Archbishop Neary’s address at the launch of Bishop Martin Drennan’s book


Exploring the Message of the Sunday Gospels

We live in a culture where, at times, we are slavishly subjected to a proliferation of words, whether in the print or electronic media.  We have only to reflect on the number of chat shows.

In the Bible we are addressed by the word of God.  Significantly at the end of the readings, the reader challenges us with the phrase “the word of the Lord”. (Notice the singular the Word of the Lord).  All God’s words point to and find expression in Jesus Christ, “The Word made flesh”. Bishop Martin Drennan, in view of his wide-ranging experience of scripture sees the connections and the inter-relationships between the Old and New Testament. Speaking of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament St. Augustine said”

         “The New is in the Old concealed,

         the Old is in the New revealed”.

In his Apostolic Letter “Aperuit Illis”, Instituting the Sunday of the Word of God, Pope Francis stated “The bible cannot be just a heritage of some, much less a collection of books for the benefit of a privileged few.  It belongs above all to those called to hear its message and to recognise themselves in its words”.

I had the privilege of being present in St. Peter’s with many from Knock as the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Knock was placed on the High Altar in the Basilica when Pope Francis was inaugurating the Sunday of the Word of God.  In his homily the Holy Father reminded us that Jesus speaks to us in the scriptures: “take heart, I am here with you, allow me to enter and your life will change”.  He went on to say that the Lord gives us his word so that we can receive it like a love letter that he has written to us.  His word consoles and encourages us and at the same time it challenges us.  He reminded us that the Word “enters the complex and obscureplaces in our lives”. The Pope acknowledges that “we need God’s word so that we can hear, amid the thousands of other words in our daily lives, that one word that speaks to us not about things, but about life”.  I assume that Pope Francis had not yet seen Martin Drennan’s book “Turning Wounds in Wisdom”, however I feel that his approach has much in common with what Martin is doing in his homilies.

In his introduction, speaking of the Psalms, Martin Drennan acknowledges that the petitioner often asks God to turn his face towards his people and to let his face shine on them.  When God hides his face there is confusion.  When sending his Son into the world, God turned his face towards us.  The Gospels introduce us to various features of God’s face, each evangelist with his own particular approach.  This Jesus, shaped and reshaped to the measure of each generation had a human face. Like you and me he had a face that shaped his life and the lives of others.  In the Gospels we see the face of Jesus in the faces of those he touched, taught, fed, healed and challenged.  We see the face of Jesus in Peter’s face as he sat down by the high priest’s charcoal fire and heard the cock crow.  We see the face of Jesus in the face of Judas leaning forward to plant his kiss in the moonlit garden. We see his face in the face of the leper, the centurion and in Mary’s face. 

The Word of God speaks of facts and events; it is personal, in that it shows us God as personal as He relates to us; and it is the dynamic, calling forth, challenging and making possible a response on our part.  The Bible in its totality leaves many doors open so that we may enter into the “Holy of Holies”.   So it is a pastoral duty to keep these doors open and to point them out to God’s people.  This is what Martin Drennan does as he utilises his scriptural background, combines it with his spiritual insights and relates it to the situation in which we find ourselves today.  The Word of God challenges us, stimulates us to ask questions; it awakens us, enables and encourages us to search more deeply.

The age in which we live is, and will remain, an age of insecurity.  We have to learn to live with insecurity.  Yet as men and women of faith we know that we can face anything as long as we know that we are not alone.  It is the courage to live and even celebrate in the very heart of uncertainty, knowing that God is with us, giving us the strength to meet any challenge.

These reflections are strong, assertive, bold and authoritative, yet they are laced with humour.  They testify to conversations with a living, demanding and loving God. Martin’s approach is marked by obedience to the text.  Through a livetime of serious engagement with the word of God, he has never lost the child-like surprise and adolescent delight at what is to be discovered in the Gospel readings.  He is always respectful of the dialogue which God’s word initiates.  While he peppers it with illusions to other works of literature, he recognises the biblical text as the more pertinent, interesting and compelling.

