Archbishop Farrell: “To be Church is to live our faith together, and together to bear witness to the surprise and wonder of our God, and God’s way with us”

26 May 2024

Archbishop Dermot Farrell, Archbishop of Dublin

  • Homily for the Episcopal Ordination of Father Donal Roche as Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin and to Welcome Bishop Paul Dempsey as Auxiliary Bishop in Dublin

Only the heart can grasp the Trinity.  Mysteries are not understood; mysteries are experienced.  Who ‘understands’ love?  Is love not known through experience? And death … let us not fool ourselves: we do not understand death, but we know death when we experience it, … and hope, and joy.  All these vital dimensions of our life, are mysteries of the heart, and can only be grasped by the human heart.

It is our faith that God, our Father, sent His Son into time, into history, into the human condition.  The Trinity is God for us, to use expression of the late American theologian, Catherine LaCugna.  The first reading today assures us that God’s love is not something that remains nebulous and intangible.  Rather, the saving activity of God is concrete and visible both in the great moments, and in the routines of everyday life (Deut 4:32–34, 39–40).  God’s self-revelation extends to our own experience; Moses helps us recognise it through a set of questions: “Did anything so great ever happen before?  Was it ever heard of?  Did people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of a fire, as you heard it, and live? (Deut 4:32–33).

“The heart of Christian life, [then] is the encounter with [this] personal God who makes possible both our union with God and communion with each other.”  (Catherine Mowery LaCugna, God for Us [San Francisco: Harper, 1991], 319).  The Trinity proclaims that our God, who is beyond words and definitions, is made known for us in Jesus, in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord; and in the Holy Spirit who continues to empower and guide us on our pilgrimage through time, on our way home to our Father for whom we were created.  The Christian recognises the face of God in the face of Christ.  One could go further and say that the shape of the Christ’s life and ministry is the shape of the divine life in us, calling us, forming us, as persons and as communities into the image of the living, loving, out-reaching God.  That is the Trinity – God reaches out: God reaches out to us and to all creation.

And there’s more: not only does God reach out to us, [but] God remains with us.  [Our] God stands by us: “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”   The last, and therefore very important, words of Jesus are not a final command, or a last request, or even an ultimate counsel, but an assurance: “I am with you always…” (Matt 28:20).  God sent his Son to be with us.  This is our Good News.  We are not left on our own.  “I am with you always.”  This is who Jesus is – God with us: as it says at the beginning of the Gospel, ‘The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, [a name] which means, ‘God-with-us.’ (Matt 1:23)

This is how our God is: with us.  This is how Christ is: with us.  This is what and how the Church truly is: God with us, and we with each other.  The importance of today’s feast, lies herein: we do not just believe in God; we believe in God who is our Father and who shares His life with us.  We do not just believe in the Son who was sent into the world to save and redeem us; we believe in the Son who is with us on our way, on good days and on dark days.  We do not just believe in the Spirit, who is Lord and Giver of Life, as we pray in the Creed; we believe in the Spirit who is with us, who is the love of God poured into our hearts, and into the heart of every creature (Romans 5:5).  “For the word of the Lord is faithful and all God’s works to be trusted,” as we prayed in the Psalm today.  “The Lord loves justice and right and fills the earth with His love.”

To celebrate the Trinity is not to mark some sophisticated theological formula; no, to celebrate this Solemnity is to stand before the mystery of our God whose imperative and initiative it is to share his life with us, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and present to us even when, in our blindness and self-absorption, we are not present to ourselves, who remains faithful to us, even when we abandon each other.  To be Church, to live our faith, is to live this mystery with all its power, potential, and demands.  To be Church is to live our faith together, and together to bear witness to the surprise and wonder of our God, and God’s way with us.

Today, the Church in Dublin, receives two auxiliary bishops.  In seeking two auxiliary bishops, I had to the fore the need of our diocese to respond to the rapidly-changing social and pastoral needs of our people.  The Church of today is called to be, in the words of Pope Francis, “capable of transforming everything, so that [our] customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelisation of today’s world, rather than for her [own] self-preservation.”  (Evangelii Gaudium, 27).  Donal and Paul, through your closeness to people you have laboured to transform your parishes into places, open to the Spirit, where all are offered a welcome.  It is this very pastoral orientation that gives me the greatest joy in ordaining you, Donal, to the episcopate this day, and welcoming you, Paul into the Archdiocese.

Donal and Paul you have been chosen from among the flock for a life of service.  The trajectories of your ministerial lives will help you to engage with a society which is increasingly diverse, mobile, and detached from traditional communities of faith centred on residential parishes.  It would be a mistake for us as a local Church to see these challenges as temporary, or as limited in their implications for the life of the Church in Dublin.  We are called to reimagine our pastoral mission in a creative way, and discover and re-discover ways of permitting Christ’s Good News, God’s open door, to be received by those who do not yet recognise his face.  We can no longer seek to patch an old garment, with new-found fabrics.  We need new wineskins (Mark 2:22).  We need to re-examine the fundamental assumptions of our pastoral outreach in order to help our people and our parishes find the way to an encounter with our living Lord, with greater confidence and hope.

It is often forgotten that leadership – both pastoral and spiritual – is a key characteristic of priesthood.  This is a fortiori the case for the bishop.  “Tend the flock of God that is entrusted you; watch over it, not out of necessity but gladly, as God would have you do it, not for shameful gain, but eagerly.  Do not lord it over those is in your charge, but be an example to the flock” (1 Pet 5:2; see also Rite of Ordination).  These words from the First Letter of Saint Peter – words taken up by the Rite of Ordination we are about to celebrate – are words not only about the faithful entrusted to us, they are also words about all the people of God, the whole “flock of God.”  “The vocation of the Church is to be catholic, that is, to reach out towards all of humanity.” (Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, “Words of Welcome at the Installation of Bishop Laurent Le Boul’ch as Archbishop of Lille.” May 20, 2023). 

Today, in this city and in this country, when questions about the rights of migrants and refugees, and our capacity to welcome them are being raised, and at times manipulated, must we in leadership in the Church not “offer to all the friendship of Christ, especially to the poor, to the excluded, those isolated, to migrants, [but also] to the sick,” (ibid.) to the vulnerable, and to those whose bodies have been devastated, and whose lives, families, and communities have been degraded by cycles of dependency, and by the fear instilled by those who cynically profit from the fragility of their brothers and sisters.  If our Lord is with us, is his very presence not a call to genuine solidarity with each other, especially those most in need of God’s gentle embrace?

Donal and Paul, may you today place your trust in God’s providence, knowing that the gift that Paul has received through the laying on of hands, and Donal that gift you will receive today, has been given from apostolic times, that you may keep constantly before your eyes that Jesus who, in the Spirit, was sent by the Father to be with us and for us (Rom 8:31).  May the Crucified and Risen Lord make you even more profoundly his, for your own sakes, for the sake of our people whom we love, and the sake of the world in which we are called to serve.


Notes for Editors

Archbishop Dermot Farrell is Archbishop of Dublin.  This homily was delivered at today’s Trinity Sunday Mass, at Saint Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin