Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, at Church of Saint Michan, Halston Street, Dublin, on the occasion of the Commencement of the Michaelmas Law Term 2012
Once again we gather at the beginning of the new Law Term to invoke the Holy Spirit on our work. We gather as a community of those charged with fostering justice and with the administration of justice. We ask the light of the Spirit to accompany us in whatever charge we have within our varied professions. We remember and commend to the Lord those of our colleagues and friends who have died during the past year.
The work of the fostering justice and of the administration of justice is a vital one within our society and within any society. All of us remember the well-known words of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who seemed to doubt the existence and the relevance of the concept “society”. It is easy for us to smile and reject such a view. The real challenge is to see how we work together to build not just society, but a just society. A just society is not something that simply emerges through a sort of process of evolution and the survival of the dominant social theories of the day. A just society must be constructed, and its construction is not just the task of experts or of an elite, but of a participative society in the broadest sense.
Social policy and its implementation must always be measured and evaluated in terms of how it responds to the fundamental rights and needs of people and especially of the vulnerable. It must foster participation at the widest possible level and lead to a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of all. In speaking, earlier this week, of the education of young people I had occasion to note that “young people are not just cogs to be trained for the techniques of a future economy. Education is not just about allowing the talents of the young person to flourish, academically and technically. It is also involves education to responsibility”.
The same must be said about society. Our society needs to find ways of educating and fostering responsibility, not just for our own endeavours, but for the type of just society we wish to create for all. This involves education to morality and to the ability to seek and discern what is truthful and good in the fullest sense. The Spirit that is given to us, the Spirit whose guidance we invoke this morning, as the Gospel reading recalls, is the Spirit of truth.
No one will doubt that one dimension of the current economic crisis is due to a crisis of public morality, where the quest for profit and prosperity became separated, both in individuals and perhaps even on a broader societal level, from serving of the common good.
What does education to public morality mean? Where do we root such a sense of public morality in an increasingly pluralist society, where values may differ? This is a perennial challenge in all societies. Diversity may create new challenges but it may never be invoked to abstain or abdicate the need to address the question, to pose the challenging questions and to foster answers which challenge conformity and simplistic solutions.
One of the first challenges is to find and sustain platforms for serious dialogue between differing views, focussing on certain fundamental values which are accepted in society. Dialogue means just that; it means dialogue in the concrete reality where differing elements of the good may be at stake. Dialogue is not about making one’s own view dominate or much less in making a caricature of one’s opponents’ views. Diversity of opinion even in the deepest questions should always be a dialogue of respect and not of exploitative polarisation.
Dialogue involves creating a climate of public opinion which is mature. Complex questions regarding values must be presented in their complexity and depth and not through a culture of spin or giving answers which are only valid until the next media challenge. A culture of spin in the long term weakens the fundamental trust citizens should be bale to have in their institution. With the development of information technology, public opinion – on a local, national and international level – can today be a truly strong force in building public morality, provided that it is not only negative and condemnatory, but also constructive and aimed at building inclusivity.
On a personal level I believe that proposed wording for the upcoming Children’s Referendum is one which has attempted to addresses the rights and obligations of the various interested groups in a balanced way, while giving a new focus on the centrality of the child’s interests. My hope is that public debate on the referendum will reflect the same seriousness which has marked its realization.
Obviously a constitutional change will not be a magic formula which will resolve all the challenges for parents and children which sadly often emerge in our complex society and with which those of you involved in the administration of justice are acutely aware. A change of culture will take a long time to be imbedded within the various levels of society and public service. Indeed, what are we to say in a week when a text about the best interests of the child was promulgated and we find people being gunned down on our streets in the presence of their own children? A sense of public morality demands that voices are raised in a united and unambiguous way to express horror and rejection of the violence we have witnessed in this week. No economic or no political aim can be achieved through such violence. It is simply amoral. Anyone who has the possibility to end such violence and to keep the perpetrators of violence away from their mission of death must assume their responsibility.
Morality and ethics are not a separate compartment from public life. Morality belongs to and shapes the common good. Our first reading recalls the effects of the gift of the Spirit on that the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. The men and women on whom the spirit came had been fearful. The Spirit gave them courage to go out into the very world of which they had been afraid and profess the message of Jesus Christ with courage and integrity. Their message, it is said, was understood by each in their own language. The Spirit can assist us to find a language of values which can be understood within the different cultures of our times. The truth is not something divisive. but something which unites and takes us away from the shallowness and emptiness of the superficial.
No one will doubt, as I said, that one dimension of the current economic crisis is due to a crisis of public morality. A crisis of public morality will not be resolved simply by preaching or by declarations alone. Indeed, the term “public morality” is one which some may wish to consider an anachronism is today’s world, an attempt to impose from outside, rather than to espouse individual freedom. Those who find such a term anachronistic will also find my next suggestion equally so. To overcome s crisis of public morality we need a process of conversion. We need not just condemnation, but a willingness to turn a new page, to change our hearts, to understand more fully how we foster rights and dignity not only in the necessary dimension of the rights of the individual, but also in the mobilization of a determined common struggle for the good.
The second reading reminds us that in the struggle for the good each of us has received his or her own gifts and his or her own responsibilities. Without the responsible participation of each of us, the common good will not be achieved. It is only when we use our talents to the full in whatever our professional role that we achieve that unity of purpose which is the basis of public morality.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to be authentic witnesses of his message in the world in which we live. Authenticity is about conformity between principle and action, between life and belief. May the Spirit of truth strengthen us in our resolve to life our faith with integrity and authenticity as we work with all those who like us wish to create a society where each one can flourish and where we can live together harmonious relations.
For us Christians, living together in harmonious relations is an expression of “communion”, that unique characteristic of the Christian community which springs from and is nourished by that unique gift of communion with Christ, which is given to us in the Eucharist we celebrate now.
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