Homily of Archbishop Neary for Croagh Patrick Pilgrimage



It is difficult to describe the society in which we live. In many respects we are in a season of transition as we watch the collapse of the world as we have known it. The political forms and the economic modes of the past are increasingly ineffective. The value systems we espoused are now in jeopardy. Old institutions scarcely perform their tasks anymore and that reality of loss generates anxiety among us. The failure of old values and old institutions causes many people to experience themselves as displaced peoples – anxious, ill at ease and so in pursuit of safety and stability that is not on the horizons of contemporary society.


In a variety of ways attempts are being made to reshape our values in ways that are fundamentally opposed to the Gospel. Our faith is not however about pinning down certainty. Rather it is about openness to wonder and awe. It is the truth of biblical faith that the God of hope is most powerfully present in seasons of hopelessness.


Hope belongs centrally and decisively to faith. Faith cannot be about maintenance; it is about welcoming home all sorts and conditions of people. In our society everything among us is reduced to commodity. If something or someone does not have usefulness, that thing can be safely rejected or forgotten and treated as part of disposable society. The Church ought to be a place of welcome, a counter-movement in a society that can be violent, unforgiving and therefore anxiety-driven.


There is a fundamental reason for articulating Christian mission as hope in action when we discern in our field of mission a pervasive loss or distortion of hope. We live at a time when the urge for order and political correctness seems nearly to squeeze out the voice of hope. The biblical message of hope is to dream large dreams about powerful purposes of God. Hope does not consist of losing control, but of relinquishing it in trust. Hope reminds us not to make absolute ties to the present because it will not last.


The capacity for hope is profoundly at issue in our society. We have become accustomed to Christianity being marginalised in the public domain, instanced by the banning of Christian symbols in certain quarters. The Christian must be an agent of hope. It means the courage to live with uncertainty. It does not mean having the answers, it means having the courage to ask the questions and not let go of God, as he does not let go of us.


In times past it was difficult to imagine the world without God. Today it is becoming a challenge to imagine the world with God. Our culture endeavours to make sense of the world without reference to God. Living in a society of technological control and precision we are reduced to thinking that we know all of the codes. Change, even change for the better, can be disorientating, threatening and traumatic.


Fundamental to all culture is respect for that which another group holds sacred. When this respect is violated something crucial is lost. In civilised society anyone who dishonours the faith of Israel, its image of God or its great figures must pay a fine. The same is true for anyone who insults the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians there seems to be a different standard; freedom of expression knows no limits. In our commendable endeavour to become more understanding of the values of others have we lost our capacity to uphold and respect our own values? If all we can see in our own religious tradition is the negative and destructive then we are no longer capable of recognising what is good, wholesome, life-giving and positive in any religion or culture. The reality is that we can only value the sacred traditions of others with respect if we have an appreciation of our own sacred traditions. In this way we can enable others to reclaim what is best in their heritage.


In the first reading of our Mass today you will notice that Solomon asks the Lord for wisdom, for a discerning judgement. In our world today we are in great need of wisdom. This is a gift of God and not an innate human quality. We pray that, as we retrace the footsteps of St. Patrick on our pilgrimage, we too will be granted a discerning heart.

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