Anniversary Mass Donnybrook

We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us

Homily of Most Rev, Diarmuid Martin Archbishop Emeritus of Dublin in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, 25 February 2024

There is a particular phrase of Pope Benedict XVI that Pope Francis has quoted many times. It is a phrase that Pope Benedict had used in the very first paragraph of his first Encyclical Deus Caritas est.

For Pope Benedict this phrase springs from words of the evangelist Saint John that are a kind of summary of the Christian life!

"We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us".

The phrase expresses a theme that would underlie the entire pontificate of Pope Benedict as a summary of what is essential in the Christian life.

"Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

It is a phrase that recalls us to the essential nature of our Christian faith as an encounter with the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict stressed that when Christians come to understand their vocation as being called to believe in and witness to God's love, then they begin to also understand their own lives and their own humanity in a radically new way.

This desire to be united with the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ reinvigorates our understanding of belief and opens up new horizons of life. We are no longer trapped in a purely intellectual or ideological understanding of our faith or a reduction of our faith to dogmatic formulae or a moralistic rulebook or routine Church structures.

I recall this phrase of Pope Benedict because he had used almost the same words some months earlier when as Cardinal Ratzinger, he preached the homily at the funeral of Don Giussani. He applied directly to the person of Don Giussani, a phrase about the very nature of Christian belief.
He reminded his hearers – and us too today – how Giussani kept the "eyes of life and of his heart fixed on Christ" and thus he never understood Christianity just as an intellectual system, or a collection of dogmatic formulae or a moralism.
Christianity is an encounter, a love story with Jesus Christ.

In that funeral address, Pope Benedict reminded his hearers that the centrality of Christ in his life gave don Giussani a special gift of discernment.

In these days, Pope Francis calls on the followers of don Giussani in the movement of Communion and Liberation, to rediscover in terms of today and tomorrow the charisma of discernment that they have inherited from don Giussani. This charisma of discernment is not an ideology or a package of ideas, but a call to enter into a similar sense of the centrality of God's love as the mark and inspiration of a Christian and his or her life.

Keeping alive the charisma of Giussani is not like becoming a sort of humanised archive collection, where we attempt to catalogue pages of the past, keeping them safe and protected from a changing environment. Living the charisma of don Giussani today is rather learning to open our hearts to discerning and interpreting what is most authentic in a faith that is living, just as any love story develops and deepens with time. It is a task, a challenge, a path toward truth and human maturity.

I am not saying that we have no need for a Catechism that summarises the doctrine of our faith. We know however that, in theory at least, a professed atheist could learn an entire catechism by rote and never allow that doctrine to touch his heart.

It is not easy to believe in a secularized society that at times is alien to faith. There is
still the temptation for all of us to want to package our faith safely in terms that are ours. In our uncertainty, we can become like the man in the Gospel parable who buries his talent out of fear. The Christian faith is not a faith based on fear, but one of freedom.

It is possible, also, to use the words of Christ in an abstract or moralistic way and not allow our hearts to become on fire as to what that encounter with God's love means. Moral norms must be part of a loving human framework, or else they become a heartless and imposed burden. The disciples on the road to Emmaus listened to Jesus as he explained the scripture, but they only understood the scriptures and their hearts only began to burn when they realised the real nature of their journey, as a journey accompanied along the path of life by the loving wisdom of Jesus.

When we encounter God's love in that way, we are then called to witness to that love and indeed to give that love to others. Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est, reminds us that our faith brings an added dimension even to our earthly activity, using a striking phrase! "Whoever does not give God, gives too little.

We live at a time in which there are many especially here in Europe, who have drifted away from what is essential in the Christian faith. I was struck by a comment by the President of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference in his New Year's homily, in which he affirmed that it was no longer possible to enter into a genuine conversation about the Christian faith with over 50% of young Germans. What he was saying was that so many young people in Germany had not just drifted away from religious practice or some form of Church life, but that no longer possessed the vocabulary of belief and the ability to grasp the message of Jesus himself.

In Ireland, we see an increasing number of those who registered as "no-religion" at the last national census, especially in the Dublin area and among men and women in their twenties. It is a challenge for the Church.

Many feel a certain sense of hopelessness in the face of change. We talk about renewal in the Church. We talk about reform of Church structures. We rightly talk of new models of exercising authority. We talk about synodality. At times however we seem to be just talking to ourselves.

Don Giussani had the special charisma of being able to speak and witness to the faith in a secular environment. He spoke with young people in state schools and secular universities. We need again a new movement of believers who keep that charisma alive. When we think of speaking of faith to those who no longer possess even the rudimentary vocabulary of what faith is about, we need more than just new structures or strategies. Many of our Church words mean nothing to those who have drifted from true faith. They will only become open to faith when they encounter men and women of faith who are passionate about the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ. They will never find the way of faith if they encounter a Church that is fearfully protective or just inward looking.

When we believers become on fire with what the gratuitous love of God means in our lives, then we will offer a witness to where our true hope lies as an embrace with the generous love of God that accompanies us and brings meaning to what we do. "Whoever does not give God, gives too little”. The legacy of don Giussani is a legacy that uncompromisingly witnesses to that God of love and calls us to a Communion with that God and a Freedom - a Liberation - that enables us bring God and offers a hope for our future as believers, offers hope to the Church of the future and offers hope to a divided and troubled world.