The crises confronting us daily – hopelessness, homelessness, family, health and jobs – crises that are consequences of greed, anxiety, loneliness and violence, all find new aspects in the word of God.  The changed social reality in which we live today involves the marginalisation of faith.  This is something which Martin takes into account as he facilitates the reader to listen attentively to the word of God.  The resorting to a relationship with the word of God provides resolve, courage and energy in the challenging situation in which we find ourselves today. In a world of sound-bytes and ever-decreasing attention spans we need daily reminders of who we are, where we have come from and the destiny that awaits us.  There is a vacuum which only God can fill and without God we labour in vain. 

Our religion then is in many respects a religion of questions.  In the early pages of Genesis God’s asks searching questions of Adam and Eve “where are you?  Who told you, you were naked?  Have you eaten of the forbidden fruit?  Great prophets, in turn, asked questions of God.  In his approach to the Word of God Martin advises us not to start looking in the Bible for answers.  Rather start by listening for the questions God asks.  In this way the Word of God leads to and finds expression in a dialogue, a relationship and in that relationship we transcend ourselves, we are transformed and transfigured.

In his reflections Martin underlines the importance of being interpreters of our culture so that the Word of God can speak directly to us.  We return to the Biblical text to read it in the light of contemporary issues.  At times we become conscious of the tension between our faith and the socio-political reality.  Both must intersect and inform us as we read and listen to God challenging us.  This work “Turning Wounds into Wisdom, Exploring the message of the Sunday Gospels”, facilitates that interaction in a very impressive and imposing manner.  As it reflects faith and responsibility, challenge and hope, memory and vision, it enables us to critique what is conveniently accepted and provides clues as to how we can practice discernment in the midst of seemingly overwhelming circumstances.  In an age when there is an anxiety about security at all costs the Word of God reminds us of the true source of security, establishment and peace. 

A great temptation facing biblical scholars is to end up speaking to each other, to separate scripture from theology and to divorce all of that from life itself.  You are familiar with the criticism that many who read commentaries on the bible echo Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus, “the scholars have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him”!  As someone who had responsibility for teaching scripture in St. Kieran’s Kilkenny, in Maynooth and in Rome, Martin Drennan always ensured a wonderful wedding between the Word of God and the world in which we live and work and pray.  Thoughts which he shares with us in these homilies are clear, concise, conducive to prayer and reflection and extremely enriching.  At the end of each section he challenges us with a very searching question which emerges from the Gospel on which he has reflected and thereby facilitates a dialogue with the Word of God. 

Bishop Martin Drennan is soaked to the skin in cadences and themes of the bible.  Having placed his ear close to the ground of our culture, he alerts us to our facile interpretations and superficial solutions to the questions of our time.  Here we see the scholar for whom the word of God initiates a dialogue.  His facility and ability to connect God’s word to the historical, political and social reality excites us.

God is fully known in the pages of the bible and this same God is fully alive and active today.  Combining the scriptural expertise with his interpretation of what is taking place in our contemporary culture, this book serves to animate us.  One is reminded of the Protestant Theologian, Karl Barth, who said “Take your bible and your newspaper and read both.  But interpret newspapers from your bible”.  Martin has the ability to demonstrate truth in a way that is not simply angry, disillusioned or cavalier, but rooted, empowering and invigorating. 

Antithesis is a favourite tool that lays out the paradoxes, the choices, the points of transformation.  He transcends the distance between the contemporary congregation and the word of God.  He invites us to see our own lives and circumstances in the characters played out before us in the Word of God.  We are invited to look through the eyes of others.  This enables us to question and acknowledge the truth of our world and ourselves. 

In his homilies, Martin Drennan makes the Word of God available to the Church, so that we can re-imagine our lives according to the strange cadences of God’s Word. 

There is a surplus of meaning in every biblical text.  Martin uses simple language to convey luminous and sometimes difficult truths.  There is plenty in these pages to grab the heart, spark the will and work the mind.   “Tolle Lege”, “take, and read”.

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