Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the Feast of St Andrew

29 Nov 2009

29 November 2009

Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the Feast of St Andrew

First Sunday of Advent
Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row

Advent is a natural time to look forward to the future and, despite some dramatic expressions in today’s Gospel, Advent is a natural time to think of the future as a future of hope because we know, even in the darkest moments, that the Lord comes to bring us liberation. Every day in the Mass we describe our Christian existence in the world in terms of awaiting the coming of Jesus “with joyful hope”, free from sin and protected from all anxiety.

Advent is as such not a penitential period in the same sense as Lent.  Advent is a period of waiting, of longing, of anticipation and preparation and of rejoicing that “the Lord is coming”, that “the Lord is near”.    Advent is the time in which we reflect on the meaning of the coming of God into history and, in the midst of darkness and of evil in the world, try to understand how God is present in history.

The liturgy wants us to interpret our longing for the coming of Jesus in the language of the great figures and prophets of the Old Testament.  We join the cry of those prophets who were so sensitive to the experience of injustice and sin under which they lived.  The Christian message calls out for honesty and integrity, as the first reading reminds us, in the face of untruth and corruption wherever this appears.  The Church can only preach the honesty and integrity which the message of Jesus demands, however, if its life and the life of its members are marked by honesty and integrity.    Justice and integrity can only truly be preached by people whose lives are just and honest.

As we pray for Jesus’ coming we think of the injustice, the evil, the violence, the self-centeredness that exists in our world, in our nation and neighbourhoods and in our own hearts and we pray that Jesus’ coming will be a moment of deliverance.  We remember those who live under the burdens of poverty, suffering and anxiety.  We remember the victims of the senseless violence that still continues to mark many of our neighbourhoods.  We remember the violence that exists on our roads.   We pray Jesus’ will come and burst once again into human history to change it, to save it, to free it and to unite it with him.

We think today especially of the suffering of those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed or damaged in the floods in various parts of Ireland and I urge you to support in these days and weeks ahead the work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul .

The Gospel that we have just heard read was written by Saint Luke for the early Church where – just one generation after the resurrection of Jesus – Christians were already slipping back into their old, ordinary, coarse ways.   “Watch yourself”, Saint Luke says, you should live each day in such a way that when Jesus comes you can “stand erect and hold our heads high”.

We can only stand with our heads high if we, as individuals and the community of believers which is the Church, are faithful, and just and truthful.   Advent is a call to authentic Christian living. In this context, I cannot but make some reference to the sad events chronicled in the Report on the management of the Sexual Abuse of Children by priests in this Archdiocese and the appalling failures and inadequacies in the response of people with responsibility in Church and State. Sadly, such abuse also occurred in this parish.

Let me repeat what I said on the publication of the Report.  The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime in church law; it is and always was grievously sinful.    The sufferings of children were subordinated to “protecting the Church” and to “avoiding scandal”:  the result today is a history of suffering on the part of those who were abused and the real scandal on the Church today. I know that so many people, believers or otherwise, especially parents, feel horrified and betrayed at what has been revealed.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of this sad story is that while Church leaders – bishops and religious superiors – failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what has involved.  Almost exclusively their primary motivation was to try to ensure that what happened to their child, or in some case to themselves, did not happen to other children.  Their motivation was not about money or revenge; it was quite simply about that most basic human sense of right and wrong and that basic Christian motivation of concern for others.

The damage done to children abused by priests can never be undone.  To each and every survivor, whether of abuse or of the failure in the responses of Church, I express my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them.   I am aware however that no words of apology will ever be sufficient. 

The fact that the abusers were priests acting in the name of Christ constitutes both an offence to God and affront to the priesthood. The many good priests of the Archdiocese share my sense of shame.  I ask you to encourage and support them in their ministry at what is a difficult time.

I thank all those who work in the diocese in improving our services of child protection.   We must ensure that the wide ranging measures introduced into our parishes and organizations regarding the safeguarding of children are rigorously observed and constantly verified and renewed.

The virtues of Advent are those of accountability and faithfulness.  We are called to be ready for the coming of Jesus, to live always in a spirit of faithfulness to our calling so that we will be found alert and worthy of eternal life at his coming. 

“Christ will come again” is the cry of hope that rings out regularly at Mass.  We must always “be alert” or “be awake” when he comes, never allowing ourselves to slip back into old ways.   This means living a life that is coherent with the message of Jesus in our lives every day, and of repenting and converting every day.   It means anticipating already in our own hearts and in the way we live the values which will blossom when the Kingdom comes so that the light of Jesus will enlighten our lives and our world.

The advent wreath reminds us that even in the deepest darkness, a small light can break through. The darkness of our lives can be exposed to the light of Christ as we journey forward awaiting his coming.  The darkness of our world and the darkness which can creep into the life of the Church can only be enlightened by the purifying light which reflects the love and the goodness of Christ. 

If I were to look at some characteristics of the community here in this Parish of Saint Andrew I would place the simple word goodness at its centre. This is a typical Dublin inner-city community where in good times and hard times, the community has been a caring one, where neighbours watch out and help each other in times of trouble, where neighbours rejoice when things go well for young people and give a helping hand when things go wrong.

I know that President McAleese has placed the notion of community as a central pillar of her mission as President. Uachtarán,   I am proud of this parish community.  We can all be proud of this parish community.  It represents what is best in the old Dublin inner-city traditions of community and it has little difficulty in welcoming newcomers into this changing community.  The Parish plays host to the Lithuanian Catholic community guided by its Chaplain Father Egidius and today is joined also by the Ambassador of Lithuania.

This parish community still has to face many obstacles and challenges and inequalities for themselves and their families.  This parish, for example, is home to one of the worlds leading Universities, yet continually has to fight for the survival of its own schools, and great schools they are.

Saint Andrew’s Day here in Westland Row is a day when we celebrate the long Christian tradition of this parish.  Today we celebrate a further stage in its history through the restoration of this beautiful Church building and we celebrate a renewal in the life of the believing and vibrant community.  Today we renew our commitment to work together to renew and purify the Church and to pass on the future generations those fundamental Christian values which held this community together over the years.


Further information:
Annette O’Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin, Tel: 01 8360723