Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, in Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, for the 10th Anniversary of Child Safeguarding Service
Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
“For over a year now the Church has been celebrating a Year of Faith. The year ends today as we celebrate the final Sunday of the Liturgical Year – the Feast of Christ the King.
The word “king” is a little foreign to us who really only know democratic government. That is not important. Jesus never wanted to be a king in any political sense. His kingdom was not of this world. His reign was not to be one of domination and power but of service.
Yet it is interesting to recall that the term “king” appears at the very first moments of the life of Jesus on earth and at the very last moments of his life. At the first Christmas, the angels announce to the shepherds that “a king” has been born. On the cross of Jesus is written “Jesus of Nazareth, King”.
Some of the theologians of the early Church referred to Jesus’ kingship as a “kingship of wood”: the only time that his kingship is unequivocally recognised is on the wood of the cross, when that inscription “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” is placed above his dying body. We can only understand the kingship of Jesus when we understand the mystery of the Cross. “Jesus, the king” undergoes the death of a criminal, yet what appears to the world as an ignominious death opens the possibility for Jesus’ true kingship to be recognised and to spread.
On the Feast of Christ the King, we remember that that spreading of the kingdom of Jesus will only come to its conclusion when the salvation won for us by Jesus on the Cross is fully reflected in the life of our world and in the way we live. What does God’s kingdom look like? We hear that in the preface of today’s Mass. The kingdom of Jesus is “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace”.
When we look at the world around us we must quickly recognise that we have a long way to travel before our world truly mirrors that vision of God’s kingdom. Evil and corruption, exploitation and violence still abound. Not everything that was introduced as progress has turned out to be true progress for the human community or the human soul. Human progress does not depend only on scientific progress or economic growth or political power. Progress requires justice. But justice will remain only a word if it is not accompanied by caring and solidarity, by compassion and understanding.
Jesus kingship is recognised on his cross. How does he show his kingship? Jesus, the crucified King, does not call down the power that he has which could in an instant destroy those who persecute him. No: what does he call down? He calls down forgiveness: “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”. Jesus’ power is the opposite of that of the men and women of our time who feel that vengefully setting out to destroy those they consider their enemies is victory. Violence is never victory. Violence leads only to reprisal and more violence and renders the violent inhuman. Jesus wants us to be followers of the way his life showed us. We follow Jesus by following his example: the example of self-giving love.
The work of the Dublin Diocesan Child Safeguarding and Protection Office, which celebrates it tenth anniversary, emerges out of a tragic time in the history of the Archdiocese of Dublin, with the painful and all-too-slow recognition of the extent of the criminal abuse of children by some priests in this diocese and the recognition of the profound hurt that those children endured and in many cases still bear within their hearts today.
People were angered by the Church’s response. The institution in protecting its own, failed those children. I am reminded of the words of Pope Francis on the eve of his election: “The evils that, in the passing of time, afflict the ecclesiastical institutions have a root in self-referentiality, in a sort of theological narcissism”. The institution in protecting it own, failed its children. The ‘Kingdom of Jesus Christ’, however, is a rule, where children must be the specially treasured — not an inward-looking institution.
The Child Safeguarding and Protection Office, which was instituted by Cardinal Connell ten years ago, has over the years grown to be a significant common effort to ensure that the inadequate response of the past would truly become a thing of the past.
The Feast of Christ the King is a reminder to all those who follow Jesus that we can change our ways and our world. In a particular way the Feast of Christ the King is a special Feast for lay women and men. It is the responsibility of committed lay Christians to bring that message of Jesus into the complex situation of the world in which we live, so that the kingdom may be realised in the lives of ourselves and others and in contemporary culture.
I know of the anger that the inadequate response of the past aroused in people, especially parents. The fact that so many members of our parish communities committed themselves to tackle a scandal, for which they bore no responsibility, is a true sign of their genuine love of the Church. The entire people of God in this diocese give thanks to God for your ecclesial service. Your work has rendered the Church a safer place for children. Your work is an immense support for priests in their daily work with young people and has helped to restore a climate of confidence which will enable the work of evangelization to flourish.
All of us gathered here today renew our commitment to building a church where children will be specially cherished and where children who were abused will encounter the healing care of Jesus Christ. If there is one area where I know we need to do more, it is that of reaching out to survivors, beyond the great work of Towards Healing, to create an open door and a safe space for those survivors who have still fear telling their story and who still live alone with their anguish.
We give thanks for the work achieved by all those associated with the Diocesan Child Safeguarding and Protection Office. But that work is not over. The sexual abuse of children continues in our world. Sexual predators will seek out our weak points and break through the weaknesses of our systems. We cannot afford to let our guard down.
You have however been part of a change of culture regarding the safeguarding of children in the Church in Dublin. Children are the first beneficiaries of your work as they now have a greater opportunity to enjoy their childhood safely.
We look forward then with confidence that in the future the Church of Jesus Christ here in Dublin will continue to respond to the call of Christ and witness to the care of Christ with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.