Archbishop Martin’s Homily for 150th Anniversary of Church of Saints Mary and Peter, Arklow

19 Sep 2011

Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the 150th Anniversary of Church of Saints Mary and Peter, Arklow

There is one section of our Diocesan Offices which my secretaries try to keep me from visiting.  That is the Archives.  I have a real fascination with history and when I go to the Archives my secretaries know that I could spend the rest of the day sifting through historical documents.

That is why I find it fascinating also to celebrate anniversaries like this celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Peter here in the centre of Arklow.  It is a celebration of the entire town and neighbourhood and parish, of the wider Catholic communities inJohnstownand in Castletown and indeed of the entire Christian community in Arklow.  We are all deeply honoured by the presence of President Mary McAleese.

What fascinates me about history is to look back and attempt to imagine what the world was like many years ago.  What was this town ofArklowlike one hundred and fifty years ago when this Church was built?  What was the community like that came together just years after the famine not just to build a Church, but to enhance the parish and its future history with a building of such lasting artistic beauty and warmth.  1861 was a moment of growth and renewal in the life of the Catholic community right across the Archdiocese.   Many new Churches were being built.  The Diocesan Seminary at Clonliffe was opened as a sign of renewal in the Church.

The first thing we have to recognise is that the community in Arklow in 1861 was a very courageous community.  Times were hard.  Money and resources were really scarce.  The memory of the famine must have been high in people’s minds and such a traumatic event must have left a small community with a real sense of fear that something similar might occur again.    Many had died.  Many would have emigrated and one would have expected that the community would have been perplexed and perhaps a little disheartened.

Yet it was exactly at this moment that this Church was built as an extraordinary act of faith and confidence in God and in his faithfulness to his people.  This Church building was a sign of hope in a better future.   The building is still today a witness to the spirit of community which contributed to the planning and construction of this Church, with much of the building material brought here on the boats of the local fisher community.

Today society has changed but the fundamental needs and values which build society and keep society together have not changed.  Arklow is changing, probably more rapidly in the past years than at any other time in its history.  This is all the more reason for us to celebrate today the values that have belonged to the history of this community and have enriched it for centuries.  The short history of the Church which has been prepared for this celebration contains a wealth of material about the earlier Churches and the drive to finance and build this current Church. I congratulate Jim Rees and Pat Power and the others who contributed to this work.  My secretaries said to me that they knew that when I would get the book into my hands I would read it from cover to cover; and that is what I did.

History is made up of continuity and change.  Change can provoke anxiety and resignation.  Arklow is changing and like any other town of its size inIrelandit is facing the harsh challenges of our economic situation.  At a time like this Arklow needs to rekindle that strong community-spirit which has been a mark of this community.    At a time in which everything is provisional and has its sell-by date, the farseeing courage of the Arklow community of 1861 challenges us to focus in our lives on the things that endure. The spirit of community that marks this area is an antidote to the growing individualism and self-centredness with which we are all in danger of being contaminated almost unbeknown to ourselves.

Our young people need to grasp the need for community and to have pride in their community.  They need to develop a sense of history; not to bury their heads in their past, but rather to make the best things of the past continue into the future and to create a future on which our young people today will be able to look back on later in their lives with the same sense of pride that we can celebrate here this morning.

On the various occasions in which I have visited this parish I have been struck by the presence of young people in the activity of the parish.  The young people of Arklow deserve the best for the lives and their futures.  The Christian community should welcome them and encourage them and listen to them so that they can build their faith in Jesus Christ in a way which will enable them to live their faith as children of their generation.

I congratulate the entire Parish community for the efforts that they have made to celebrate this anniversary so well.  I thank the Priests of the Parish, the Parish Pastoral Council and the 150th Commemoration Committee for what you have achieved.  I thank the families of the parish.  I thank the young people.

The history of this parish community is deeply entwined with its faith in God.  I could see that in the large Arklow group which joined us for the Diocesan Pilgrimage toLourdeslast week.  The readings of today’s Mass speak to us about God and our relationship with him in our lives.  One of our constant problems is that we come to think that we know who God is. We tend at times to create our own idea of God from which we refuse to budge not allowing God himself to enter into our lives and challenge us and change us.  “My thoughts are not your thoughts”; the Lord reminded us in the first reading, “my ways are not your ways”.  God turns many of our values upside down and leads us to view life and its values in a new way. The first thing we have to do in our search for God is to let God surprise us.

The Gospel of the labourers teaches us that Jesus ranks people in a manner different to the way we do.  The early Christian community had difficulty in recognising that the gentiles, those who came from outside the people of the promise, had every title to be an integral part of the Church community.  Jesus’ teaching is that a Church community does not discriminate.

Jesus surprises those labourers who were called at the last moment by giving them the same salary as those who had been working all the day.  To our modern sensitivities, this Gospel message may seem curious and puzzling, even unjust.  It is certainly very different from our world when everything is measured in its minimum details and you get exactly what you deserve or pay for, nothing more, and nothing less.  Human effort is treated so often just as merchandise and a kind of equality is established in which the person is measured in purely quantative terms or even worse just in terms of their usefulness.

Even though the logic of Jesus may puzzle us, we have to admit that the Master in the parable is not unjust.  He pays what is considered a just salary to all.  Those who began at the early hour receive a full salary, the same as they would have received the day before had they been working, and the same as they would have received the following day for the same hours.

Jesus is not unjust.  What emerges from the Gospel reading and what is important for us to remember is that Jesus is not simply just:  he is above all generous.  If we were to look back on the history of this parish and the lives of those who have lived here we would have to admit that generosity was a real characteristic of its history.  Families were generous in doing their best for the children, to help them do better, one generation after the next.  If our parents were to have measured out drop by drop their love for us, none of us would be where we are today.  It was their generosity, their sacrifice, generation after the generation, which built up us and this community and kept it strong.

In being generous we become God-like.  Being like God, being like the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ means being generous, being outgoing and loving and never closed in on ourselves.   Our God is not a God closed in within his divine nature.  He reaches out to us, he communicates to us, he reveals who he is by loving us, especially in his giving of himself in Jesus Christ who was prepared even to dieout of his love for us.

The second reading challenges us to “avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the Gospel of Christ”.  My this anniversary be an occasion for us to learn from the good things of the past and develop the ability to discern what is enduring and what is passing in our world, following the logic and the generosity of Jesus.