Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at launch of Eucharistic Congress Prayer Book, Saint Francis Xavier, Gardiner Street, Dublin, Sunday 6 May 2012
Our Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus is the true vine. Vines are very delicate and fragile plants. It takes some years after planting before they begin to produce any fruit at all. Damage done to a vine – even in a matter of a few hours – can set back the patient work of years. A surprising hailstorm can in minutes destroy an entire year’s harvest.
Vines are delicate plants and thus require much patient attention. Jesus, then, uses the image of the vinedresser to explain to his hearers the loving care of God for his people. God is like the vinedresser: he is careful and attentive with his people and he wishes them to flourish with the best fruit. God cares for us and wishes us to have a full and fulfilling life.
Vines require constant, vigilant attention as not all the branches will produce the same good quality fruit. The grape and wine market is one where quality counts. The plant has to be pruned and watched to see that each branch produces the very best fruit possible but also that rotting or infected branches do not harm the healthy ones and the desired fruit. The purpose of pruning is not to cut back, but to allow what is best to survive and flourish and receive the nourishment which will allow it to grow to its natural fullness.
On the other hand, a branch which is cut off from the life stream of the vine becomes totally useless. It withers and is useful only to be burned.
This Gospel is about the Christian life and about the Church. The mission of the Church is to bring the saving and healing power of God’s love into the life of each of us so that we can flourish. That mission involves working to make certain that each branch produces the very best fruit possible. It also involves ensuring that rotting or infected branches do not damage the healthy branches and the desired fruit. If we fail to effectively remove putrid and infected branches then we damage the ability of the healthy to flourish. If we fail effectively to remove putrid and infected branches then we put at the greatest risk the fragile saps at the most delicate moment of their growth.
Nothing can be farther from the desire of God’s care than to allow those who are weakest to be damaged at the most delicate moment of their lives. And the logic of the parable of the vinedresser reminds us that no one should be surprised that not eliminating the infected branches inevitably leads to damaging the entire vine and the good fruit that it is called to produce.
The Church must relentlessly address into the future the lessons from the scandal of the abuse of children within the Church of Jesus Christ. Part of learning what renewal in the Church means is learning genuinely how to repent.
The parable of the vinedresser addresses many other aspects of the challenge of renewal in our Church. Being a Christian means that we bear fruit. There is no such thing as a passive Christian, just parked there not having any sense of direction or purpose. Our faith is not something static, something that we can park in the back of minds and only recall for special occasions or moments of crisis. The branch which is not thoroughly alive quickly looses the natural sap which alone brings growth and fruitfulness.
We can go through all the outward expressions of belonging to the Church, but unless we possess the life of Christ within us and unless we attend each day to see that our way of living the life of Christ is cleansed and pruned to produce higher quality fruit, then we will never attain Christian maturity. Cut-off from the life of Christ we can do nothing.
But the image of the vine is a still more complex one. The life source of the entire vine is the same. As I noted earlier, each branch which sprouts may be different, but it is never an independent autonomous one, but one which belongs within the complex reality of the entire plant, with its good and its weaker branches, with its stronger and more fragile shoots. The vine is the image of the Church, through which the life-giving energy of Jesus is mediated to us in complex and intricate ways.
Each one of us is called to interiorise our faith, to make it a faith which is deeply personal. But there is only one source of faith in Jesus Christ and that is within the communion of the Church and in the life of the Church. Being a Christian means belonging to the body of Christ. All the Eucharistic Prayers stress that it is within the Eucharistic community that the Spirit gathers us into one.
The life of Christ comes to us within the reality of the Church. That Church, however, must also renew and purify itself so that it is more clearly rooted in Jesus Christ himself.
We are today witnessing a challenging and difficult period in the life of the Church in Ireland. I believe in the first place that there are great things happening in parishes, large and small, urban and rural, within this Archdiocese of Dublin and around the country. But it has also to be said that there are unhealthy divisions within the Church. The Church is called to be a sign of unity, yet this is not the witness that is being given of the Church in today’s Ireland.
There have always been divisions and disagreements within the Church. But Christians must learn to resolve their divisions according to the indications of the Gospel. The truth has no need for negative polemics. Negative polemics do not build-up but divide. In debate within the Church the truth must always be spoken in love.
