MASS OF THE CHAPTER
ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOMILY GIVEN BY
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
SUNDAY 4 NOVEMBER 2007
Jesus has come into our world. He came, and he still comes, in different ways. But he always comes to seek out and save what is lost. In other words, he comes to save people, people who have turned away from God, people who are neglecting God, people who are living their lives as if God did not exist. Jesus came to bring them back – the kind of people who, if they don’t change their ways, will be lost. In other words, Jesus came to reconcile people through the mercy of God.
I read a marvellous story of reconciliation recently. It happened at a murder trial in Green Street Court House, Dublin. Two young friends fell out in a drunken brawl. One pulled a knife and stabbed the other fatally. All four parents gathered in the courtroom for the murder trial. Two in one corner, two in the other. An old Kerry Garda came in and saw the scene and said to a barrister friend I am going to try and reconcile these people. You haven’t a hope. “Well, I can only try” he said. So he approached them in turn. At first they stiffened and bristled at the idea but then they approached and hugged each other and burst into tears. “How did you know it would work”? asked the barrister. “I didn’t” said the Garda. Somehow or other the mercy of God was already at work in the hearts of all concerned there to bring about this reconciliation. It just needed the courage and concern of the Garda to trigger it off.
I have received many messages in recent days. One of the most pleasing came from a past student to whom I taught Latin in the 1970s. He was a high-spirited young man and high-spirited young men were wont to get into trouble sometimes and secondary school. But he wrote now he said because I counselled him once when he needed counselling, although he probably would have been slow enough to admit it at the time. He now says that I stuck up for him at times but, he says, and this is the important bit, it all came out right in the end. He married an understanding wife twenty years and they have three wonderful children.
Now let us come to Zachaeus, the rich tax collector. I think it is hard for us to realise how despised tax collectors were in ancient Israel. Probably as despised as drug dealers are today. First they were collecting on behalf of the Romans, the foreign power who were occupying the country. Secondly, they competed and tendered for the contract to lift the taxes. But once the contract was signed they were more or less free to exhort as much as they could. So it wasn’t exactly the most popular profession but it certainly was one of the most lucradic
Zachaeus was the senior tax collector. He had been around for a long time. Fairly tough-skinned, I would say and definitely seriously wealthy and yet, definitely not very happy. Not at all a happy man. Why do I say that? Well he was anxious. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was. So anxious, in fact, that he was prepared to run the risk of ridicule if he was noted. Could you imagine anyone of us climbing a tree down on the Mall the night President Bill Clinton was here so that we could see what kind of man he was. And yet, that is how it was with Zachaeus. Despite all his financial security, all his vast property, his second home; his stocks and shares; Zachaeus was not a happy camper.
I just wonder how many people are there like Zachaeus in the world today? How many in our world today, despite all the tearing around from post to pillar, are anxious people? Maybe they don’t know what they are anxious about but, what they do know is that there is something missing. They have achieved all they set out to achieved but there is still something missing.
Zachaeus stumbled on it when he noted the desire he had in his heart to see what kind of man Jesus was. But I wonder how many of our successful young people experience some similar sort of desire. The desire to have a relationship that will last with something or some person that is not temporary, that is not fragile, that is not going to break up. I wonder how many people there are who, like Zachaeus, really want to see the kind of man Jesus is but they don’t realise that that is what they need.
Anyway, Zachaeus stumbled on it and decided to do something about it. Of course there will always be obstacles to be overcome when you want to make a move like that. Zachaeus was too short. The rest of us can think we are too short of time for that kind of thing. Zachaeus ran on ahead over and climbed a tree, partially out of curiosity, partly out of a response to something deeper. He found a spot on the sycamore tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus and, hopefully, nobody would catch of glimpse of him. A glimpse of Jesus would do him. But that was what Zachaeus, despite all his shrewdness and cuteness, got all wrong. He got it all wrong through no fault of his own. How was he to know that when Jesus reached the spot he would look up and see him. Not alone that, Jesus could have winked at him and passed on but not at all, horror of horrors Jesus spoke to him. Spoke to him by name – Zachaeus. He gives him an order: “Come down out of that. Hurry for I must stay at your house today”. Amazing isn’t it. Jesus is inviting himself to stay. Inviting himself along. Zachaeus hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. Now all the anxiety and depression is gone. There is joy and welcome.
Zachaeus found Jesus there waiting for him and Jesus, who knew him by name, who, in fact, was searching and looking for him also because he was a Jesus who has come to look for those who have lost their way.
Greed for money has caused a lot of people to lose their way in life. They lose their respect for people but his meeting with Jesus set Zachaeus free from his slavery to greed. He is going to turn over a new leaf – give half his property to the poor and pay back four times to the people he had cheated.
There is a great note of humility there in recognising the fact that he had cheated people. How often do we find that in people? There is a bit of Zachaeus in all of us – anxious to know more about Jesus yet not always prepared to pay the price or make the effort. And yet, when we do so, we find that Jesus is already waiting for us.
One person who was certainly single-minded in his searching for Jesus was St Malachy. We celebrated his feast yesterday. St Bernard, who knew him, says ‘Malachy was acceptable and well-pleasing to God’ and that is what we are all trying to do. He was poor towards himself but rich to the poor. He was a father to the orphans and a husband to the widows, the protector of the oppressed. A cheerful giver, he never asked for anything and it embarrassed him to receive. It was with deep concern and great success he laboured to restore peace between enemies.
· Who was as tender as he in compassion?
· Who was as ready with help?
· Who was as fearless in correction?
While he could be weak with the weak, was, nevertheless, mighty with the mighty. He withstood the proud, he beat down the tyrant, he was a master at director of kings and princesses. As if he were the father of all, so did he live for all. He made no distinction between persons. He never failed anyone for his heart overflowed with sympathy for them all. Malachy was like that because he not only knew the kind of person Jesus was, he knew Jesus personally and he tried, with the help of Jesus, to be Christlike.
Even though the whole world is like a grain of dust, in God’s eye, the Lord is merciful to all.
· The Lord can overlook our sins so that we can repent.
· The Lord spares all things because, in the long run, all things belong to God.
This is the Good News we hear today. St Paul prays that God will make us worthy and fulfil all our desires for goodness.
We also hear a man admit that he is a cheat but he promises to repent.
Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Malachy – native son of this City – patron of our diocese.
We welcome the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter who have joined us for this Mass.