6 December 2009
Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the Lourdes Reunion 2009
Saint Luke sets out deliberately to provide us with a great amount of detail about the precise moment in which this happened; he notes that John appeared in the Fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius; we are told precisely who the political and religious leaders of that moment were.
Saint Luke does this not do this as a sort of history lesson; his intention is to remind us that the coming of the Christ takes place within human history, within real human history. Jesus comes to save us not by taking us out of earthly realities, but in the midst of a concrete and confused world. That message of Saint Luke was true then but it is also true today.
The names that are mentioned are there not to confirm the history books but to remind us that Christ came to a world marked by the arrogance of Roman political power and a world of the less than noble intrigues of the religious leaders of the day. Jesus came and comes not to an idealistic or idealised world; he comes to our concrete and confused and compromised Church and world.
The Church on many occasions in history has betrayed its vocation and failed its people. How does the Church respond? The response will come not just from new structures, which are necessary and that process will go on, but structures must be combined with accountability, as Cardinal Brady said yesterday. The real protagonist of reform and transformation in the Church is the Word of God. It is only when we as individuals and as the Church begin to allow their lives to be taken over by the power of the word and when our lives to become not just lip service to the word, but become truly consonant with the word of God, that the saving and transforming power of God’s power will appear in prophetic way, against all human prevision. But for that to happen, then and today, we have to repent.
How do we repent? The Gospel gives us a hint by telling us that the events of the first recognition of the coming of the Lord take place in the desert. The desert is the place of solitude. We all need solitude; not just as peace and quiet, but a solitude which can strip from us, as individuals and as Church, all the accretions and the superficialities and the corresponding arrogance and sense of self-importance which so often negatively colour our lives and decisions.
The solitude of the desert leads us to focus on what is essential and vital and truthful in life. Each of us has the need to step out of our routine into such solitude of the desert. The Church needs to step out of so much of what appeared to be positive but was truly damaging; the Church needs to step out of behaviour patterns which had led it away from authentically preaching the word or even placing its own structures above the cleansing power of the word. In the painful solitude of the desert the Church must learn how to return to its fundamental mission.
John the Baptist is called the last of the prophets. But he was also effectively the first of the prophets after a lapse of many generations. With John the gift of prophecy returned to the people of faith. The impact of John the Baptist was extraordinary. Even the secular historians of the time recall the impact of John’s prophetic and reforming movement.
The prophet is one who calls to repentance and calls to repentance with a message that is not his or her own. The prophet is not a celebrity who plays the star role. The prophet is the one, who through his or her life witnesses not to themselves but to that word which is above us and beyond us and which indeed judges us.
There is no way in which we can come to a real understanding of who Jesus is and what he is calling us to do if we are not ourselves prophets in that Old Testament sense. We too have to prepare every day for the way for the Lord We have too make straight the paths our own lives and address the hills and valleys and the crooked ways of our lives and the false values we represent by the way we live.
The message of John challenges each of us about how we prepare for the Lord’s coming, not in the sense of how we prepare for Christmas, but how our lives day by day can be brought into conformity with the Word of God and his message of love.
The experience of Lourdes reminds us about that message of love. Your experience of Lourdes is an experience of sharing and protecting and helping and befriending those who are weak in body. The mystery of Lourdes is that it reminds us that it is in encountering the weak that we encounter Jesus and his way. The sick and the troubled in Lourdes are not just the objects of our special care and attention. They are the real protagonists of what takes place in Lourdes. They determine the real satisfaction with which we return to Dublin, the satisfaction which attracts us to want to return to Lourdes again next year. They turn our understanding of weakness upside down and if they turn our understanding of weakness upside down they turn our understanding of ambition and celebrity and power and possession also upside down.
What you do experience in Lourdes is a good news story for a Church was has not much experience of good news today. The goodness and love that is experienced in Lourdes makes the horrible stories of the abuse of the weakest and how that was managed even more horrible. Lourdes reminds us what a life of Christian love and service can do for others and offers a sort of icon for a caring Church and world in the future.
I appeal especially to the young people among you not to abandon the Church. Your Church lies in the future, the long future which will be there when my generation will have long since gone. The Church will not be reformed by abandoning the Church, but by living the word. The Church needs your integrity and honesty and idealism. You have something special to bring so that arrogance of the past can be replaced by a new idealism of the future. Perhaps I should not say new idealism, because we have to recognise that there is so much of that idealism is present in the Church already and feels rightly betrayed. The real newness is however the perennial newness of the message of Jesus Christ and his fidelity to us, even when we drift far from that message of love.
In the coming year the Church in Dublin will be placing the Word of God at the centre of its programme of renewal and evangelization, especially the Gosple of Saint Luke. We will be distributing copies widely in all parishes. Get to know the Jesus of the Gospel; watch how Jesus himself taught; let the Word change your life and the life of the Church.
Annette O’Donnell, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of Dublin, Tel: 01 8360723