Homily of Archbishop Charles Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, at Mass in thanksgiving for the Eucharistic Congress and to introduce the Year of Faith
Tuesday 25 September 2012 – Maynooth
Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, my fellow priests, dear men and women religious, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We come together in this beautiful College chapel this evening at an important moment in the life of the Church in Ireland. For all of us here tonight as well, autumn brings a new beginning, the summer vacations are over, a new academic year begins, and we – whatever our specific vocation in the Church – return to our work for the Church. We have only recently concluded the immensely encouraging International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, which was such an occasion of grace for the Church in Ireland and, on behalf of the Holy Father, I want to say a very sincere ‘thank you’ to all those who worked so hard to make it the success that it was. In approximately two weeks’ time we will begin the Year of Faith, called by the Holy Father to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. As we move forward, it seems to me that these two events, the International Eucharistic Congress and the Year of Faith, provide the perfect context for us, because both of these events call us to focus and to centre ourselves on what is truly most important. One of the perennial occupational hazards for all of us who, in different ways, work and minister in the Church is to become so absorbed in the details and commitments of our work as to forget the reason and primary motivation for everything we do. Whatever our ministry, there is the danger that our attention to doing our job – be it representing the Holy See or administering a Diocese or working in a department of the Episcopal Conference – can become so all-encompassing in itself that we literally begin to forget the reason why our job is indeed important. Our Gospel for today’s Mass is a striking reminder what is important, a reminder of what counts in the ultimate analysis. Jesus questions his disciples about who people say that he is, and the disciples relate to him what they have heard the people say. But the Lord only asks the question in order that the disciples themselves might reflect on who he is, and so he then asks them directly: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks on behalf of all: “You are the Christ”. Peter’s response goes beyond relating what other people have said about Jesus; instead he gives voice to what he himself believes about the son of the carpenter from Nazareth. Peter expresses his faith in the Lord as the Christ, as God’s anointed one.
And in a certain way, this is the challenge that faces us as well. We need to be witnesses of faith, not just recounting what others have said about the Lord, but rather giving voice to our own faith in him who has called us. Like Peter, we need to be witnesses of what we believe. As Catholics in Ireland, we have rejoiced in and meditated upon the mystery of Christ during the days of the Eucharistic Congress, and now we need to do what Peter does in the Gospel today; we need to witness to our faith in this Year of Faith called by Pope Benedict. Certainly, the Holy Father had more than one motive for asking the universal Church to engage in a Year of Faith. One reason certainly was to encourage people to really study the documents of the Second Vatican Council itself, to read what the Council actually said, to absorb the authentic teaching of the Council and not be content with second-hand interpretations of the Council. Pope Benedict quotes Pope John Paul II on this point: the documents of the Second Vatican Council “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance” (Porta fidei, 5).
But the fundamental reason for the Year of Faith is to call all Catholics to the act of faith, that is, to the fundamental reality of our relationship with Jesus Christ, to a joyful witnessing of our faith in him, and to a courageous adherence to what Christ, in and through his Church, teaches us about how to live and how to love. The Holy Father is concerned that, in some cases, Catholics in their very laudatory focus on “the social, cultural and political consequences” (Porta fidei, 2) of faith, may lose sight of the very foundation which leads to those consequences. We ourselves need to nourish and strengthen our faith thorough the sacraments, through prayer, through study of Catholic doctrine, especially the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If we don’t nourish our faith, then little by little we will lose the capacity to witness, and our work and our ministries will gradually become indistinguishable from any kind of humanitarianism, however praiseworthy that may be.
So, in a certain sense, the Year of Faith is the consequence of the Eucharistic Congress; it flows from our encounter, our communion with Christ present among us. The Year of Faith then should be a time for us to revitalize our faith in Him. As Pope Benedict writes, quoting Pope Paul VI, we need to “reappropriate ‘exact knowledge of the faith, so as to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it and confess it’” (Porta fidei, 4). Our Gospel this evening shows us so clearly how our witness to the faith needs always to be purified. Peter himself, immediately after having made his own confession of faith, resists the teaching that Jesus gives regarding his suffering, death and resurrection. Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him. We can easily find ourselves in the same situation. Like the Apostle Peter, our challenge is to allow our minds and our hearts to be shaped by Christ’s teaching, and not remain paralysed in our own opinions and prejudices. Peter resisted the teaching of Jesus surely because what Christ was teaching seemed so contrary to Peter’s ideas of success and popularity. Isn’t the same true for us today? Isn’t that always the temptation for us, when we are faced with the demands of the Gospel and the constant teaching of the Church? And yet the Lord is clear. It is only by handing over our lives to him that we will find the path to joy and to salvation: “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and Gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). But what is the power that makes us able to give our lives in following Christ and his teaching? That power is called faith, the gift which enables us to believe in God and to believe in what he teaches and reveals to us. Faith is a power which has some similarities to natural human powers. In a word, faith increases when it is put into practice. Do you want to increase your faith? Then act with faith; act on the basis of your faith, and your faith will grow. “If you have faith [even] as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
Ireland has a history of faith which is almost unparalleled in the history of the Church, and that history is not finished. The history of Ireland’s faith is not over. It continues now in our own time. It continues to be written in our lives. One year ago yesterday, Pope Benedict was in Erfurt, Germany, where he honoured the memory of Saint Kilian, who left Ireland more than a thousand years ago, in the seventh century, to bring the Catholic faith to northern Bavaria and is patron of the Cathedral in Würzburg. For Pope Benedict, reflecting on the lives of the saints is a way of reflecting on the gift of faith. Referring to Saint Kilian and other saints of Germany that day, Pope Benedict asked: “…what do these saints have in common? How can we describe the particular quality of their lives?… Firstly, the saints show us that it is possible and good to live in a relationship with God, to live this relationship in a radical way, to put it in first place, not just to squeeze it into some corner of our lives. The saints help us to see that for his part God first reached out to us. We could not attain to him, we could not somehow reach out into the unknown, had he not first loved us, had he not first come towards us. After making himself known to our forefathers through the calling that he addressed to them, he revealed and continues to reveal himself to us in Jesus Christ. Still today Christ comes towards us, he speaks to every individual, just as he did in the Gospel, and invites every one of us to listen to him, to come to understand him and to follow him” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 September 2011). Brothers and sisters, that response to the invitation of Christ, that listening, that understanding, that following – that is what faith is, and that is the reason for the Year of Faith which begins on October 11, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
May Our Lady of Knock, the woman of faith, accompany us with her prayers and intercession as we begin this Year of Faith, this adventure of faith.