Full text of Archbishop Martin’s homily on the occasion of the commissioning of new parish pastoral workers in St Colmcille’s Church, Knocklyon on Sunday 19 June 2011.
Today is an important day in the life of the Archdiocese of Dublin as we commission our third group of lay Parish Pastoral Workers. They join those already working in various parishes and services in the diocese who, over the past few years, have enriched the quality of our pastoral service. We are grateful to these men and women for the manner in which they have taken on the preparation for their task and for their commitment to the mission of the Church of God in this Archdiocese of Dublin. We express our thanks to the priests and parish communities who have welcomed them and who support them and work together with them in the mission of the Church.
I have repeated on many occasions that the coming years will be among the most critical in the history of this diocese. It is not just a question of the reduced number of priests or of the significant fall in the numbers of those attending Mass on a regular basis. These are symptoms of a deeper crisis. There are indeed many other worrying indicators of the change that is taking place regarding the sense of faith that exists in Irish society today, about the level of formation and deepening in the faith, especially for adults, and indeed about the sense of what it means to be a Christian and a Catholic Christian in today’s Ireland. There is a crisis in the understanding of what the Church is. Very often people who belong to the Church are shaped by cultural values and an understanding of life which unbeknown to them undermines their faith.
Many will profess themselves as Catholic Christians and yet fail to understand the centrality of the sacramental life of the Church. The sacraments are not just social or cultural events open to anyone as they wish. The sacraments are signs of the visible presence of Jesus in the life of the Church. They are celebrations where we truly encounter the life of grace; it is the sacraments which build up the faith of the Church. All the sacraments are essentially linked to the Eucharist, the body of Christ. There is thus a sense in which the significance of the sacraments is weakened when they are administered in a generalised way with no reference to belonging to a Eucharistic community.
It is the Eucharist which builds up the Church making us the Body of Christ and therefore a people consecrated to God. The Church becomes the People of God through becoming the Body of Christ and not through some external sociological coming together. This is why any renewal of structures in the Church can only be attained within the context of renewal of faith and of sacramental life.
The Sacraments are signs of grace instituted by Christ. To be truly effective they require a level of preparation and of openness to the Word of God. The Rite of the Christian Initiation of Adults sets out a path of catechesis needed for the reception of Baptism by adults. Presenting a child for baptism also requires a similar path of faith development on the part of the parents. Being in a particular class in school cannot be the simple and sole criterion for admission to the Eucharist or Confirmation.
There is a real crisis regarding our understanding of the sacrament of penance. Sin is a theological concept. It is about how our actions relate to the basic orientation of our faith in God. Sin can only be understood in terms of our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, not in terms of abstract rules or obsessive guilt. The Spirit was given to the disciples at the beginning of the Church “for the forgiveness of sin”, so that in faith believers can be freed to live the truth in love. The God who gave Moses the Stones of the Commandments, as we heard in the first reading, is the same “God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger rich in kindness and fidelity”. Sin is our failure to respond with fidelity to the God who always remains faithful and forgiving. Today on Trinity Sunday we celebrate the God revealed in Jesus Christ, not as a distant, self enclosed God but one who reaches out to us and to all creation in truth and love and consolation.
There is a sense in which many who today no longer understand faith as a personal relationship with Christ, feel then that they can interpret Catholic teaching just as a matter of personal preference. People understand their faith in a purely individualistic way and there is a sort of “community individualism”, in which there is little recognition of the fact that the Catholic faith is a faith that we have received. Our faith certainly must be deepened and brought to maturity but it is fundamentally never just of our own creation. Yet it is that faith in God’s love which opens for us a future of hope which on our own we can never achieve.
The coming years will be among the most critical in the history of this diocese. The challenge is great. Yet change is well underway in this Archdiocese of Dublin, as this ceremony shows us and as this large faith community here in Knocklyon shows us, there is much creative ferment in action in our diocese.
In today’s culture in Ireland, however, and in many Western societies where secularization has had a broad impact, we are called to preach and live the Gospel in a new way. This is what is called “new evangelisation”. In a secularized environment we have to be constantly attentive to the temptation of preaching a “politically correct” gospel: a gospel which may not rock any boats but which would lack the innate sharpness of the Gospel message. The Gospel does not always leave us comfortable.
The newness of the Gospel means that it is new and therefore challenges every society or culture. Belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ takes us beyond the culture of the moment. This means, of course, that we as Christians must be the first to answer the call to conversion in our own lives and in our communities. We must witness not to outward conformity but to the newness of life in Jesus Christ.
The life of faith within the Church is nourished not just by the experience and the self-understanding of the world within which we live, but by familiarity with the Word of God. In my very first act as Archbishop of Dublin I spoke about a “listening Church”. A listening Church is not in the first place one which is constantly polling public opinion to see how people think, but one which listens profoundly to the Word of God. It is a Church which listens to the word of God. A Church which listens to the word of God draws from that word a new sensitivity to the true foundations of meaning and hope in life and society. That sensitivity then enables those who hear the word of God to understand more clearly the true anxieties and aspirations and destiny of humankind in a unique way.
In today’s culture the authentic proclamation of the Gospel may well be more complex than in the past. Many Christians live as good people, but without reference to their faith. They live as if God did not exist or as if God had little relevance to their daily decisions. On the other hand many of those who more openly proclaim their allegiance to Christ fail in the authenticity of their witness. “New evangelisation” cannot be just a new slogan. It requires through the way we live that we are able to give an authentic and convincing account of the faith and hope and the love which we derive from our Christian faith.
The widespread indifference to faith requires that our traditional strategies for evangelization may no longer be the right ones. The Church in Ireland has recently launched a new programme for Catechesis Sharing the Good News. It sharply reminds us that formation in the faith is not something just for young people and that it is not something which takes place only within the walls of our schools. The current discussion on changes in school patronage is not just about management or ethos or about numbers. Catholic patronage of a school does not on its own bring about a truly Catholic culture to a school. Catholic identity cannot be separated from the level of faith of the community within which the school belongs. For the Church the discussion about schools today is not about the number of schools that may change patronage, but about the quality of the faith life of the Catholic school.
Evangelisation today requires new way of reaching out within the changing conditions of contemporary society. We pray for all those who are called to be evangelisers, especially parents, the first educators of their children. We pray this morning for our new parish pastoral workers and for all those – priests, religious and lay people – who minister in our diocese. May the Lord strengthen them in their mission and bless them with his grace.