Homily given by
Cardinal Seán Brady
Archbishop of Armagh
at Mass in Galway Cathedral
11 October 2009
My dear friends in Jesus Christ,
It is a pleasure to be with you in this evening in this beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption of our Lady into Heaven and of St Nicholas in Galway city. I am delighted to meet so many of the people, priests and religious of this historic and picturesque Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora.
As I was making my way down from Armagh I was reminded that at this time of year lots of people from New York City head north. They head up-state to places like New Hampshire and Vermont. The purpose of this exercise is very simple – they want to see the beauty and variety of the autumn leaves on the trees. At this time of the year it is quite spectacular.
Now I know my native Cavan and Longford cannot match the beauty of the Catskill, or the leafy beauty of Vermont or New Hampshire but the Cullcagh Mountains, Lough Sheelin, Glencar waterfall, Drumahair can, on a good day, be immensely peaceful. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy making the journey west to Knock, or here to Galway, so much. And then on the way we reach Sligo, Mayo, Galway and the Burren, where the view is also quite spectacular.
One of the reasons I appreciate the beauty of all of these places is that the Scriptures remind us that the beauty of Creation and the wisdom of God are closely related. In our first reading the author writes:
I prayed, and understanding was given to me.
I entreated and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light.
As I travel around our country and especially when I come here to places like Galway, I am reminded of the great treasure we have in the resplendent beauty of so much of our nation. I am reminded of how easy it is to take that beauty for granted and to ignore its gentle call to slow down, to appreciate life in all its wonder and to trust in the immense goodness and power of our Creator.
Perhaps part of the wisdom of Creation is that it gives us perspective. Perhaps we are renewed by a stroll along the river or a vigorous walk across the mountains because it gives us the opportunity to remember how small we are, yet how precious and wonderful each and every one of us is in the eyes of the God who created us. All the things we think so important, all the things which so easily consume our daily lives and cause us great stress and anxiety can be melted away when we take the time to wonder at the beauty of Creation. Taking time to wonder, to give thanks, to see things in perspective is all part of wisdom. No doubt this is why the author of our first reading treasured it more than silver and gold.
In the Gospel story, we hear another story about wisdom. Jesus invites us the rich young man to see the wisdom of the bigger picture and the importance of the longer term view.
It is interesting that we are told that Our Lord is setting out on a journey. Perhaps there is an allusion here to the journey of life itself. It is also interesting that the young man goes out of his way to speak to Jesus, whom he refers to as a ‘Good Teacher.’ Obviously, in spite of his material success, in spite even of his extraordinary claim to have kept the commandments since his youth, this young man still feels there is something missing in his life, something deep down which he can’t quite put his finger on. He has some sense that this wandering preacher from Galilee has something more precious than all the wealth that he himself has accumulated. He clearly realised that had wisdom – the ability to see and to live by the deeper riches of life.
As one very wise priest put it to me recently, it was not because he was wealthy that the rich young man walked away, it was because he was afraid. He was afraid to let go of all the things which made him feel secure and to trust in a higher power. He was young and his life ahead seemed long. The thought of setting aside the things that he believed gave him long term security for an investment in eternal life seemed like a risk too far.
The problem was not so much that he possessed great wealth but that his wealth possessed him. He just couldn’t make the sacrifice. He meant well, but unfortunately, the security which he thought his money brought meant more to him.
Jesus knows what this man needs in order to achieve the fullness of life for which he thirsts and Jesus tells him. Jesus Christ is the Lord; He has the answers we are looking for. Going to him and to his delegates in the Church is the right thing to do when we need direction. But, unlike the man in the Gospel, we also need to be ready to accept whatever Christ tells us. After all, he is the Lord.
Pope John Paul II once said: “If you wish to talk to Christ and to accept all the truth of his testimony, you must, on the one hand, love the world – for God so loved the world that he gave his only son (John 3:16). At the same time you must acquire an interior detachment with regard to all this rich realities that make up the world.’
I suppose the parallels with trends in our modern culture are all too obvious.
I was interested to read recently that a survey of OECD countries showed that the populations of some of the richest countries in the world, including the US and Ireland, still have a very strong belief in the existence of God. Belief in heaven and a life after death, however, was significantly lower. It is as if, like the rich young man, people in wealthy countries like ours – despite its current financial difficulties – have not so much rejected God as become so absorbed with material security that we cannot see or trust in the hope that God’s offer of eternal life and love gives to us.
