SERVICE OF THANKSGIVING AND COMMEMORATION
TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN
11 MAY 2009
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
Introduction: Progress on the Ecumenical Journey
I am very honoured to be here today. I know that Trinity Monday is a very important day in the calendar of this University. It is a day on which the names of the new fellows and scholars are announced. It is a day of great joy for many. They see the merit of their work recognized and rewarded. I congratulate all concerned and I wish them well in their future studies, research and lecturing.
It is a great privilege to be asked to preach in this historic chapel. I am conscious of the role it has played in the lives of so many illustrious alumni of this University. I am conscious too of the enormous contribution made to the life and progress of the Irish nation by Trinity College Dublin since its foundation in 1592. I suspect it would have been almost unimaginable at that time to foresee a Catholic Archbishop of Armagh preaching in this chapel at something called an ecumenical service. I thank God this morning for the immense progress we have made on the journey of mutual respect and Christian solidarity between the Christian traditions of Ireland. That the greater part of this progress has happened in recent years, and more quickly than many could have imagined, is grounds for even greater hope about God’s plans for the unity of his followers. It is a timely reminder to us, in the words of St Paul, that God’s power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.
I would like to thank Reverend Darren McCallig for his kind invitation to be here. I would like to express my esteem and prayerful good wishes to him, to my classmate, Fr Paddy Gleeson, and to all the other chaplains and clergy who have joined us here today.
I hear many great things about the Chaplains and their work. I know that they organise a huge range of religious and social services and communicate the relevant information expertly to all who are interested. The Chapel Choir plays an important role in giving praise and glory to the Most Blessed Trinity after whom the University is named. Pastoral outreach to the poor and needy, pilgrimages and prayer are, I believe, all part of the normal activity of this very highly esteemed chaplaincy.
This is not the first time I have spoken in this chapel. On a much less formal occasion, during the Michelmass term last year, I was here with:
– Archbishop Alan Harper, the Primate of the Church of Ireland;
– Dr John Finlay, Moderator last year of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and,
– Rev Roy Cooper, President last year of the Methodist Church in Ireland.
We were here to share our experience of an extraordinary pilgrimage we made this time last year to the Holy Land. It was the first time the leaders of the four largest Christian traditions on this island made such a pilgrimage together. It was another sign of the immense distance we have travelled on the ecumenical journey here in Ireland.
The Holy Land and the Role of Religion in the Search for Peace
The pilgrimage was an extraordinary occasion of grace for us all. The grace was in the friendship and faith we shared with each other. The grace was also in the reaction of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives in the Holy Land to our visit. Without exception the religious leaders, political leaders, NGO’s and the Israeli and Palestinian victims of violence whom we met spoke of the hope that they derived from the joint witness of four Christian leaders from Ireland. They were anxious to explore with us our experience of the peace-process in Ireland, about which they were already well informed. They pointed to the combination of religion, politics, land and long collective memories which were at the heart of both the Irish conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were quick to agree with us that there are also important differences between the two conflicts. For our part we stressed that we were not there to offer advice on solutions but to listen and to simply share our experiences. Most importantly of all we were there to offer our solidarity and support to the beleaguered Christian community in the Holy Land, dramatically diminished in numbers in recent years.
A senior member of the Palestinian Authority said that he thought that religious leaders had a great role to play in resolving the conflicts of our world and in building a better future for the human family. He pointed out that Christianity, Judaism and Islam – the three religious traditions of the Holy Land – each have peace, justice and love as defining themes of their respective religions. They have millennia of wisdom and experience of the human condition, he said. This has to make them well placed to contribute more substantially to the search for a more just and peaceful world!
I have to say that his comments struck a chord with me. I have long believed religion played a much more significant role in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland for example than it did in creating or sustaining it.
What was interesting about the remarks of the Palestinian representative though was his acknowledgement that religion is a vital component in human affairs. He had no hesitation in believing that dialogue between Christianity, Judaism and Islam has a positive contribution to make to the future peace and well-being of the human family.
Pope Benedict: Faith and Reason in the Service of Peace
I know that Trinity Monday is essentially a celebration of university life and culture. Pope Benedict XVI is someone interested in university life. Actually he spent most of his life in universities and has a really keen awareness of the potential of good universities to make a big contribution to the peace and well-being of the human family.
Pope Benedict arrived in the Holy Land last Friday. In his first address to the civil authorities on arrival in Amman, Jordan, he emphasised the importance of ‘trilateral’ dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Jews.
On Saturday past he showed his interest in universities once again, this time by blessing the cornerstone for a new university in Madaba. Speaking to the students who would soon begin their courses there the Pope said: “You are called to be builders of a just and peaceful society composed of peoples of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. These realities – I wish to stress once more – must lead, not to division, but to mutual enrichment.”
Pope Benedict then set out three objectives which would help the new university to achieve this ‘noble task’. They apply of course to any university.
* Firstly, it will do so by preparing the students to serve the wider community and raise its living standards;
* Secondly, by transmitting knowledge and instilling in students a love of truth, it will greatly enhance the adherence of the students to sound values and their personal freedom;
* Finally, this same intellectual formation will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new.
I hope, and I am fairly certain, that many here, in this great university, especially the new scholars and fellows, share those ideals. Today Ireland is also a country composed of peoples of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. It will take people of wisdom, justice and godliness – like those mentioned in the First Reading – to build a really just and peaceful society. I am sure Trinity graduates, scholars and fellows will have a great contribution to make to dispelling ignorance and prejudice and in healing the spell cast as ideologies.
