IN THE EASTER RISING OF 1916
CHURCH OF THE SACRED HEART, ARBOUR HILL, DUBLIN
WEDNESDAY 6 MAY 2009
Cardinal Seán Brady
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we’ve failed?
From our school days they have told us we must yearn for liberty.
Yet all I want in this dark place – is to have you here with me.
These famous lyrics of the song Grace will, I am sure, be familiar to many of you. They commemorate one of the most moving and human moments of the 1916 rebellion – the marriage of Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett in the chapel of Kilmainham jail, hours before his execution. The lyrics convey the deep passion for liberty which inspired the Easter Rising. They capture, with refreshing honesty, the doubts which can haunt those who risk their lives for a noble cause.
• Will I succeed?
• Will my effort, the risking of my life be worthwhile?
• Will my sacrifice be remembered by those who benefit from it in years to come?
• Or will it have all been in vain?
The Easter Rising: Overcoming Despair with Hope
Sooner or later, this question faces all those who risk their life in the selfless service of others. It is a question with which Jesus himself wrestled as he approached his death on the cross: ‘Now my soul is in turmoil,’ he says in St John’s Gospel, ‘and what am I to say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify thy name!’ (Jn. 12:27-28)
The readings speak to the battle that goes on in every human heart. Are we to live by our highest ideals or to settle for an easier way? St Paul appeals to the persecuted Christians of Rome not to despair. They are to hold fast to the source of their hope. The love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus, is greater than any principality or power. It is more powerful than any present or future threat. Love is more powerful even than death itself. St Paul appeals to this persecuted Christian community to look to Jesus. Jesus did not give in to despair despite being looked upon, like them, as a ‘sheep to be slaughtered’.
The power of the Resurrection, always gives hope. It is the hope that, in spite of everything: ‘anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine…’, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. He has conquered all the evil, injustice, violence and human connivance which led to the Cross. St Paul knew this with conviction. He knew it from his personal encounter with the Risen Christ. He knew, that in the end,
• good will prevail over evil,
• truth over lies,
• decency over decadence,
• justice over injustice and
• selfless service of others over selfishness, violence and the abuse of power.
Today we commemorate a group of people who absolutely rejected despair. They went to their graves with a spirit of commitment the hope of a better future for Ireland. In honouring their memory we too are called to reject despair and to draw strength from their courage as we confront the challenges which face our country today.
Freedom from all Forms of Captivity and Oppression
The challenge which confronts us is, once again, the challenge of freedom. It is the challenge to be set free from all that holds us back from enjoying the fullness of life for which God created us. As St. Paul said to the Galatians: ‘For freedom, Christ has set us free! So stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery’ (Gal. 5:1). That slavery is ultimately our slavery to sin – to our lowest rather than our highest ideals, to all that makes us selfish, aggressive, greedy, arrogant and ultimately – less human!
God’s purpose in Christ is, in ancient biblical language, ‘To bring the people out from Egypt’ – to liberate the people from every form of moral, spiritual and material enslavement and oppression.
This prompts some questions:
• Do we recognise the many forms of enslavement in our lives and in our society today?
• What resources do we have in our Christian heritage to set ourselves and others free?
• Do we have the courage to devote our economic, moral and spiritual resources to the task of human freedom and to building a new culture of confidence and hope?
Today people long for something to give them confidence and hope. They are longing for a society that has the common good of all people, and of the whole person, as its primary goal. This is a good that is very difficult to attain. It demands the ability, and effort, to seek the good of others as though it were one’s own good.
Those who died in the Easter Rising of 1916 would have understood language like this. In their ideals, they put the good of others – the common good – before their own good. Their memory challenges us to keep the common good, and a constant concern for others, at the forefront of our effort to rebuild confidence and hope today.
The memory of those who died in 1916 challenges us all. The ongoing challenge is to build our future for the good of all people and of the whole person. To do that we need to draw on all our resources; economic, moral and spiritual.
Building Community and Restoring Hope: We all have a part to play!
