Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor at the Annual 1916 Commemoration Mass

05 May 2010

5 May 2010

Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, at the Annual 1916 Commemoration Mass

Church of the Most Sacred Heart, Arbour Hill, Dublin

Scripture Readings : Rom. 8.31-35, 37-39 ; Ps 22 ; Lk. 10.1-9

We have just listened to readings from the Word of God, a religious and cultural treasure shared and kept alive from generation to generation by all Christians. These texts, chosen for this Commemorative Eucharist in memory of the dead of 1916, speak of the ever transformative power of the love of God made available and revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8.39).

You heard the closing lines from St Paul : “mar táim cinnte dearfa de nach bhféadfaidh bás ná beatha …… ná dūil chruthaithe ar bith eile sinn a scaradh ō ghrá Dé atá faighte again in Íosa Crīost ár dTiarna”. That’s a strong and unmitigated assertion in faith on the part of a man who once did all in his power to obliterate the name and memory of Christ only to discover that same Christ as the key to life. Insight into the dynamic of this transformative divine love lifts off the lines from the gospel passage from Luke ch 10, describing the mission of the seventy-two and culminating with the intriguing admonition, a guiding principle for Christians in all seasons of life : “the kingdom of God is very near to you” (Lk 10. 9). The kingdom of God, announced by Jesus of Nazareth, irrupts meteor-like in personal life and experience, in human history and in human affairs. It has imprinted human consciousness with a keen sense of human dignity and of the grounds for justice, equality and freedom.

The men and women of the 1916 Uprising, whom we remember today, relatives of some of you here present, believed that in the conditions of their time the justice and values of that kingdom could only be attained for Ireland by fighting for independence to the point of making the supreme offering of their lives. Their sacrifice was the crucible of independence and the cradle of the Irish state. In the meantime Ireland has developed and grown. In the course of nine decades a democratic state based on the rule of law with a competitive social market economy was built. Poverty, existential and structural, was confronted to a significant extent with measures promoting economic development. This in conjunction with reform and investment in education prepared our country for the seismic cultural propulsion from a mainly agrarian based economy to the contemporary global and info-tech society that is our contemporary context.  In time the haemorrhage of emigration was stemmed and transformed through investment in education and research. Ireland assumed its place among the family of nations, found the fullness of its identity through its membership of the European Communities and there utterly transformed its relationship with Britain. In the matrix of the European Union the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland has reached a maturity that we would not have dreamed of even forty years ago. For all this and more we give thanks today as we commemorate those who died in 1916.

Within this progress and despite its many improvements in the life of our nation and people, shortfall persisted in various sectors and cancerous growths in the tissue of society now also require radical surgery. Not even a full week ago, we read survey statistics (1) indicating the surge in the growth of distrust in the Church, Government, Banks, Hospitals, the Media. Our country does not stand alone in this regard. Commentators in other European countries, in France and Germany for example, refer to the crisis of trust in the institutions of society, to the “Misstrauensgesellschaft”(2). We know all too well the contagion of distrust and how corrosive it is of hope, another vital and spiritual element in the social capital of a people and nation.

How do we respond to such distrust, to the anger it generates and to its erosion of hope: how are we to respond as a people, as institutions led and animated by citizens, and as a nation? How are we to respond as Christians and members of Christ’s Church to the dilution of trust in the Church as a result of the scandals arising from the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable persons and its cover-up?

Evidently there are no instant solutions. Serious, informed public debate must be pursued on the basis of renewal steps already taken. Civil society and intermediate organisations must encourage and foster courageous leadership. All who shape the public narrative must beware of and deliver us from the myth of original innocence. For the Christian citizen, conscious of the abiding struggle with evil within oneself and in the public square, referred to theologically as original sin, the gospel text we listened to (Lk 10.1-9) suggests through its literary devices some vectors for spiritual attitudes and for action by which we may tend the foundations of trust. Allow me to extract a few for our further consideration:

  • He sent them out ahead of him in pairs ……. carrying no purse, no haversack, no sandals: the gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to connect with people on the basis of who we are, our religious faith included, on the basis of our shared humanity, not on the basis of possessions or power. Authenticity and integrity, personal, civic and institutional, are the sine qua non for society and particularly for the modern information society. And the support, monitoring, coaching, implied in the reference to pairs, retains its value!
  • I am sending you out like lambs among wolves: the Christian life is to be lived in the setting of trials and precarious situations; it is a calling to address and tackle evil, not to escape from, deny or ignore its existence. The Christian engages with evil within himself/herself and without.
  • Peace to this house: this gospel salutation bespeaks so much: listening, getting to know, accepting the other totally ; accepting frailties and failure; recognising human rights ; reciprocal acceptance of interpersonal and civic duties – as citizens who are Christian these qualities of relationality are essentials in our contribution to life, to the workings of society and its institutions. Christian and Catholic Social thought is a rich resource and spearhead for societal renewal.
  • Do not move from house to house:  these words invite us to cultivate loyalty and depth in our relationships, personal, civic and institutional and to ground them in lasting values. Civilised debate on values, their ground and sources, their interrelationship, and the difficult question of their hierarchical ordering in human predicaments, is a permanent character of a mature and open society.
  • Whatever town you go into .. eat  what is set before you .. and heal the sick: religious faith in the transcendent God opens us to giving hospitality and receiving it from the stranger, to the exercise of lasting interdependence and to pursuing works aimed at healing suffering and addressing evil in all its manifestations
  • And say to the people  –  the kingdom of God is near to you: these words, proffered by Jesus, catch the tension constitutive of the Christian life. God’s kingdom is not within our control, nor within the control of a Church or a particular faith. As Christian believers we perceive and indeed we know viscerally the cogency of God’s kingdom and its values. They attract and even empower us to heroic acts of kindness and love, as they did the dead of 1916; yet we fail this gospel vision of life and life’s predicaments cause us to fall short. There is a gap between the life of grace that we encounter in the Word of God, that we celebrate and touch in the sacraments and what the faith and life of the people of God deliver in human history. Living and grappling with that tension, as we use the power of our critical reason, in the context of both the personal and social spheres (betimes this is an excruciating tension!) is part of the Christian’s route to holiness.

As we remember in prayer this morning those who died in 1916 to gain freedom for Ireland, let us seek to re-discover in the person and gospel of Jesus Christ the spiritual resources for renewal of personal life, for the renewal of governance structures in Church and public life and for the strengthening of those values on which institutions, the state and political life depend for their functioning, though they cannot grow them of their own capacity nor indeed be expected to do so. Today here at Arbour Hill with you, my fellow citizens, I pray that I and all ministers of God’s Word, sacraments and grace and also that all public servants, politicians and crafters of meaning, may name and have the courage to address the evils which beset civic trust in the Ireland of today. May we engage and co-operate in an open and public discourse for the liberation of our society from distrust and fear. May we pray and work to liberate our institutions, religious and secular, for the pursuit of justice and truth for all.

+Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor


Notes to editors:

  1. Irish Times, 29.04.2010, p.3 : research commissioned by the advertising agency, Chemistry, and carried out by the market research company Amárach in February 2010 on  a sample of 850 adults over a 10 day period.
  2. Viz G. von Randow, Republik des Misstrauens, Die Zeit, 8.04.2010, nr.  15, p.60 ; P. de Charentenay, La confiance et ses contraires,  Ētudes, nr 4121, janvier 2010,pp 4-6;  O. Galland, La Crise de confiance de la jeunesse francaise, ibid, pp. 31-42.

Further information:
Brenda Drumm, Catholic Communications Office, +353 87 310 4444
Fr Eddie McGee, Diocese of Down and Connor, +44 781 114 4268