20 November 2010
Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at the 30th Anniversary Mass in Commemoration of the Servant of God Frank Duff, Founder of the Legion of Mary
Frank Duff died thirty years ago. This quiet, personally unassuming man, in quiet simple external circumstances in Dublin, on 7th September 1921 established a movement of prayer, Christian care and Marian spirituality. The Legion of Mary is a movement which has spread worldwide and has enriched the Church in many parts of the world, especially at moments in which the Church was experiencing difficulty and persecution.
We have come to thank God for the charism of Frank Duff: a charism recognised in a special way by the Second Vatican Council which he attended. We thank God for the spiritual enrichment that that charism has brought the Members of the Legion of Mary. We thank God for the Christian care and spiritual formation that millions have encountered through their contact with the Legion of Mary.
We remember especially the tenacity of this outwardly retiring man: tenacity in reaching out unashamedly to bring the message of Jesus to people in the varied circumstances of their livers, a tenacity driven not by human ambition but through a devotion to Mary who in every aspect of her life opened her heart to understand and to do the will of God.
The Church in Ireland is on a path of renewal. Renewal is an essential dimension of the Church’s life at any moment in history. The need for renewal of the Church in Ireland is however particularly urgent at this moment.
The scandals that have been revealed about aspects of the Church’s life have opened our eyes not just to the particular horrors of the abuse of children and of an inadequate response to them. They have opened our eyes to a much deeper crisis within the Church in Ireland.
Society in Ireland has changed. Religious culture in Ireland has changed. Religious practice has dropped at times in staggering proportions. There is disillusionment among many believers. Many have opted for or drifted into a more secularised vision of their life. Many have become indifferent and live as if God did not exist.
The significant role of the Church in serving Irish society, a role assumed in good faith and in a spirit of service which was undertaken with great dedication, is now being re-examined. What emerge are not just examples of evident failure and inadequacy alongside vision and commitment, but of a certain sense arrogance and power seeking, which has alienated many from the very message that such a presence in society was supposed to represent.
We face real crisis of vocations to the priesthood. Last Saturday here in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral I remembered at Mass 20 priests who had ministered in the Archdiocese and who had died in the previous twelve months. A further dozen or so priests retired from active ministry in the same period. And yet in the past year I ordained just one new priest for the diocese.
But the crisis of the Church is still a deeper one. It is not about the role of the Church in society. It is not about numbers. It is about the very nature of faith in Jesus Christ. It is about our understanding of the message of Jesus Christ. It is about faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ and about the fundamental question: who is Jesus Christ?
We do not create our own identity for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came to bring a message of love. But it was not a message just of being nice to each other. We have to ask: what is it that makes a Christian different in his or her interaction with others? What is it that should mark the Church of Jesus Christ as a people driven by the message of salvation revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus?
The Church will never be reformed from outside. Historically it must be recognised that the recent shattering revelations about abuse would probably never have come to full light without outside intervention. Renewal and reform of the Church, however, will only come from within the Church, that is from within a community of man and women who listen to the word of God, who come together to pray, who celebrate the Eucharist and are called to share in the very life of Christ himself. The Church is communion. That is not the same as saying the Church is a community, or an association or an institution. The Church is formed by the Word of God and is lived by men and women who allow that word of God to transform them.
The Church is communion. The theme of the forthcoming International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin in 2012 is: Communion with Christ and with one another. It is however the communion of Christ which determines the shape of communion we form with each other. It is not a network of social interaction which determines what our communion with Jesus Christ is or ultimately who Jesus Christ is. The Church is formed through our communion with Christ.
The Gospel we have heard is a complex one. It is an interesting insight into the friendship of Jesus with this family and their practical service to help him in his mission. Jesus on his mission was not just surrounded by the twelve Apostles. There were many who accompanied him on his missionary journeys, there were men and women who served him in different ways yet who together imbibed his teaching and his witness.
