Homily of Archbishop Martin at Tine Network Conference 2013

23 Mar 2013

Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Tine Network Conference 2013

Carlton Hotel, Tyrellstown

“I am fascinated with statistics.  We need accurate statistics to make sound decisions.  But statistics never tell the full story.  In today’s world there are abundant statistics and surveys of public opinion.  The fact that many of these surveys contradict each other should be enough to put us on our guard.   The answers you get reflect very much the questions you ask; the questions you ask very often reflect the answers you want.

But accurately gathered statistics do reveal facts that popular opinion and received wisdom tend to hide.  In the Archdiocese of Dublin we have collated a vast range of statistics about Church life and these are both encouraging and discouraging, they reveal facts that we at times overlook and they do not account for other facts which we know are there.

Regarding the Archdiocese of Dublin:  an analysis of the data of 2011 Census – collated parish by parish and for the geographical confines of the Archdiocese – indicates that almost one quarter of those living in the Archdiocese of Dublin registered at the census as ‘other’ than Roman Catholic.  We would be very foolish to think that of the three quarters who ticked the box “Roman Catholic” on the census form, all are really committed Catholics. What does that tell us?

These statistics give many reasons to be discouraged. Taken alongside the information gathered directly from parishes we see that numbers regularly attending Mass have gone down.  The indications are that the percentage of parents who would be fully committed to sending their children to a Catholic school is considerably lower than we often tend to imagine.

The information that we gather on Mass attendance give a fairly accurate picture of the numbers who attend Mass regularly, but they give no indication of the age bracket of those who attend.  We would be foolish not to recognise that among many young Irish people the process of distancing themselves from the faith begins very quickly after they leave school or even while they are at school.

Perhaps in the past we tended to feel that the strength of Irish Catholicism was in its numbers and that it was enough to keep our structures working and ticking-over and people would inevitably maintain loyalty to the Church and to the message of Jesus Christ.

Our Gospel reading this afternoon sets out a different way of imagining statistical information, neither pessimistic nor enthusiastic.     The Gospel reading begins with the contrast between two words:  many and some.  Many believed in Jesus, but some went off to the Pharisees to plot against him, to misconstrue his teaching, to create a climate in which his teaching and his actions were misinterpreted.

We live in a society where religious culture is not just monolithic but is a culture of differing forms of many and some.  There are reasons to be discouraged and there are reasons to be enthusiastic. How do we respond in such a situation?

In our Gospel reading, Caiaphas responds in a practical and pragmatic way.  A quick answer has to be found to prevent the whole nation being destroyed.

In the current situation of the Church and of belief in Ireland today we can very often be tempted to think that we can find some quick fix. We can be tempted to blame external factors for our situation and think that that if we could put aside the problems of the scandals and if we could relativise the influence of negative media comment and make the Church a little more relevant to the signs of the times of Irish culture, then within a short time we would be back to where we started.

The signs of the times are not, however, to be found simply by sounding out and then reacting to the public opinion of the moment.  Jesus did not spin his message to respond to the trends of the day.  Reading the signs of the times means immersing ourselves deeply into the word of God, as found in the scriptures and the tradition of the Church, to discern where we find the signs of God’s action within the realities of the times we live.  The way of renewal for the Church is God’s way, not ours.

Pope Benedict XVI’s response to this challenge, which we take up in this Conference, was that of the New Evangelisation and the Year of Faith.  But New Evangelisation is not a quick fix, it is not just about plans and strategies and programmes.

It is about the manner in which we authentically live our faith as a gift received from the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.  We are called to witness to that gift of faith in a doubting and uncertain world, but also a world which is searching and seeking for something deeper in life. We need to reach out to those who though baptised have drifted away from faith.  We need to reach out to those for whom – even though they lead a good life – the Church has somehow become marginal to the way they live and how they understand the world.

New Evangelization is not a quick fix.  Speaking of the Year of Faith Pope Benedict stressed that “to enter through that door [of faith] is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime”.  The Year of Faith is not just another Year; it is a call to something that is truly fundamental for our Christian life and for the Christian community.

