious Education, in Theological Studies, in Religion and Irish, Religion and Education, Religion and Culture as well as in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care and one Doctorate in Philosophy.
I congratulate the graduates. I congratulate their parents and families. You have supported the choices of these young men and women during their studies and today is certainly a day of achievement for you as you see your investment in your children reach yet another moment of fulfillment. I congratulate the teachers and every member of the Mater Dei Community.
Mater Dei looks to the future. At a time of doubts regarding so many aspects of the future of education in Ireland it is very important the Mater Dei promotes its achievements and recalls the contribution that it has brought to education, especially religious education. I am delighted to note, for example, the Mater Dei graduates have been appointed School Principals which is a clear recognition by their own peers of the role of teachers of religion and indeed chaplains play in the educational community.
It is not just the fact that courses in religious studies and religious education has been placed on a par with other examination subjects. That is important. But I have more than a suspicion that the good teacher of religion can and does truly bring to a school community, something extra which is really needed to day.
In times of economic cut backs there can be a temptation to look at education in a very functional and pragmatic way. I think that anyone who has responsibility for educational budgets, rightly, has to think in pragmatic terms. The challenge is that education is not just about the functional and the pragmatic. Education is not just a production line, which produces leaving-cert students, as it might produce cars or computers. Students are not products.
Every dimension of education requires that “something extra” which is about values and vision, about meaning and about hope. Reading and listening to much of the media coverage of the current economic situation in Ireland, I sometimes fear that our reactions and commentaries are so often dominated by the negative: about what is not going well, about inadequate responses, and about responses simply being shot down. Today, we need a greater sense of common purpose and hope for the future.
The roots of the current economic crisis show us that, like it or not, we are all in this together. The solutions will only come when we find a new sense of national purpose and national unity. Certainly, there is need for critical observation and comment. That is of the essence of a free and democratic society. But there is a sense in which negativity only produces negativity and acrimony, rather than productivity and purpose.
In this context, society needs the contribution of religion, and religion needs religion. In these days we will be reading of sordid events that took place within the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin, about the abuse of children and about how it was managed. Such events happen when the community of the Church becomes centred on itself and its position in society and when it drifts away from its roots in the message of Jesus Christ. The Church in every time of history needs to be recalled to the integrity of its message, which is never one which seeks power or privilege.
The Gospel we have just heard was written at a time of turbulence in Church life. John recalls the words of Jesus, about Him leaving his disciples and the anxiety that this brought to them. He tells them that the Spirit would come as advocate who would defend their path in the face of persecution and would lead them on the way forward to the fullness of truth.
God has always accompanied his faithful people along their path. He provides prophets in every generation. But the prophet is not a celebrity who carves out his or her own personal image and message. The prophet is the one who faithfully interprets God’s message. In our reading, Moses was told not to come close to God. Being a prophet is not about us moving towards God at our pace and in our terms, it is about allowing God to be with us on his terms. Being a child of the Spirit is not about us creating our own truth, but of allowing the truth of the Spirit to lead us. This is not violence to our intellect and reason. Rather, as the Gospel tells us, without that help of the Spirit “it would be too much for you now”. The Spirit opens new horizons for us and for humanity if we do not allow our own pride or arrogance to impede the work of the spirit.
The more the Church can become a Church of the Spirit, the more it will have to offer society, not that it will have a programme for economic or social reform; rather it will lead us to have a prophetic understanding of what is happening in society and in the Church.
The essential thing is not just what is happening and where things are going or even what went wrong. The challenge is to understand the meaning of what is happening, of moving beyond the functional and the pragmatic to seeing the deeper things that each of us need and society needs. There is a sense in which the Church can only be a leaven in society when it thinks outside the box of the thought patterns of society. The Church can only do this when it returns in its thought and action to its roots. Being a counter-cultural Church will be painful and humbling and demanding in a culture which is often arrogant in its own certainties.
May I wish you as future religious educators the gift of being able to reflect on the meaning of events in the light of the Gospel and being able to transmit this to your pupils, not as formulae or information, but as a real source of meaning and of hope. The Spirit is still with us and it is the Spirit alone who, as the Gospel reading noted, will tell us of the things to come. Let us listen to the Spirit.
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