Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor at Saul Mountain, Downpatrick, Diocese of Down and Connor
- I hail the courage of those TDs, men and women, in Dáil Éireann who refuse to bend to weavers of party political mantras, who recognise that the Taoiseach and the government have failed to engage with key and substantive issues raised in reasoned comment on both grounds of pure reason as well as on grounds linking human reason and Christian faith – Bishop Treanor
Welcome and congratulations
Two years have passed since we last gathered on this site for the celebration of the Eucharist. The heavens opened on us on that Sunday, 12 June 2011. In the meantime a great work of maintenance has been done. And today the sun shines on us and on the splendid re-appointment of the hill, or mountain, as it is called, of Saul.
At the outset I want to compliment all who took part in the community effort that achieved these works. It was a co-operative venture, involving Down County Council, the Tourist Board and the Diocese of Down and Connor. In your presence I wish to put on record your gratitude and mine to both Down County Council and the Tourist Board for their generous support for the re-appointment of this location and monument which speak of the Christian tradition of this area and its peoples. On this now splendid and renewed site faith community and public entities have joined hands to tend and maintain the vital and energising memory of Saint Patrick and by doing so to honour the significance of the message of salvation for humanity contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ which Patrick proclaimed on the island of Ireland.
As we gather here today, we also remember that eighty one years ago, on Saint Patrick’s Day 1932 the young Bishop Daniel Mageean cut the sod on this ten acre mountain donated by Mr T J Hampton, Loughmoney, where the Slaney rises. Seventy five years ago this summer, on Sunday 12 June 1938, the Memorial was unveiled and blessed by Cardinal MacRory, Archbishop of Armagh. Many unrecorded prepared for and attended those events, some of them your ancestors. They lived and sought to follow Christ in their time; they are links in “an unbroken chain of witnesses” in whom “we come to see the face of Jesus”( LF 38), to use the words of Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), published on Friday past, Ours it is now in era to animate, enlighten and humanise our time, our society, our own lives work with the gospel of Christ.
Remembering Patrick in this Year of Faith (2012-2013)
Here at Saul, in this Year of Faith, we recall the arrival and mission of St Patrick. Saul is the place where, according to the Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick, the prayer of Patrick tamed and silenced Dichu’s guard dog. It is the place where prayer silenced protest, where the powerless Patrick softened, melted, the heart of the powerful Dichu, who became a believer. Saul, and the barn of Dichu, echo now and forever with the power of the Word of God, preached by Patrick, to evoke faith in the heart of each person. Here in this location Dichu’s encounter with Patrick, his experience of Patrick, led him to faith in Christ.
We too receive faith from each other, children from parents, spouses from each other, priests from people, people from priests and religious. Making the gospel of Jesus Christ known, introducing people to Christ is a task for every generation anew.
Evangelisation is never done once and for all time. We have to continue Patrick’s work among ourselves in our time, like the seventy-two of today’s gospel text (Lk 10.1-12, 17-20).
Indeed our time and generations is one when the Christian faith requires tending and cultivation. In the contemporary experience of life, trust, that basic cement of human relations and of society, has been deeply mined and threatened. We have seen this erosion of trust in so many arenas in life, for example: in the banking sector, in the Church with the criminal horrors of child sex abuse and its mismanagement, in the public sector, in the illegal use of new technologies to invade the sanctum of personal privacy. These and other test-points of trust, especially those of profound anthropological importance, such as, care for the elderly and respect and care for the inviolability of the unborn child, are the pulse points for evangelisation today.
In his encyclical letter Pope Francis tells us that Christian faith … “makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love” (LF 51). Thus faith is “a service to the common good” (LF 51) and “it helps us to build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope” (LF 51). Today each one of us and our society is in need of hope. We need perspective on life that is solid, that can keep us going in the face of heavy trials. We have a deep need to grasp afresh the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the gospel.
Lumen Fidei, an Encyclical Letter on Faith
We think of Saint Patrick as the one who brought the light of faith to Ireland. As I said, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter bears the title: the ‘Light of Faith’. I should like to recommend it to you as a text you might read before the end of this Year of Faith. It is to be found on the Vatican’s own website vatican.va.