Lazarus and his Sisters were close to Jesus in friendship. Friendship with Jesus for us means friendship in his service through understanding his word. Each of us can join with him in his mission and living out in his mission in the great and small tasks of life. Frank Duff could never have been described in terms of what today would be called “a celebrity”. He shunned publicity. He shunned superficiality. Yet his work has spread to so many parts of the world and has affected so many lives through the fruits of constant bonds of friendship with the Lord.
Renewal of the Church is not about media strategies or structural reform. In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus clearly indicates in the figure of Mary that what is vital – and what can never be substituted by any other merits – is the willingness to know Jesus and to enter into true friendship with him. That means allowing his word to capture our hearts; it means having the same mind that was within Christ Jesus himself. It is about knowing the Father through encountering Jesus.
Renewal in the Church in Ireland will be painful renewal. Jesus message was not that anything goes. There is something radical about the commitment which Jesus requires of us. “Let the dead bury their dead”, is not a message of compromise
There are many indications that the Church in Ireland has lost its way. Let me be very clear: sadly many people, of various ages, no longer really know Jesus Christ. That is not to say that they are not good people, caring people. It is not to say that the Church is only for a holy elite: the Church is a Church of sinners; each of us has to repent day after day; each of us compromises and each of us lets Jesus down and betrays Jesus.
The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not a vague moralising agency in society. It is not there to provide some sort of spiritual comfort zone for all comers. The Eucharist and the sacraments are celebrations of faith in Jesus Christ within a Christian community. Allowing the sacramental life of the Church become some just sort of vague social celebrations is allowing the true identity of the Church to become distorted.
I am not saying the active members of the Church community have been authentic followers of Jesus Christ. The Church has indeed been betrayed by its own active members. In the face of such failure the Church has at times given the impression of wishing to be all-embracing and all-forgiving in a simplistic manner.
Where do we go on the path of renewal? Can we be happy to celebrate first communion services which put people into debt for thousands of Euro for empty external expenses, while neither the children nor their parents have been led to a true understanding of the Eucharist and the Eucharistic community which is the Church? Can we be satisfied when confirmation is looked on by many as a graduation out of Church life? In not addressing such issues we are not just deceiving ourselves but we are damaging the integrity of the message of Jesus.
The Church is not a holy elite. It is made up today as always by the humble of heart. Many people with little education have a deeper insight into the message of Jesus Christ than learned theologians or bishops. But in today’s society where the message of Jesus is less and less accessible, the Church must become a place where formation in the Word of God resounds in a way that it has not done so in the Irish Church for generations.
I would like to thank the Legion of Mary in the Archdiocese of Dublin for their generous participation in our diocesan project this year of making the word of God in the Gospel of Saint Luke available to families. I would like to thank the Legion of Mary nationwide for their renewed reflection on the Word of God and its application to daily life. I would like to thank you for your commitment to prayer and to the Eucharist where Jesus is present in our hearts.
I am very happy today to see such a large representation of priests present at our ceremony today. I would like to thank the priests who act as spiritual directors to the Legion of Mary and who provide formation for the spiritual life of the members, helping them day by day to rediscover and to recommit themselves top the charism of the movement. The Legion of Mary is fundamentally a lay movement but the place of the priestly ministry is aloe essential to it. I particularly wish to thank those priests who have so many demands on their time and yet who are so dedicate to the work with the Legion of Mary.
Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary in 1921 at a critical moment in Irish history. It was a time of political uncertainty which eventually would explode into civil war. It was a time in which this city was marked by very harsh poverty and also of widespread moral impoverishment. Frank Duff was a man who in the face of a major social challenge did something. He did not write a Letter to the Editor. He gathered likeminded men and women around him into a movement of spiritual renewal, prayer and Christian service. He was not discouraged either by the size of the challenge or by the paucity of his means. He was a man of the Church – misunderstood by many in the Church, including Archbishops of Dublin. Like Mary, his model, he never flinched. Frank Duff pondered the Word of God day by day and through him then the Lord worked great things.