Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin for Mass of remembrance and prayer for victims of Berkeley tragedy

20 Jun 2015

Twelfth Sunday of the Year 2015


Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 20th June 2015 (6pm)

“The tragic events which took place in Berkeley this week have struck us all and have made us stop in our tracks. It is an event which has instantly touched hearts; an event with which each of us could identify, because we are familiar – each in our own way – with the dreams and hopes of young people.

I can remember myself as a young seminarian just turned 21 – long before the invention of J1’s – going to work for the summer in London and taking my first steps away from the security of family and the routine of seminary, proud of asserting a new sense of personal autonomy. It is the typical mark of growing up, of leaving adolescence, of seeking a sense of exploration, not just of new places to go to, but also of exploring of what is going on in my own heart.

I can remember that mixture of new confidence and of being able to let my parents know what I could do on my own, and at the same time my deeper insecurity as to what in God’s name I had let myself in for. It was a great experience. I remember the encouragement of my parents, indeed their pride in me, but I knew that my anxieties were nothing compared with theirs. That experience of seeking to become yourself in a new adult way is a primordial turning point in the personal experience of all of us.

The tragedy at Berkeley struck suddenly. It struck young people at a beautiful moment in their lives. In the days since the tragedy unfolded, we have heard so many words. People have tried to express in words what the tragedy meant for them. The young people’s friends and companions barely kept their tears back as they searched for their words. They tried to find words to express their grief and loss and their sympathy with those who have survived and to those who are bereaved. Every parent could identify what happened as their own worst nightmare. We all reflected on how horrible it was that such a tragedy could have struck young people just at that unique moment of finding themselves and finding new autonomy.

We have heard so many words. People from all walks of life, from friends to politicians, to those interviewed in casual “vox-pops” on the media, to those who knew the victims through friendship or studies or sport, spoke of these young people in terms of their talents and giftedness, of their joyful spirit, of their personal hopes for their own future and what they represented for our future as a nation and as a society.

Out of the mix of all these words, I would like simply to mention three words which stood out for me as I heard them and have become central for me in my reflection of the tragedy: goodness, family and prayer.

Goodness! Amid the references to giftedness and talents, ambition, every now and then words emerged which spoke about the simple and basic fact of each of these young people being good. It does not take long when I meet young people, whatever their social or educational background, to realise their fundamental goodness, a goodness that that lies beneath the brashness and assertiveness of immaturity and the poignant sense of fragility that is there also.

Our young people are generous and idealistic and sensitive to the shallowness and hypocrisy that sometimes marks our adult society. And when I say adult society I mean you and me. Our young people ask the deeper questions about what their life is about, alongside their healthy youthful sense of enjoying themselves. Beneath a deceptive outward appearance of security, they are still searching for the meaning of friendship and the meaning of their own lives and where they will find happiness. The Berkeley tragedy means that our future has been robbed of the unique goodness which was the mark of six young Irish men and women. This tragedy should renew within ourselves – all of us – that search for integrity and idealism and goodness that they will always represent.

The second word that struck me was family. These young men and women were the products of what is best in Irish families; that desire of parents to see their children flourish and be free and be generous and be the sort of person that would make them proud. The goodness and generosity of these young men and women were the fruit of the generosity and hopefulness of parents who gave their best to set their children on the road to fulfilment. Young people will criticise their parents, but they are the first to realise that when tragedy falls, they can return to the one place where they will find a space of embrace and security and encouragement before going out again into the challenging and at times troubling world that we live in. Young people quickly find the words to criticise family; they have much greater difficulty in finding the words to express what family means to them in the depth of their youthful journey. That the dream of six families could turn so rapidly into what is the nightmare of all families brought tears to all our eyes and a realisation of what family is about.

The third word that has struck me in the midst of the ocean of comments was prayer. People gathered at the site of the tragedy; they gathered in Churches; they gathered spontaneously on streets and bereft of human words they paused in silent prayer. Many today will say that they do not pray or that they find prayer difficult. But there are moments in which prayer becomes an almost a natural human response in the face of the inexplicable.

The Gospel reading we have heard is a complex one about faith and the fact that faith does not come naturally, especially at moments in which we are anxious. Perhaps we have to rediscover a sense of the simplicity of prayer and rediscover a sense that we do not always to have to find words and formulae and try to explain and analyse unendingly and comment upon: in the face of the inexplicable we move towards understanding best in silence and in contemplation. In bringing condolence to the bereaved, our hollow words say little compared with a silent embrace.

There is the strange description in today’s Gospel reading which says that the disciples took Jesus into the boat “just as he was”. He was so tired and exhausted that the disciples had to carry him almost by physical force and place him in the boat. He was so tired that he had to be carried: a very unusual image of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.

The disciples care for Jesus. Then the storm arises and they lose their sense of caring for Jesus and begin to think themselves alone but realise that alone they are unable to change reality. It is Jesus alone who brings calm and comfort, not just to the elements but it is he who establishes and re-establishes calm and peace in hearts.

At this Mass we pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died at the Berkeley tragedy and we pray for the injured and the traumatised. We remember the inconsolable grief of parents and family and closer friends. But out of this tragedy we learn from the life of our young people what the things are that remain, not just after this tragedy, but the things that remain deep in every human heart and which we treasure. We treasure them in our hearts where words are secondary and goodness and caring and love are the life blood.

May Ashley, Eimear, Eoghan, Lorcán, Niccolai and Olivia — rest in peace and enjoy their human fullness now in life eternal with the Lord”.