Pope Francis visited Ireland from August 25-26, 2018, an apostolic journey that included the World Meeting of Families. On August 25, 2019, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Dublin devoted his homily in the cathedral of Dublin to reflecting on the Pope’s visit. Following are his thoughts.
“Almost exactly to the hour one year ago, Pope Francis landed at Dublin Airport for the final moments of the World Meeting of Families. What can one say today, one year later?
For many, the judgment would be less than positive. They would point to the lower than expected attendance at the large events in the Phoenix Park and at Knock. They would attribute this to disinterest in what the Pope had to say in Ireland. This cannot be discounted. Ireland has changed.
However, there is another side to the story. I was witness to the great enthusiasm of the people of Dublin when the Pope traveled through our streets. The Festival of Families in Croke Park was a spectacular event of reflection on the joy of faith.
I remember other events and moments that witnessed to the spirit and charism of Pope Francis. What have we to learn from these? I watched the attention he showed at what was simply to be a shortstop to change vehicles outside the Church in Sean Mc Dermott Street. He recognized the challenges and the sufferings of the people of inner-city Dubliners. His visit to the Food Centre of Brother Kevin was unique. You could see how Pope Francis was very much at home with those less than fortunate in our society. There was an immediate bond of affection between Brother Kevin and himself.
Here in the Pro-Cathedral, the Pope met with hundreds of newly married and engaged couples. It was quite a unique event, to the point that the Pope began by saying that so many say that young people today do not wish to be married. In fact, the aspiration and hope for loving commitment and happiness present in these young couples from all over Ireland were visible and moving.
Many would hardly have noticed the first thing that Pope Francis did when he came into the Pro-Cathedral. He went to the altar on my left and prayed in silence before a candle that has been burning for some years now recalling the suffering of those who were abused within the Church. That candle is special to me in that it was not my idea or the idea of the Church establishment but of survivors themselves. The Pope later met with a small group of victims and survivors at a meeting that lasted three times the time foreseen. The Pope listened and was deeply moved.
Arriving in Croke Park just hours later he showed me how he had already drafted a revised penitential rite for the Mass the next morning in the Phoenix Park taking up the themes that the survivors had indicated. In that revised penitential rite the Pope said things that the Church in Ireland has at times been slow to accept. He spoke of young people, who in Church institutions, had been exploited for their labor. He spoke of members of the hierarchy who took no responsibility for those painful situations. He spoke about the difficulties experienced by single mothers trying to find their children and children trying to find their mothers and who at times were told that such searching was a mortal sin. His responses were simple but sharp and unequivocal; “that was not mortal sin, it was the fourth commandment”
When speaking in Dublin Castle and in Knock about abuse, he spoke of how the Church failed to offer survivors “compassion and the pursuit of justice and truth”.
In speaking to the Bishops of Ireland, he gave a stern warning: “Do not repeat the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic Church”.
What future does that indicate? Our Gospel reading this morning is one that helps us, indeed challenges us, to identify those factors that lead a Church to become aloof and self-centered.
Someone asks Jesus, “Lord will only a few be saved”. Jesus’ answer seems harsh and indeed it is a phrase that has been used in the life and preaching of the Church in a harsh sense. “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many will try to enter and will not be able”. He seems to be saying that only a few will be saved.
Jesus then develops this theme by speaking about the moment in which the owner of the house has closed the door and says to those excluded that he does not know them. The people reply indignantly, “We eat and drank with you, how can you say that you do not know us? The householder replies even more sharply, “Go away from me all you evildoers”.
Who will be saved then? The answers that are hidden in these stories are not about a harsh Jesus ready just to exclude. They indicate rather a different way towards salvation. God is not a harsh, distant judge. What his judgment does is to unveil the deepest truths about our lives. Salvation is not about feeling that we belong to a privileged group who decide for ourselves that we are the ones who belong in the company of Jesus, among the likeminded who feel that they have found ways to reach salvation for themselves and to exclude others. Salvation is not the fruit of our own rituals but springs from the authenticity of our own lives. Jesus is saying that salvation means opening every fiber of our hearts to welcome the grace that comes from God.
Being an authentic Christian is revolutionary with respect to the thought patterns of the authoritarian Church of the past. Being a Christian is a path that opens us out to authenticity in our lives.
The message of Jesus is a message of hope. “People will come from east and west, from north and south and will eat in the kingdom of God”. Those who think that they can justify themselves, fail to realize that those who eat and drank with Jesus were not those who felt just, but were sinners and publicans.
All are welcome in the Church if they authentically practice the humanity that Jesus proclaims, an authentic humanity capable of loving and serving in that freedom which springs from love. Saint Augustine notes that on the day of judgment many who thought themselves inside will find themselves excluded and many of those who thought that they were excluded will find themselves welcomed.
Jesus wishes to save us by being authentically who we are. The message of Pope Francis was a call to find new ways for the Church to be in our times the community that reflects the loving embrace of Jesus to those who feel themselves excluded.
Pope Francis spoke about the importance of prayer in the Christian life. Prayer is not running away from the harsh realities of life. It is placing ourselves in the presence of the God of love and thus feeling compelled to reflect the love of God in the way we live and bring that love into the world in which we live.
The Church must learn anew the ability to speak the things of God not to flee from the realities of life, but to challenge the men and women of our time and the culture of our time to become the seedbed of a new humanity.
Ireland is changing. The Church is changing. The message of the Church must be a message of hope and love that touches the heart, especially of our young people. We need a new generation of hope. I know that my time as Archbishop of Dublin is drawing to a close. People ask me how I feel. My answer is simple. I have trust in the Lord and confidence in the ability and the commitment of a younger generation of priests and people to lead the Church and indeed to lead and inspire me on a path of renewal of the Church in our changing times.
A changing Ireland needs a Church that credibly speaks of and incarnates the message of Jesus who embraces each one of us in his love.” ENDS