Beginning with an introduction on faith as a light for humanity, the letter is set out in four chapters. Each chapter is built around a key element of the dynamic of faith : (i) love, (ii) truth, human reason and the search for God, (iii) faith as saving memory and source of hope for the future, (iv) faith as power for personal life and for the just ordering of society.
Pope Francis repeats time and again that faith is a new way of seeing things “centred on Christ” (LF 20). He talks about how faith is communicated and handed on in the community of believers, the Church.
Let me read you a short passage that merits reflection:
Faith, in fact, needs a setting in which it can be witnessed to and communicated … / For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. / But what is communicated in the church, what is handed down in her living Tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages us minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion. / There is a special means for passing down this fullness, a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others. It is the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy. The sacraments communicate an incarnate memory, linked to the times and places of our lives, linked to all our senses ; in them the whole person is engaged a s member of a living subject and part of a network of communitarian relationships” (LF 40)
Faith brings “grandeur and fulfilment to life” (LF5), Pope Francis reminds us. It is linked to concrete life stories (LF12). There is nothing cheap or evasive about Christian faith and the letter contains another passage that is worthy of thought on the part of both the tough and the weak:
“(yet) it is precisely in contemplating Christ’s death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring salvation. This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in ; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely” (LF 16)
This note is picked up again towards the end of the letter where Francis talks of suffering and faith. He says:
“Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens a ray of light” (LF 57)
Going forth from Saul 2013 in this Year of Faith
Enriched by our gathering in this historic setting to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the saving mysteries of Christ’s life, death and Resurrection in the Eucharist, let us take three tasks with us for the remainder of this Year of Faith:
Firstly, let us sharpen our understanding of the gift of Christian faith, passed on to us by parents, teachers and the community. Let us explore and grow our understanding of that faith. One way might be to read the encyclical letter of Pope Francis.
Secondly, let us think about the connection between Christian virtue and the renewal of trust as the cement of society. What importance do we place on values in life ? What importance to we place on inculcating values in our children’s habits? What are the sources of human values? What is the contribution of faith and prayer to generating and consolidating a value system for oneself and in society?
Finally, let us salute the courage of those public representatives, North and South, who question and dissent from the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013.
I salute the members of the All-Party Pro-Life Group at Stormont for their letter, published in The Irish Times on Tuesday 2 July, in which they signalled their concerns about abortion as a treatment for suicidal ideation and their concern, which I am sure many citizens of the Republic of Ireland share, of a whipped vote on the ultimate value of human life, particularly the life of the defenceless unborn.
As I salute the cross-border initiative of these MLAs, I hail the courage of those TDs, men and women, in Dáil Éireann who refuse to bend to weavers of party political mantras, who recognise that the Taoiseach and the government have failed to engage with key and substantive issues raised in reasoned comment on both grounds of pure reason as well as on grounds linking human reason and Christian faith. This failure has seriously impoverished the quality of the public and political debate. It has dealt a fatal blow to the legitimacy of the political and legislative process. It has, I believe, disenfranchised massive numbers of citizens of the republic. These deputies, and a minister of state, are prepared to take a stand, at personal and professional cost, for ultimate values and for policies commensurate with the governance, refinement and ethical sophistication of which the human imagination is capable in this twenty-first century … and this on a fundamental ethical matter where Ireland could give Christian witness and global leadership for the future. Let us keep these and all TDs in our prayers in the coming days and weeks.
As we now proceed with the Eucharist, let us pray in the spirit of Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter for the grace of “faith’s new way of seeing things centred in Christ” (LF 20) and as we celebrate the Last Supper, may our celebration of Christ’s total self-gift enable us to overcome every suspicion about faith and to entrust ourselves completely to Christ (LF 16).
- Bishop Noel Treanor is Bishop of Down and Connor
For media contact Father Eddie McGee, media liaison officer for the Diocese of Down and Connor 0044 (0) 78 11144268 and [email protected] or the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, Martin Long 00 353 (0) 861727678