Trinity College Dublin
“The young people who study here at Trinity have the gifts and the capacity to change the world. This is how you must seek to be remembered – that you made a difference, that you discovered you could weep before the tragedies and harsh realities of life, but you did not stand back; you used your talents and “got stuck in” to the problems of the world, tackling at the same time any inconsistencies in your own values and behaviour.” – Archbishop Eamon
When the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus, the son of Sirach, first wrote down the words of this morning’s scripture reading (Sir 44:1-15), he couldn’t have imagined that twenty-two centuries later it would be the text of choice for services of commemoration and thanksgiving such as this.
Some scholars suggest Ben Sirach may have been the director of an academy, and was compiling for his students some nuggets of wisdom, prayer and ethical teaching that would be useful during difficult times. This particular passage, from chapter forty-four, is a prologue to a roll of honour in which the author lists and eulogises his heroes of the faith – “Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers in their generations” (Sir 44:1).
Ben Sirach is offering his students role models; he points them to the exemplary lives of patriarchs, prophets, kings, counsellors, teachers, poets and musicians – people who were honoured in their own times, but who also left behind a name and example to be kept alive and emulated.
Trinity Week begins with acknowledgement and celebration, commemoration and thanksgiving. Out in the Front Square just now, the College has announced its new Honorary Fellows, Fellows and Scholars. At this service we express our appreciation and admiration for their contribution, and also for the benefactors and sponsors who continue to generously support the work of this historic university. We also bring to mind those who have died, especially over the last year. As Ecclesiasticus puts it:
“Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation. The assembly declares their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise”. (Sir 44:14-15).
But there is another important aspect to our gathering. By honouring the distinguished figures of the present and past, we hope to inspire new generations of Trinity scholars. We point them to models of scholarship, loyalty and generosity – just as Ben Sirach encouraged his readers to aspire to be remembered one day like those he praised.
At a more personal level, then, this morning’s service offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves, “How would I like to be remembered”? To reflect honestly on that question impacts on how we live and make choices in the present.
How would I like to be remembered? As a Trinity fellow or scholar? On one of the various “people of the year” lists, or, celebrated as one of the “most influential people of the century”? (But beware the title “celebrity”. Many of them are forgotten even before they make it to “the jungle” or onto the “strictly” dance floor).
Let us look more closely at what Ben Sirach felt was worth celebrating when he wrote those words: “Let us now praise famous men”.
A clue lies in verse ten – “These also were godly people, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten” (Sir 44:10). What did he mean by “godly” people? What precisely was this quality that he was calling his students and others to aspire to? The Septuagint original is preserved in some translations where the Greek “ἄνδρες ἐλέους” (andres eleous) is rendered as “merciful men”. They are “godly” in the sense that they point to God’s merciful love – they are “merciful like the Father”.
This is the quality that motivated Pope Francis four years ago to announce a Year of Mercy. He said at that time:
“It is obvious that today’s world is in need of mercy and compassion, or rather of the capacity for empathy. We are accustomed to bad news, cruel news and the worst atrocities that offend the name and the life of God. The world needs to discover that God is the Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way… I believe that this is the time for mercy”. (Credere interview, Dec. 2, 2015).
A few weeks ago Pope Francis once more mentioned “mercy” in his message Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive) to young people of the world. He went so far as to encourage them to weep before the tragedies that face many of their peers. He said:
“Weeping is an expression of mercy and compassion”. He invites us to ask ourselves: “Can I weep? Can I weep when I see a child who is starving, on drugs or on the street, homeless, abandoned, mistreated or exploited as a slave by society? (CV76). He added:
“If tears do not come, ask the Lord to give you the grace to weep for the sufferings of others. Once you can weep, then you will be able to help others from the heart”.
Pope Francis observes that “some realities in life are only seen with eyes cleansed by tears” and that “perhaps those of us who have a reasonably comfortable life don’t know how to weep” (CV76).
Last week in my home city of Derry I witnessed people weeping on the streets after the violent death of the young journalist, Lyra McKee. Their tears gave way to a call for action, to an outright rejection of violence and to a hopeful renewal of all-Party talks. Tears have also been flowing in abundance this past week in Sri Lanka following the horrific slaughter of innocent worshippers and tourists, including many children, on Easter Sunday morning. These tears must move all of us to value the freedom of worship and religion and to work to combat the hatred and extremism that gives rise to such attacks.
Friends, on a day like this we rightly celebrate the wealth of talents, scholarship and opportunity that this College represents. But in inviting you to ask yourself the question, “How would I like to be remembered”, I’m encouraging this College community to see its contribution at a much deeper level and on a truly global scale. Those who are privileged to study and research here at Trinity have been greatly gifted – but, as the Lord says: “Everyone to whom much was given, of them much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
The young people who study here at Trinity have the gifts and the capacity to change the world. This is how you must seek to be remembered – that you made a difference, that you discovered you could weep before the tragedies and harsh realities of life, but you did not stand back; you used your talents and “got stuck in” to the problems of the world, tackling at the same time any inconsistencies in your own values and behaviour. Seek to be remembered because you saved lives – even one life – by your empathy, your words, your actions; leave your mark as a leader who inspired others, pointing them “to the truth”; and, because you made a personal, merciful impact on someone else which helped to change that person’s life for the better.
In the Gospel passage we have just read, John the Baptist points his friends to Jesus. “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. They follow Jesus, then one of them, Andrew, goes and brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus, telling him, “We have found the Messiah”. Similarly Philip finds Nathaniel, and invites him too, to “come and see” the Lord.
Might that be the way we are remembered- as “godly” people who pointed others to the mercy of God? Be alert for that moment of grace and conversion in your own life when someone might point your heart to the Lamb of God, moving you firstly, perhaps, to weep for the way you are and the way the world is, and then to go and do things differently. Your witness can then bring others to come and see the truth and the new way of living that you have found. Together you can use your gifts to make a difference, realising that all the earthly honours and achievements that you once thought important are really as of nothing, because you have become completely reliant on the Father’s mercy, and you yourself have become “merciful like the Father”.
- Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh & Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore, and Primate of All Ireland.
- Trinity Monday is start of Trinity Week, Fellows and Scholars are announced from the steps in the Front Square followed by Annual Ecumenical Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444.