Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Feast of Saint Laurence of ‘Toole, Saint Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin
I am very happy to welcome all of you who have come to the Pro-Cathedral this morning to celebrate the Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole, who along with Saint Kevin, is one of the two principal Patrons of the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Both Saint Kevin and Saint Laurence O’Toole found their spiritual roots in Glendalough and there is a sense in which Glendalough constitutes the spiritual roots of our diocese still today.
Perhaps more than ever before, today the Church in Dublin is being called to go back to its roots, to its spiritual roots, in the face of a culture which is marked by a growing secularisation but also by a seeking within that secular culture to find a spirituality for the twenty first century. Renewal of the Church means that each of us has to dig deep down into our souls to strengthen our spiritual roots. Our Church must become a spiritual power-house like that which inspired Kevin and Laurence O’Toole. Within each of our hearts we need to develop our own Glendalough: a space of silence and inspiration, a space for prayer and contemplation, a place of communion with God and with his creation.
We often hear people say that they no longer wish to be part of the Church, but that they still feel very much that they are spiritual people. Why is it that our Church does not appear to respond to the desire of spirituality which many people seek today? Where do we look to renew and reform our Church? What is true Christian spirituality? Why the Church?
One of the first things about the term “spirituality” is that it is hard to define. I can have my spirituality and you can have yours. I can design my own spirituality and you have no right to try to define it otherwise. The Church on the other hand seems to many to be the Church of certainties and of rules and of norms in which so many aspects of my life seem to be defined and managed and governed without me.
Laurence O’Toole had a spirituality which did not fit into either of these characteristics. We have a prayer to Saint Laurence O’Toole which was composed for the Year of Faith which looks at different aspects of Laurence O’Toole as a man of faith and at different aspects of his spirituality.
Laurence, that prayer reminds us, was a man of peace who shone out among the people of his day in politics and in society as one who really sought peace and was prepared not just to talk about peace from the safe sidelines, but who spent his life’s energies in working for peace and unity. He was a man of deep faith who was very much at home in the solitude of Glendalough, but whose spirituality was not one which entrapped him in his own safe comfort-zone. When the call to take up leadership in the Church came, Laurence responded with generosity bringing the gifts he had learned in solitude into the complex and ambiguous and times violent and corrupt world in which he was called to provide leadership.
True spirituality is not something just to bolster up our own sense of wellness. Following Jesus Christ is a calling to a robust engagement with the challenges of our society. Christian spirituality is not self-focussed but focussed on self-giving as Jesus gave his life to save us. Christian spirituality must have the ability not just to adapt to the realities of the day but to challenge the realities and the thought-patterns of the day. The Christian must be one who stands out and has the courage to rise above conformity, even when that is not easy.
The Church today must become more courageous in addressing the challenges of the day. That is what it means to be pro-life. Being pro-life is about defending human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death – but also of defending life at every moment in-between. The Church must learn more and more to be a recognisable place where integrity is encountered and where pretence and emptiness are exposed. The Church must win and regain trust and confidence in society by being the place where people truly encounter the loving care of Jesus Christ.
This morning at our Mass I will ordain a new deacon for the Archdiocese of Dublin as he makes his way towards ordination to the priesthood. I will also admit to the Office of Reader three men who are on the path to becoming permanent deacons in the service of the Archdiocese. This morning, at this Mass, we have representatives of various parishes of the Archdiocese – including those parishes dedicated to Saint Laurence O’Toole – gathered to celebrate our unity in faith.
Christian spirituality is a spirituality of unity. As a representative group of the Church of Jesus Christ in Dublin, we come to pray together. We come to celebrate the Eucharist in which we renew our communion with Jesus Christ and to renew that communion with each other which is the fruit of the Eucharist. Our communion with Christ is what gives our Christian spirituality it originality, its focus and its source. Christian spirituality is not a spirituality just of our own making. It is a gift of Jesus Christ who loves us. Christianity is not however a fixed ready-made spirituality: it is a challenge. Christian spirituality never leaves us comfortable but leaves us always uneasy and restless in seeking what is true and what is good and what is caring and uniting. Christian spirituality is a response in love to the love that Jesus showed us.
All too often we overlook the fact that a spirituality of unity must also involve respecting the harmony which God gave to his creation. There can be no spirituality of Glendalough, which ignores this link with the beauty and the harmony of nature. God’s first revelation of himself to us came in the beauty of his creation. Our encounter with nature must be one of responsibility and not exploitation. We have to learn to live leaner. We must learn not to waste. We have a responsibility to shape our lives in such a way as to foster harmony and respect among the human community and within that common home which God has entrusted to us.
A Christian spirituality of unity is one which does not exclude. The opposite of exclusion is not simply inclusion. Inclusion can be just an abstract term. A Christian concept of inclusion means noticing and embracing; it involves welcoming and sharing. Despite our ongoing economic challenges, Ireland is still a wealthy society today. A wealthy society always runs the risk of not seeing or of not fully grasping the shadows and the inequities around us. We can so easily get caught up in our own concerns, placing them first, that we do not notice that our sight has become blurred towards poverty and suffering. The poor rarely clamour. They just try to survive. When they cry out, the ears of the mainstream may well be too distracted to hear them.
None of us should be satisfied that we really see the poverty around us. For the past number of months, for example, the Crosscare Food Bank of the Dublin Archdiocese has not been able to keep up with demand for food from people in need all over Dublin. Last year, they gave out 500 tonnes of food. So far this year they have needed 750 tonnes.
Saint Laurence O’Toole was renowned for his service to the poor, a service which touched every aspect of his life, opening his own heart and indeed his Cathedral to provide food and shelter to the poor.
This morning I am launching a new diocesan initiative for this Advent: The Diocesan-Crosscare Food Appeal through which each of our parishes will be asked to be focal points for the collection of non-perishable foodstuffs to supplement supply the Diocesan Food Bank. Parishes are being supplied with details.
I would also draw attention to the diocesan collection on this coming weekend to respond to the extraordinary humanitarian emergency in the Philippines and the disaster relief for the people of Syria.
The Church must become more visibly the place where people truly encounter the loving care of Jesus Christ. That is “the why” of the Church.
The ministry of deacons is a ministry of service. You Seamus will receive the book of the Gospels today and the sacred rite will remind you of the nature of your ministry as a Deacon: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach”.
“Believe what you read” is not just an intellectual exercise. It is not something that is attested to by a diploma or an academic degree. It is attested to by the manner in which you accept the word and allow it to enter into your life. The effectiveness of the word comes not from our intellectual skills, but through the power of the Spirit.
Through his self-giving love unto death Jesus reveals to us the real depth of God’s love. Your service as a deacon, Seamus, must spring from a true knowledge of Jesus and you are now called to bring this personalized knowledge of Jesus to the men and women you encounter in your ministry.
Many in our world seek spirituality: the prime thirst of contemporary humanity, we believe, is the thirst for God, the God of love, as opposed to the false God’s of our or of any generation. Jesus Christ alone can overcome our limitedness and imperfection and permit us live out the word of God and serve our brothers and sisters through a life of integrity and coherence with the Gospel. That is the mandate of the deacon. That is the call of each of us and the roots of Christian spirituality.
Further information: Annette O’Donnell, 087 8143462/8360723