It reminds me of a story I once heard when I was younger. It is about a young man in Cavan. And like any good Cavan man would, when someone gave him his first euro coin he held on to it really tightly in his fist and wouldn’t let go for fear of losing it! There are some caricatures about Cavan men that I can live with! As the days went on, however, the young man realised that he had offended a few people who might otherwise have become his friends because he wasn’t able to shake hands when he met them. He was taken off his local football team, which he loved playing for because he couldn’t play properly while holding the coin! The joy of the music he loved to play on his guitar went out of his life because he couldn’t play it any more while holding on to the coin. And so on it went, until one day he realised that all he had lost out of fear of losing his coin was worth much more than money could buy.
I suppose this story and the story of the rich young man reveal something of the deep insecurity which lies in each one of us. The story is not about wealth as such. The Gospel does not oppose wealth or wealth creation. It asks us rather to keep material wealth in perspective. It reminds us of the wisdom of seeing things in a bigger perspective and of thinking about our ultimate future in eternity. It invites us to value the other things which bring joy and meaning to life – the love of family and friends, the service of others, the beauty or fun of music, taking time to appreciate and protect the beauty of creation. All of these are the things which take us beyond our insecurity into the realm of selflessness, solidarity, gratitude and the service of others.
As someone put it to me recently – the story of the Rich Young Man is a reminder that ‘Anything clung-to, or pursued, out of self-interest, is totally incompatible with The Way-of-Yahweh-in-Jesus: which is to be always for the highest good of the other, no matter who!’
Our material wealth is not evil, in itself. It is filled with good things for our enjoyment but because of our weak, fallen, human nature, we tend to attach ourselves too closely to things, to link our hopes too tightly to them. Wealth can easily give us the illusion of being self-sufficient and being totally in control of our happiness and our destiny.
But we are, in fact, dependent on God for everything; we are weak, we are fragile, we are unable to achieve total lasting fulfilment by ourselves. Perhaps it is easier to keep this in mind in times of financial crises, when it is hard to make ends meet.
Over the last year we have heard an immense amount of discussion about how the finances of our country and the world should be managed. We all know that savings have to be made, but of course, nobody wants them to be made at his/her expense. People are appealing to the powers that be, and especially to Finance Ministers, not to make the savings at the expense of their particular interest or project. This is understandable and difficult decisions have to be made. But has anybody sent prayers to and for the Finance Ministers of our world, or for the bankers and businessmen of our world, as they try to address the dramatic problems of our time? Have we prayed enough or at all that they will be given the wisdom to know what is the right thing to do in this crisis?
The author of our first reading reminds us that when he entreated the Lord, wisdom was given to him. Our Gospel reminds us that even when wisdom is offered by the Lord, we do not always have the courage to follow it. We can be so easily tempted to fall back into the old securities, the way we did things in the past without learning from the mistakes of the past. Part of wisdom is learning from the mistakes of the past. Courage is taking action not to fall into the same patterns of behaviour which led to the crisis in the first place. It is vital therefore, that we also pray for courage – for the wisdom to know what is right and for the courage to do it – for the good of all and not just the few.
I mentioned the beauty of creation. It is also one of the treasures of this Earth. God has revealed his wisdom in words in the Book of the Scriptures. He has also revealed his wisdom in a more silent and hidden way in the gift of Creation. It is interesting that as our materialistic and individualistic culture became less concerned about the wisdom of our Creator in the Scriptures, it also became less concerned about the treasures and wisdom of creation.
In his most recent Encyclical Letter, The Truth in Love, Pope Benedict reminds us that ‘Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated”in Christ at the end of time. Thus it too is a “vocation”…. a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man… “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). (CV n. 48)
The Book of Job also reminds us that the wisdom of God is embedded in the Earth (Job 38:2ff). The Book of Wisdom tells us that God loves all that exists because his ‘immortal spirit is in all things’ (Wis 11:24-12:1).
Restoring the balance and harmony of our lives, ensuring that our world economy is at the service of the person and not people at the service of the economy, ensuring we care for God’s creation and the planet he has given us, these are all the challenges which confront our world today. Perhaps more than anything, we need wisdom and courage to rise to these challenges.
Part of that wisdom comes from the final paragraph of our Gospel, which sometimes receives much less attention than the story of the rich young man.
In the last paragraph Peter asked: What about us? We have left everything and followed you.
Jesus takes up the question and answers it very seriously. ‘Yes’ he says ‘I know you left everything’ and he spelt it out – house, brothers, sisters, father, children, land. Jesus said:’ I know you left it not because you didn’t care about it but you believed in me and in the importance of my good news for the world. You left it so that you would be free to preach the Gospel, to bring the Good News to others. Then Jesus makes a fantastic promise. He says: ‘No-one who did so will remain unrewarded’. In other words, everyone who left all, will be repaid, not once, not twice or seven times, but a hundred times over they will be repaid with houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land in place of what they left behind. But, there is a word of warning – it will not come without persecution.
I am mindful that October is Mission Month in the Church. I am also mindful of the thousands of Irish women and men, many of them from this Diocese and many of them your own kith and kin – who left their beautiful homeland and all its security and went to the far flung corners of the earth to bring the good news and the love of Christ to others. And I am very proud of all those who have left their homes and their families and the prospect of marriage, and who have gone to the ends of the Earth for the sake of the Gospel. I meet them everywhere I go. I think of Irish nuns, working away in a big prison in Paris. I think of Irish missionary sisters and brothers and priests in Africa and India. I think of a missionary sister, living in the heart of Nigeria, all on her own, waking up one night to be confronted by robbers. I think of a young Passionist Priest from Belfast who opened up a hospice for those suffering from HIV Aids in South Africa only to be shot and left for dead himself as he sought to defend those he cared for.
Yes, Ireland has a proud history of generous service to others across the world, also in terms of its tradition of volunteer aid workers and the peace keeping activities of our army across the world. These are the people of wisdom – who have the right perspective on wealth creation and the need to care for others at the same time – which could help us to become a really wealthy country in the future – not just wealthy in material terms – but in our sense of service of others, our concern for creation and our deep faith in eternal life, given to us by St Patrick – which connects us to our heavenly homeland and all who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
This Gospel is about wisdom – it is about the wisdom of the man who is searching for the pearl of great price. He has a lot of other pearls and precious stones. One day he discovers the pearl of great price and what does he do? He covers it up and goes back home and sells all the others. What is the pearl of great price? That is the question. That is what this Gospel and these Readings are about. Who has the wisdom to know what the pearl of great price is? Well it is mentioned three times, under different headings, in this Gospel – It is:
• Meeting Jesus personally and finding in him the answer to our deepest questions;
• It is discovering the kingdom of God and giving up all that we have to be part of it – part of the civilisation of love, friendship and solidarity which Jesus calls us to become;
• It is hearing the hope and promise of eternal life – the wonderful truth that love and life do not come to an end in death, that we have an eternal future and that what we do in this life has meaning and purpose as we journey to our heavenly homeland.
So my dear friends, having reflected on the story of the rich young man and the gift of wisdom which God promises to those who ask him, let us pray for ourselves and for those who are dear to us, for the wisdom to know what the pearl of great price is – eternal life – and to know that it means following Jesus so that we might have life and have it to the full. It means following him in his way of love – in his way of being for the other person – my neighbour. It means actively promoting his or her good in every way I can – his or her authentic good – and as Irish people we have a proud tradition in this regard. It is part of the wisdom of our Christian heritage and culture which we should always respect, promote and honour. If we don’t, I think we will lose something of our real wealth as a country.
Of course following Christ, letting go of all that seems to give us short-term security in this world it not without its risks in human terms. There will always be trials and persecutions – but these too will pass.
I am reminded of Pope Benedict’s phrase: ‘Only in magnanimity can save us in our present crisis.’ Magnanimity means ‘immense generosity’ – being willing to share with those in need. Being willing to reach out the helping hand and to let go of some of our own money and other possessions and influences which seem to give us security.
Perhaps never before have each of us and our world needed wisdom so much. We are at a defining moment in human history and the future of our planet and its economy. Perhaps it is appropriate to conclude with one of the simplest but most profound prayers for wisdom that so many people know:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.