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Homily of Bishop Éamonn Walsh for the opening Mass of the Divine Mercy Conference

  • “Pope Francis shows how ordinary people working together despite their differences can discover unforeseen possibilities. This is time for building a new society that will sustain us in the future; an opportunity to re-invent, re-vision how we live. Together we can do it.” – Bishop Walsh

Introduction

Thank you all for joining in this celebration of the Opening Mass of the Divine Mercy Conference of 2021. Allow your imagination to create the sense of community praying together, a gathering of people linked through faith rather than  location. On the bright side, it allows many to be present who otherwise could not because of distance, illness or infirmity. The technology that we often complain about is bringing us together. We give thanks and pray that this conference may be an occasion and pathway to many graces and expressions of God’s Divine mercy.

Homily

“Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me,

To break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke,

To share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”. (Isaiah58:7-8)

How often does the Word of God remind us “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.”

As we begin the Season of Lent one could understandably say, have we not been living a Lent for the past twelve months with all the Covid-19 restrictions. Our comfort zone world has been turned on its head. We are being forced to think out again what really is important, what is essential; the “to die for” possessions, foreign holidays, how important are they really. A simple touch, a hug, a visit to extended family and friends, all free but now out of reach. How we used to love a free day from school; face coverings in shops were a sign of a hold-up, now you will be fined for not wearing one. We are being forced as Fagan said in Oliver Twist “to think it out again.”

Pope Francis addressed the current crisis in a wonderful interview with the journalist Austen Ivereigh, published before Christmas; it is called “Let us Dream”- the path to a better future.  Such a pity it got little publicity given the challenging wisdom contained in it.  He begins by exploring what this Covid-19 crisis can teach us how to handle upheaval of any kind, whether in our lives or the world at large.  By its nature a crisis presents us with a choice.  He stresses we make a grave mistake if we try to return to some pre-crisis state.  Instead if we have the courage to change, we can emerge from the challenge better than before.  He presents a blueprint for building a better world for all humanity that puts the poor and the planet at the heart of new thinking.  He shows how ordinary people working together despite their differences can discover unforeseen possibilities. This is time for building a new society that will sustain us in the future; an opportunity to re-invent, re-vision how we live. Together we can do it.  Lent is a good time for us to adapt to two of his stressed concerns, namely care for and inclusion of the poor, and care of planet earth our home.

Pope Francis identifies two cancerous cells that lead to the neglect of the poor, the poorest and the disadvantaged of the world. He calls them indifference to the plight of others and a sense of self sufficiency– I don’t need anyone, everyone for themselves.

He compares God’s mercy to a river overflowing its banks. When a river overflows its banks it creates a crisis that demands swift action. People react in a swift, decisive, creative way.  They give of themselves in a spontaneously generous and energetic way. He cites the example of the Rohinga persecuted people. In 2017 when the Rohinga were fleeing for their lives it was the Bangladeshi people, a poor densely populated country who opened their doors to them. In order that the Rohinga people could eat, the Bangladeshis gave up one meal a day. That is Divine Mercy in action. An example of Jesus’s measure of generosity, “a full measure, pressed down and overflowing.”   Contrast this attitude to the attitude of indifference that does not let us feel the promptings of the Spirit that a crisis must provoke in our hearts. Indifference bullet-proofs our mercy. A sort of what’s that to me; I am not my brother of sister’s keeper. As the Italians say “che me non frega”.

Pope Francis links this indifference to a sense of entitlement and failure to respect the value of a person. Once the cancer of disrespect, treating people as second class and the entitlement attitude of I can do what I like with what is “mine or in my control”, then all kinds of abuse of power, position, property, people, mother earth gradually follows. Classic examples of these abuses have been highlighted both at home and abroad, not just in recent years but over the centuries. It is so tempting to slip into blindness and denial and to convince ourselves that these neglects and abuses are not happening under our watch. Lent provides a perfect opportunity for us to reflectively pray the word of God and view the world through the eyes of Jesus’s love and mercy.

It’s very tempting to distance ourselves from the past. To quote Pope Francis again: “Some want to project onto the past the history they would like to have now which requires them to cancel what came before. Amputating history can make use lose our memory. The ignominy of the Past is part of who we are; he cites the genealogy of Jesus. This is well illustrated in Fr Denis Mc Bride’s account of the story of Uncle George…..

It is always better to adopt the recovery motto of Name; Claim and Tame: rather than Name, Blame and Shame.  It is only by accepting our history and learning from it that we have a chance of not repeating it.

Pope Francis is calling us to be family who dwell in the one home. We are our sister and brother’s keeper and we are custodians, stewards, fellow co-shapers of planet earth our home: the earth is not ours to plunder, drain of its resources at the expense of future generations.

Let the pandemic be a stark reminder to us all that no one is saved alone. “Solidarity is not sharing the crumbs from the table but to make space at the table for everyone…..the problem is not recognising the poor, naked, sick… but recognising their dignity to sit at our table and to feel at home among us, to feel part of the family” (pages 110-113).

Let this season of Lent be one when our prayer is one of listening to the discerning voice of God, responding to God’s promptings to replace any traces of the cancer of indifference and self-sufficiency with the generosity of God’s love in a measure that is pressed down and overflowing. May we see and feel the presence and face of God in all people especially the poorest and in the world around us; our home. Amen.

ENDS

Notes for Editors:

  • Bishop Éamonn Walsh is Auxiliary Bishop-Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Dublin.
  • The Divine Mercy Conference runs from today until Sunday.  The opening Mass, celebrated by Bishop Walsh, will take place this evening at 8.00pm and can be streamed here: https://www.divinemercyconference.com/ 
  • The Divine Mercy Devotion is inspired by the experiences of Saint Faustina Kowalska. On February 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to Sr Faustina, as we read in her Diary: In the evening, when I was in my cell, I became aware of the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From the opening of the garment at the breast there came forth two large rays, one red and the other pale. In silence I gazed intently at the Lord; my soul was overwhelmed with fear, but also with great joy. After a while Jesus said to me: “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You”.  The Feast of Divine Mercy was formally established by Saint Pope John Paul II in April 2000.                                                 

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