"Pope Francis continues to surprise us day after day. I spoke to a friend of mine working in the Vatican who is in close contact with the Pope and asked him how he would describe the atmosphere in the Vatican under Pope Francis and he summed it up saying: “surprises and more surprises and even more surprises to come” and my friend is one of those who is pleased with the surprises he is seeing. We thank God for a Pope who has the interior freedom to surprise us. We thank God for a Pope who shows us that simplicity and humility are not signs of weakness and concession, but signs of strength and signs of a strength that comes from faith.
Pope Francis has given us some very significant signs and gestures about how he understands his role as Bishop of Rome and successor of Saint Peter. But they are not just signs about himself; they are signs about what the Church means. He does not want us just to look at these gestures on television and feel good about them and feel good that we have a new Pope like him. There are many who have no belief who will like the new Pope. There is not much good, however, in Christians feeling good about the new Pope if we do not make our own what he is saying and teaching and doing.
The first thing that this involves is allowing Jesus to surprise us and for us to find the courage to change. We are at a critical juncture in the history of the Catholic Church in this diocese and in our country. We are at critical juncture about the place of the Catholic Church in Irish society and in the future culture of Ireland. And we are at a critical juncture about the very place of faith and the very understanding of faith within the Catholic community.
We are at a critical juncture and the only valid answer is an answer of enthusiasm and optimism, of commitment and renewal in our own lives. We have to witness to others the sense of meaning and purpose that Jesus brings to our lives. If all we have to offer is a tired and discouraged faith, then we have to ask questions about the quality of our own faith.
In his talk yesterday at the General Audience in Rome Pope Francis stressed that following Jesus Christ inevitably involves breaking out. It involves breaking out from ourselves to follow Christ, breaking out from a tired faith based on pure habit and breaking out from being imprisoned in our own dissatisfactions and frustrations which only impede the creative action of God working in and through us.
Faith in Jesus Christ opens us out beyond human horizons, through a yearning for goodness, truth and love and beauty which changes people. When faith leads to conformism it has betrayed the very nature of faith. Conformism falsely feels that it has attained certainty. Faith is always a leap into the uncharted which following Jesus requires. It is a challenge to go beyond our own limits and beyond our own narrow certainties and the distorted understanding that comes from them. Without faith our true self can so easily be undermined by human deception.
Of course there is always a large element of tiredness and habit and routine in the faith of each of us. It is a temptation for all of us, myself included. But we also know that there is within each of us the possibility of breaking through that tiredness and of rediscovering something of the idealism and the fire that faith has meant to us at the most important moments of our lives. Faith frees. Faith liberates. Preoccupation with ourselves alone enslaves. A Church which is not riddled through and through with real and enthusiastic commitment to Jesus Christ will be an empty self-serving organization to which no one will be attracted.
At this Mass last year I spoke about my hopes for the Eucharistic Congress. They were mixed hopes. At that moment I was genuinely anxious. I knew that there were very differing views about the appropriateness of even holding a Eucharistic Congress and that people would come to the Congress with different dispositions of heart, not knowing exactly what to expect. Some came out of a sense of duty; some came out of a sense of curiosity; some came with their own fixed ideas; some were openly hostile. Something happened, however, the moment each one of us entered into the Congress which changed all of that. Many who came sceptical overcame, not just, their own scepticism, but regretted that they had not done more at an earlier stage to get the message of the Congress across to others.
At the conclusion of the final Mass of the Congress I said: “One week ago we set out on a journey of prayer and reflection, of song and silence, of renewal of our hearts and renewal of our Church. In these eight days the Eucharist has awakened in our hearts something which went way beyond our plans and expectations”
The Congress demonstrated the Archdiocese of Dublin at its best and I wish to express my sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of that event. At the Congress, and this is something we should not easily forget, we experienced the importance of being together, of supporting each other, of being proud of our faith and our Church. And we realised that this experience could only have been generated by our communion with Christ and our sharing in his sacrificial self-giving which we live in the Eucharist. We have to keep that experience alive.
The Congress showed us that despite the difficulties of the Church in Ireland there are also so many signs of hope and signs of seeking and searching in people’s hearts about what the fundamental values and attitude towards life must be and how we can find an answer to them in the person and message of Jesus Christ.
