Archbishop Martin celebrates Mass at the start of the Michaelmas Law Term
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin celebrated Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit to mark the start of the Michaelmas Law term on Monday, 3 October. In his homily at the Mass in Saint Michan’s Church in Halston Street in Dublin, Archbishop Martin said “the fundamental role of faith for the building of societies, which are truly pluralist, should not be overlooked. These are difficult times, but they are perhaps going to be among the more creative times for our society in Ireland. At this moment, we require a wise, enlightened and broad vision of juridical culture which asserts its legitimate independence from political power and influence and is governed not by the fashion of the day.”
The Archbishop prayed for the “gift of discernment as we face a challenging future for Ireland.” He said, “We pray for discernment in juridical culture, we pray for discernment in the administration of justice which goes beyond the mere pragmatic and the positivistic and finds expression which, like the preaching of the early disciples in our first reading, generates language which fosters welcome and understanding and unity between people of different backgrounds.”
Full text of Homily
With this Mass, we celebrate a tradition which goes back over centuries as, at the commencement of the Michaelmas Law term, we invoke the Holy Spirit on the work of all those involved in the administration of justice and on all those who work for justice.
We live at a time of change and indeed of rapid change. There is social and demographic change. We live at a time of cultural ferment. There is a welcome ferment in reflection on our educational system. There is a renewed climate of political reflection on the type of society we wish to build for the future. There is ferment in the Church.
There is also the shock of economic downturn which affects us all. The economic crisis reminds us of the interdependence of nations and economies within the European project and indeed much farther afield. It reminds us also of another form of interdependence: the fact that mistakes and inattention of the past inevitably come home to haunt in the future.
I find it particularly saddening that a moment of forward-looking cultural change and reflection on society, as we have today, occurs precisely at a moment in which the economic means to turn dreams into reality is not there.
Perhaps we should have been dreaming the right dreams when things were going well and we might not be in the situation in which we find ourselves today. Perhaps on the other hand the culture that evolved at our time of prosperity made us too self-assured to feel the need to dream or we foolishly thought that our dreams were being realised or perhaps many of the dreams of our prosperous days were not the right ones. We find ourselves perhaps today in an unhappy situation because in our self-assuredness we lost the art of asking the right questions.
Pope Benedict speaking in the German Parliament last week set out very succinctly the task of politics and indeed of the politician: “To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician”. One could add in a similar way that those who work for justice must serve right and truth through protecting the weak and curbing the natural arrogance of the powerful.
Such a challenging role will not be attained just by systems but above all by people. A just society is above all the fruit of people who live justly. A caring society will be attained above all by people who live as caring people.
Individual responsibility, however, is exercised within a society, within a culture, within a network of relationships and ideas. That is why we pray today to the Holy Spirit for the gift of discernment. Discernment begins with the ability to ask the right questions and address them in the right manner. The challenge of serving what is right is intimately linked to the service of the truth. That is why we invoke on us the Spirit of truth, whom the Gospel reminds us “will lead us to the complete truth”
Serving what is right and truthful will not be determined by slick spin-doctoring or by smart sound-bytes used often to attack the other, rather than to search for or ascertain the truth. Spin may gain popularity for the day, but it leaves the real problems to be addressed tomorrow. A healthy society requires courage, honesty, integrity, equity and solidarity.
Discernment for today requires that we seek the truth both in tradition and in progress. Progress is a two edged sword. Humanity possesses today previously inconceivable power: the possible should always be directed to the good. But we should never forget that what is possible may not always be for the good. Humanity possesses the power to build a future of solidarity and peace; humanity also possesses the power to auto-destroy itself, not alone physically but also morally: humans have the power to create societies which are profoundly inhuman.
In such a cultural climate politics, while remaining the art of the possible, can never be satisfied with being just that. Leadership requires more than pragmatism; it must also be a dynamic force for the building of a better world. Today dreams must be realistic, but we should not loose the ability to dream. When we give up dreaming our vision becomes stultified and we can easily just throw in the towel and be satisfied with what is second best.
A time of rapid change can tempt us to reject tradition and the past with a sort of logic of discontinuity. We should never overlook the fundamental values which have held our society together. In our enthusiasm for change and in a fascination with the new and with contemporary culture we can easily be tempted to loose sight of the values which in our past inIrelandbrought social cohesion and indeed hope and ambition for the future. Discernment should help us to overcome a short-sighted assessment of our past.
Our Constitution, Bunreacht na hEireann, is sometimes presented just as a fossilised child of its time; within its limitations, it has proven to be a document which was ably capable of guaranteeing rights and curbing power – including the power of the State – and has fostered a valuable culture of legal interpretation which has served the people of Ireland well.
The Constitutional Convention which is to be launched soon must be a moment of true discernment. Renewal does not always mean discontinuity. Tradition is not outdated each new day. True values are different to fashion, where the fashion of the day can tomorrow be quickly out of fashion. Values must be rooted somewhere. They must represent a constant in society and what society aspires to.
In the speech to which I referred earlier by Pope Benedict to the German Parliament, he stressed that the positivist world view in general is a most important dimension of human knowledge and capacity. But he also refereed to “concerted efforts to recognize only positivism as a common culture and a common basis for law-making, reducing all the other insights and values of our culture to the level of subculture”.
Today there is a tendency to reduce the role of faith to the margins of society. InIreland, scandals have in their way damaged the credibility of what the Catholic Church brings to society. Despite that, we should remember that Christian faith and belief in Jesus Christ have their role and contribution to bring to reflection on the future of society. Faith can open our horizons beyond just what we can attain on our own. Men and women of faith have shown how their faith can inspire them and their contribution to society. The fundamental role of faith for the building of societies which are truly pluralist should not be overlooked.
These are difficult times, but they are perhaps going to be among the more creative times for our society in Ireland. At this moment, we require a wise, enlightened and broad vision of juridical culture which asserts its legitimate independence from political power and influence and is governed not by the fashion of the day. We need rather a genuine sense of seeking the truth and respecting the dignity of each person, but also recognising how the individual belongs within a framework of human interaction, especially within the family, an institution to which a unique place is recognised in international juridical culture
We pray this morning for the gift of discernment as we face a challenging future for Ireland. We pray for discernment in juridical culture, we pray for a discernment in the administration of justice which goes beyond the mere pragmatic and the positivistic and finds expression which, like the preaching of the early disciples in our first reading, generates language which fosters welcome and understanding and unity between people of different backgrounds.