Today Ireland has a still-bitter legacy of the recent conflicts. By transmitting knowledge, and instilling in its students a love of truth, Trinity can play its part in addressing that legacy. Trinity can play its part in facing the recession. It will do so by preparing students to serve the wider community and raise its living standards.
I am told that Cardinal John Henry Newman and his idea of a university are much discussed and admired here. Pope Benedict is also a great admirer of Newman and of the broader education which is expected of institutions of higher learning and from their cultural milieu, be it secular or religious. Both Newman and Pope Benedict would hold that belief in God does not suppress the search for truth. On the contrary, belief encourages it.
Saint Paul asked the Christians of Philippi to open their minds to all that is truth, all that is noble, all that is good and pure. I imagine that this College of the Most Blessed Trinity does exactly the same. Unfortunately, there is a growing tendency in our Western culture to regard religious belief as irrational, and religious difference as a de facto threat to peace.
The Compatibility of Faith and Reason
As recently as last Saturday, Pope Benedict addressed this precise point in Jordan when he said, and I think it is important to hear his words in full:
“Mature belief in God serves greatly to guide the acquisition and proper application of knowledge. Science and technology offer extraordinary benefits to society and have greatly improved the quality of life of many human beings…. At the same time the sciences have their limitations. They cannot answer all the questions about man and his existence. Indeed the human person, his place and purpose in the universe cannot be contained within the confines of science … The use of scientific knowledge needs the guiding light of ethical wisdom. Such is the wisdom that inspired the Hippocratic Oath, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other laudable international codes of conduct.
“Hence religious and ethical wisdom, by answering questions of meaning and value, play a central role in professional formation. And consequently, those universities where the quest for truth goes hand in hand with the search for what is good and noble, offer an indispensable service to society.”
As Cardinal John Henry Newman, reflecting on the idea of a university, said as far back as 1852: so often the “fundamental dogma” of the scientist today is “that nothing can be known for certain about the unseen world.” The pursuit of theological studies therefore is the pursuit of a mirage and in the mind of the scientist lacks the credentials necessary for inclusion in the university curriculum.
This idea that “religion is a delusion” has enjoyed something of a resurgence recently. It has been re-energized in the popular media by what one author describes as the “New Atheists”. The fact is that the popular assumption that faith and reason are incompatible is false. Faith and religion remain an essential part of the human experience and of the search for meaning and truth.
The real clash of cultures in our world at the moment is not between the religious traditions of the world. All the indications are that the major religions of the world are moving towards greater understanding. The real clash of cultures is between those who believe in God and those who disdain such belief and aggressively oppose any tolerance of its influence on law, morality or the public square.
Irish Universities as Leaders in the Science of Peace and Inter-Religious Dialogue
The universities of Ireland, including this esteemed seat of theological reflection and learning, are well placed to become world leaders in the search for what Saint Paul calls ‘the things that make for peace’. They are well placed to play an integral part in the dialogue between the religious traditions of the world at this critical time when interest in the constructive and destructive capacities of religious faith are beginning to re-emerge.
The reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, reminds us that in all our knowledge we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. As I congratulate all those who celebrate the receipt of Fellowships and scholarships here today, I appeal to you to respect the wisdom of previous generations of students in this great university. Remain open to the reason of faith. Value that which we can know and trust beyond the bounds of science. Approach the religious beliefs of others with respect for the good it brings to them and to the whole of society.
Conclusion: A Love beyond all telling!
In the Gospel passage faith lies at the heart of the discussion. Jesus and his disciples discovered themselves, to their great amazement, being met and challenged by the faith of a pagan woman. Where did her faith come from if not from her love of her daughter?
It was precisely this strong faith-generating love which had enabled her to endure and transcend rejection and insult. It may be possible to glean from a more in-depth consideration of this incident some hints for more fruitful encounters between people of different faiths and of none.
To begin with there is the ambivalent attitude of both Jesus and the disciples towards the Canaanite woman. There is the woman’s own crucial contribution towards a healing reconciliation by humorously and ironically moving beyond the reach of insult.
In the course of the encounter Jesus himself moves significantly. He moves from the certainty of traditional Jewish righteousness – of being the chosen people of the Lord and a certain disdain for Canaanites to an inclusivity that we can only admire and applaud. He moves to an acceptance that this pagan woman was living in real love and real faith which is something beautiful and efficacious – which was, for her, an experience of God.
In my opinion this amazing passage raises some pertinent questions for all of us to ponder.
* What brought Jesus and the disciples into this alien territory if not to encounter and be challenged by the great faith of a pagan woman?
* Today who are the lost sheep of Israel?
* How often have Christian colonisers relied on the paradigm of Joshua’s treatment of the Canaanites to justify their treatment of pagan territories?
When the Canaanite woman approached Jesus, she was coming to Him with one of the most difficult situations that will confront almost every human being one day – the suffering of a loved one – in this case, her child. She came to him as a person. She placed her complete trust in Him and He responded completely to that faith and love. Jesus knew that where there is charity and love – God is there.
As Pope Benedict reminded us in the opening verses of his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est “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.” Jesus is that person.
We have never progressed so rapidly in our scientific knowledge as we have in recent decades. Yet the fundamental questions of life remain. Jesus did not come to answer those questions as a great scientist. He came to tell us much more simply, in language that every person could understand – that God is love, that where there is charity and love, God is there. I may not be able to measure that love, to weigh it. As sure as I know that I am loved by family and friends, so I know that God’s love exists and that I can trust it. That is what I, and every other Christian, has decided to do like the Canaanite woman.