Many participants at the recent Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation stressed that New Evangelisation is not just a matter for the secularised societies of the West.  Bishops from right across the world spoke of the need to revive a faith that runs the risk of being eclipsed by aspects of the dominant culture in which we live.

How do we speak of evangelisation to people who do not understand any need to be saved or to be evangelised?   How do we enter into dialogue with the many good and honest men and women of our time who think that salvation is progress, simply our own work, the work of human progress, the work of human cooperation?  How do we speak to them about the Church?

Paradoxically, perhaps because of the past Irish culture of mass-Catholicism, there are many who even though they have long since drifted away from the faith are not shy of presenting their answer to the problems of the Church and how the Church should be reformed into a sort of social Church.   Do we just go along with popular sentiment?

In today’s Gospel and in that of yesterday we find that the answer of Jesus to the confrontation of ideas in which he finds himself is quite a surprising one.  Yesterday it is said that when the crowd wished to stone him to death: “he eluded them”; this afternoon, we hear that in the face of the controversy around his teaching and identity: “he no longer went about openly among them” and that “he left their district”.

What is that saying to us about New Evangelisation? Is new Evangelisation flight from the realities of the world?  Is the believer simply to   opt out of society?  Are we to become a sort of cult or a sect?   Jesus is teaching us something else; he is actually showing us a way in which through uncontaminated faith we bring something original and new to society.

In a remarkable talk by the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury at the recent Synod of Bishops, he spoke about the place of holiness and contemplation in the New Evangelisation and in the contribution of the Church to society.   He talked about how our faith contributes to our living more humanly.  By living more humanly he meant – yes opting out of something. But in what way?

Living more humanly, he said, means: “living with less frantic acquisitiveness, living with space for stillness, living in the expectation of learning, and most of all, living with an awareness that there is a solid and durable joy to be discovered in the disciplines of self-forgetfulness that is quite different from the gratification of this or that impulse of the moment”.

New Evangelisation, he says, begins not with us doing things, but with us forgetting ourselves; it begins with stillness, forgetting the hectic and the consumerism of the moment.  If we do not do this, the Archbishop warned, then we run the risk of trying to sustain our faith on a purely human set of values where: “the Church comes to look unhappily like so many purely human institutions, anxious, busy, competitive and controlling”.

The Church is not just another human organisation.  Does that not bring your to mind exactly what Pope Francis said just one week ago: “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord”.

The Year of Faith is not a quick fix; the New Evangelisation is not just about plans and strategies and programmes.  It is about the manner in which we authentically live our faith as a gift received from the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ and who calls us to witness to him in our world.  New Evangelisation is about witnessing in the way we live to what Jesus means in our lives.

Pope Francis has given us some very significant signs and gestures about how he understands his role as Bishop of Rome and successor of Saint Peter.  He does not want us, however, just to look at these gestures on television and feel good about them and feel good that we have a new Pope like him.   There is not much good in having a new Pope if we do not make our own what he is saying and teaching and doing.  There is not much good in having a new Pope if we do not change ourselves and reflect more effectively in our lives the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

New Evangelisation is about witnessing in the way we live to what Jesus means in our lives.  Might I conclude by adapting some other words of Pope Francis?   Speaking to the Cardinal who elected him, in part jokingly, he noted that many of them were advanced in age.   And he said: “Old age is the seat of life’s wisdom. The old have acquired the wisdom that comes from having journeyed through life, like the old man Simeon, the old prophetess Anna in the Temple. And that wisdom enabled them to recognize Jesus”.

And the he said simply: “Let us pass on this wisdom to the young: like good wine that improves with age, let us give life’s wisdom to the young”.   New Evangelisation for us is precisely that:  passing the wisdom and the fulfilment that comes to us through our faith in Jesus Christ, to the next generation, not as formulae or impositions, but as the good wine which matures with age, as good news which matures not through our efforts but though the hidden work of Jesus himself, who brings our goodness to maturity through his self-giving love.   Let us not put our faith just in the statistics, but in that quiet yet omnipresent and loving presence in our world of Jesus the Lord.


Further information: Annette O Donnell 087 8143462

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