This annual Chrism Mass is marked by a remarkable sense of participation of everyone in the liturgy. The Eucharist we celebrate together this morning is the fruit of the faith of us all. This Eucharist celebrated in this the Mother Church of the diocese with bishops, priests, deacons, religious, pastoral workers and the parish sisters. seminarians, men and women who are often the backbone of our parish communities, is one of the great moments of the life of the Church in the diocese. We come together to bless the oils which symbolise the sacramental life of the Church which is the life blood of our life of faith.
The Church in this Archdiocese of Dublin is blessed by great priests. We now have permanent deacons in some of our parishes and full time pastoral workers. We have few seminarians, but the ones we have are committed in their desire to be true witnesses to what priesthood means and signifies. We are blessed by dedicated Christian parents and teachers and religious men and women and also of great young people with whom we have the obligation to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
All of us here this morning are committed to generate and to rekindle a spirit of pride in our faith in Jesus Christ and of the joy that our faith brings to our lives and to the society around us. What faith and what believers have to offer our world today is not the witness of a powerful institution, even a renewed institution, or simply the witness of organised doing good, but the witness of meaning, of helping people discover in Jesus Christ what their life is really about and giving a hope that sustains. We can only do that through witness, through what our own lives say to others.
Allow me to add one sombre note on this joyful moment and I know some will ask why bring this up precisely today on this joyful occasion? It would not be honest of me not to recall that only one week ago a former priest of this diocese was sentenced for the abuse of children in this parish, in the vaults and in the precincts of this Mother Church of the Diocese. I feel that on this day, which is a day of celebration, I would not be honest with myself to allow the horror of abuse that took place in this very Church to pass unnoticed and remain simply newspaper articles, without remembering the anguish of the victim.
Thank God, the Church in Ireland has made great progress in the area of child safeguarding. We have the immense contribution of the National Board for Safeguarding Children; we have the work of our own Child Safeguarding Office and of the Child Safeguarding representatives and their trainers in every parish. I thank every single person who is committed to this task. Their work has prepared a future ground for us to move forward, not forgetting the past, but with greater credibility in the task of evangelisation and education in the faith.
We are at a critical juncture in the history of the Catholic Church in this diocese and in our country. We have to grasp the opportunity before it is too late. We have to grasp this opportunity together despite whatever differences exist between us. We need above all to find new ways to ensure that young people can experience the joy and fulfilment and indeed the authentic freedom which comes from belief in Jesus Christ and from belonging to the community of his disciples which is the Church.
I was very struck by the simple way in which Pope Francis talked about bringing the wisdom of faith to young people. He was speaking to the Cardinals who had just elected him. He reminded them, half jokingly: “Half of us are advanced in age” and he continued: “Old age is – as I like to say – the seat of life’s wisdom. The old have acquired the wisdom that comes from having journeyed through life, like the old man Simeon, the old prophetess Anna in the Temple. And that wisdom enabled them to recognize Jesus”. And then he said: “Let us pass on this wisdom to the young: like good wine that improves with age, let us give life’s wisdom to the young”.
Sometime we feel frustrated at the fact that we are not making that bridge of the generations that we know is necessary for the life of faith in this Diocese, or indeed for the renewal of the priesthood, or the renewal of our religious congregations. I know that many parents feel saddened that they do not seem able to pass the faith on to their own children as they would wish. What we tend to forget is that the good wine only matures with age. The good wine goes into the oaken barrels and the maturity takes place without us even seeing it and without efforts from outside. It is Jesus himself who leads our young people to maturity in faith. Our effort must be in creating the good wine, the good wine of our own example, of our own enthusiasm and of our witness to what faith means to us and then to trust in the Lord that he will bring our efforts to maturity.
The Year of Faith reminds us that the door of faith is always wide open and welcoming. The invitation to follow Jesus is an open invitation and if we open our hearts, the Lord will bring our intentions to maturity. Giving in to negativity and to pessimism only closes doors. Let us keep the doors of our hearts open to respond to the invitation of the Lord. Let us keep the doors of our Churches open and welcoming.
The Eucharistic Congress showed the entire nation the great resources of faith that this diocese possesses in its priests and in its lay women and men. The Lord continues to reach out to us. He knows your weakness and mine. At this critical juncture, we should turn together to the Lord who unites us and commit ourselves every day to a new beginning so that we can truly witness to others the sense of what Jesus means in our lives."