Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary
Reek Sunday 28th July 2019
The pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, like all pilgrimages, involves a journey, an expense of time, some unusual effort. This pilgrimage is as testing, as stumbling, as rudely physical and penitential as any. For unbelievers, it may seem meaningless – all the sweating, stumbling, inelegantly meandering towards its destiny. What does pilgrimage in general, and this pilgrimage in particular, have to say to our society today?
People don’t stop wanting God because they stop believing in Him. And that enduring hunger marks the modern western world. It questions, suspects, argues, is dismayed, disappointed, disbelieving and yet keeps searching. Anxiety about the future is pervasive and in many cases debilitating. There is deep anxiety about family life, about drug and alcohol abuse, about character and responsibility. Parents are very concerned about raising their children. There are so many voices other than parents, from outside the home and indeed from the internet and social media within the home that are clambering for attention and contradict the voices and the authority of parents. This is the situation in which we live today. It is at once complex, confusing and challenging.
At the heart of our Christian faith is the conviction that the human spirit is not satisfied with anything short of God. Faith is not primarily concerned with pinning down certitudes, but rather it ought to open us to a sense of wonder and awe which will cut through both our conservative certitudes and our liberal self-righteousness. As we endeavour to find points of interaction between faith and our culture we acknowledge that there are many others who, although they may not share our beliefs, our language, our concepts, yet may be quite close to us and are journeying in the same direction. The presence of genuine faith, albeit in different forms is a source of encouragement and hope. This is particularly true in the Ireland in which we live today, an Ireland where culture-Christianity, based on inheritance and convention has disappeared. I know that many people make this journey to the summit of Croagh Patrick every year for reasons other than religious pilgrimage. They may not share our belief in the Lord but if they are searching for the peace which only He can give they are most certainly welcome on the journey. This pilgrimage is no place for idle curiosity or mindless athleticism, but if someone is truly trying to make sense of life, trying to find answers to the same questions we all face, trying to find ease for suffering of body, mind or soul, we offer them the hospitality of our pilgrimage. We are proud to walk with them and pray they find their goal.
In today’s Gospel, we read of the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, ‘The Our Father’. In short, we are taught to pray that the Kingdom be revealed and the world ordered in justice and love. These are not idle dreams or vague, well-meaning ideas. You only have to look at the abundant evidence of their polar opposites in the world today, at cruelty and indifference in all their modern forms, to taste the startling freshness and difference of the Gospel. The production and consumerist world in which we live is governed by money, power and possessions with the emphasis on speed, popularity and control. Yet, there are signs of a genuine, spiritual hunger in our world which acknowledges that people cannot be defined by commodity or possessions.
As followers of Christ, however, we have been entrusted with a mission to positively enable and encourage people to be open to a sense of wonder and therefore open to a God who, far from competing with us, challenges us to become our best selves as men and women who are created in His image. This will involve naming and working against those forces that tend to negate and destroy life, depriving people of hope.
Living in a fearful society, at times devoured by anxiety and preoccupied with security we may be tempted to retreat to a safe harbour. As we look out on the majestic beauty of Clew Bay we see boats moored at the peer, gently bobbing in the calm. They were built however to face the waves and the open seas. In a similar way life invites us to leave our safe harbours and, utilising our interests and our gifts, set sail, confident in the God who has kept his promises and whom we address as “Father”. As I have said on many occasions no matter what your troubles, no matter what mistakes you have made or sinful things you have done, you are his son or daughter with the right to call him “Father”. You are part of the family. You belong. If you choose to make the pilgrimage, make it in confidence. Whenever we detect the realities of new life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of hopelessness and concern for justice in the midst of oppression, we are encouraged and rejoice.