The first premise of any reform and renewal in the Church is to realise what being a Christian is about. Being a Christian is not just about a list of rules and norms; it is not just about the place of the Church in politics and society or its views on the issues of the day. Being a Christian is about establishing a real personal relationship with Jesus Christ, allowing his life to come to us as the life-flow of the vine. It is about allowing the truth of Jesus to make us people of love and of integrity, within that communion which is the body of Christ.
It is only when we know Jesus that we will understand what the Christian faith is about. I am saddened by some of the polemics taking place in the Church today. I am saddened by some comments made in the public arena about Pope Benedict, as if all he did as Pope was somehow suppressing the truth. There is no mention of the fact that Pope Benedict has in these few years of his ministry as Pope written two extraordinary and striking books on Jesus Christ, witnessing to all of us and challenging us to get to know Jesus in a deeper way and to enter once again into a deep relationship with the Jesus we discover in faith. And he stresses that we do that through a reflection which is at the same time intellectual and prayerful.
The reform of the externals within the Church will only be fruitful and authentic when it grows more deeply from a genuine desire to know Jesus better. Without that deepening of faith the externals will be looked on as just organizational principles. Very few people along the history of the Church have been attracted to it just because of its external structures. A Church fixated today on its internal disputes will do very little to attract young people to the message of Jesus, but will only alienates them further. The Gospel needs to be preached with conviction and enthusiasm.
Today we need not discontent but hope. We have no need to lose hope. In difficult times like today in the life of the Church, we should remember that in history renewal has often been spurred on precisely at times of real crisis. History reminds us also that renewal within the Church has been led and spurred on by men and women who passionately endeavoured to know Jesus and to follow him in truth and in love. Those who have renewed the Church in history have been the committed saints rather than the commentators from the sidelines.
We are here today to launch a simple prayer book to help prepare for the forthcoming 50th International Eucharistic Congress. The Eucharistic Congress is an important moment to encourage renewal and unity in the Church. It is a forward looking event. It sets out to showcase, in a modest and not in a triumphalistic way, what is good and active in the Catholic Church in Ireland today and where renewal is taking place.
What is different in the Eucharistic Congress is that the setting will not be just that of a debating society, but one nourished in an atmosphere of prayer and where day-by-day those participating will be nourished by the Eucharist which, as was stressed in the Vatican Council, is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and the font from which all her power flows.
The Church is the People of God. But we become truly people of God when we live as God’s holy people. Reform of the Church takes place through the efforts of our minds and intellectual reflection on the roots of our faith. But reform of the Church also takes place on our knees, prostrate not before bishops or before gurus of the day, but on our knees before Jesus and his self giving love.
This prayer book is just the first of a series of initiatives which will be launched here in the Archdiocese of Dublin in the coming weeks to prepare for the Eucharistic Congress. I have invited young people representative of all the parishes of the diocese to a youth forum of prayer, questioning and celebration of faith. Parishes will be asked to celebrate vigils of prayer and Eucharistic adoration over one weekend, and on another weekend there will be a call to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There will be an event for priests. Masses will be said on one day in the many nursing homes so that the sick and elderly can feel part of the Congress. There is an art competition in our Catholic schools. There will be an event in which those who minister the Eucharist will minister to those who have no food. A symbolic pilgrim walk will be opened inviting believers to carry out a traditional “Camino” around seven Churches in Dublin city centre, beginning with the Church of Ireland Church of Saint Anne in Dawson Street and ending in the Pro-Cathedral.
These are all simple signs and gestures. The aim is to show people that the Church in Dublin is in mission and on the move, that there is something happening in the Church.
I was very struck by comment on the Church in a new book by Cardinal Walter Kasper who describes much of the discussion within the Church is having become stagnated and arid and he calls for a new beginning. He lists three things that should belong to that new beginning and might act as a guide to all of us to ensure that our programmes of renewal are on a sure track: a spiritual renewal nourished by the sources of our faith, solid theological reflection, and an ecclesial mentality.
An “ecclesial mentality” does not mean, on the one hand, a neo-clerical culture or, on the other hand, a closed timid fearful retreat from the world. It involves selflessly seeking the distinctive mark of the Church, a search for truth in love, based on developing what is the theme of our forthcoming Eucharistic Congress: “Communion with Christ and with One Another”.
Further Information: Annette O Donnell 087 8143462