Each of us has a part to play. There is a wealth of generosity in our country, a willingness to give of time and talent in the service of the community. I was struck recently by a comment made by Mr John O’Sullivan, Regional President of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Kerry. It was in an article in the SVP magazine entitled: ‘What has happened to Ireland?’ In response, Mr O’Sullivan explains that he was tempted to ‘spin out the usual old line’ that we have become ‘an uncaring society. People have no time for each other etc.’ Then he goes on to say:
‘I realised that this just wasn’t true. People care, they really do…. Ask anyone to do a job when stuck and someone will step up to the mark. I have found – all they need is to be asked. We don’t ask enough. There are many people who would do a small job like standing at the Church gate, but we don’t ask!’
In a recent survey of volunteering in Ireland over 58% of volunteers said they got involved because they were asked. The total amount of time given to voluntary work in Ireland is estimated to be equivalent to some 96,454 full-time workers, representing a revenue in kind, of some 200-600 million euro contributed to the social economy. This is something of which we, as a nation, can be very proud. It captures the true spirit of the ‘volunteers’ of the 1916 Easter Rising. Yet, more is still possible. We need to give more of our own time energies and resources as volunteers to projects which build community and restore hope.
Jesus is not afraid to ask people to become involved in building community and restoring hope. He tells his disciples to go from village to village preaching the good news of the Kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases. The Kingdom is that place where God’s love is accepted, his peace known and his justice lived. It is the community of those who know God and make his love known through selfless solidarity and service to those in need.
Jesus reminds the disciples that he has already given them the power to ‘proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.’ As Christians we have also been given this power – in our Baptism. It is the power to use the will and talent which God gives us to heal our society from the danger of isolation and fear. It is the power we all possess to reconnect people with each other in community and with the source of our hope in Jesus Christ. Mother Teresa once said that the greatest ‘dis-ease’ of the western world is loneliness. There is not one person in our country who cannot do something to help heal this terrible ‘disease’.
Ultimately, the Kingdom of which Jesus speaks is a Kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36). But it is a Kingdom which we, the followers of Jesus, have the duty to prepare for in this world. We do so by striving to bring the world around us, and especially conditions in our own country, into harmony with the truths and the values of that Kingdom.
Justice for all: Making the vision a realtiy!
Jesus asks us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice”. This means doing justice to God, doing justice to creation and doing justice to our fellow human beings. We are called to make this justice real in our respect for the life and rights of others.
The Easter Proclamation of the Republic guaranteed “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”, and undertook to “cherish all the children of the nation equally”.
The Democratic Programme, adopted unanimously by the first Dáil, declared “in the name of the Republic, the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation’s labour”. It affirmed “as the first duty of the Government of the Republic … to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food or clothing or shelter”. The Programme promised “care of the Nation’s aged and infirm, who shall no longer be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration”. The sentiments of that Programme resonate powerfully with the social doctrine of the Church, especially that which says that all the goods of this Earth are destined for all the children of this Earth.
Ninety-three years on and a wounded Celtic Tiger later we salute the efforts of successive governments to turn the noble rhetoric of our nation’s founding documents into reality. At the same time we have to honestly acknowledge that we still have some way to go. To translate the noble sentiments of our songs of liberty and justice into reality for the poorest of our nation and their children, for the aged and the homeless, for the sick and the refugees who come to our country, there is still unfinished business. Successive administrations have tried to tackle these issues over the years. We all must accept our share of responsibility for the failure to do so.
Peace in Northern Ireland: The Irish people have spoken!
As we move to the future we draw strength from that which has been achieved. We have become a wealthier and a better educated nation. We have become world leaders in technology and in so many other areas.
But perhaps our most significant achievement, the one I believe would be most applauded by those who gave their lives for the ideals of the Easter Proclamation in 1916, is the achievement of a final political settlement in Northern Ireland. In my view, the only true inheritors of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising are those who are fully committed to the will of the Irish people and their definitive support for the ideals and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. The tiny numbers of people who continue to use or threaten violence as a means of achieving a united Ireland bring shame on that legitimate and still noble ideal. The Irish people have spoken. They have said a historic and definitive no to the misery, mayhem and futility of violence as means of achieving a united Ireland. They have said YES to mutual respect and reconciliation, to building trust and healing hurts, to shared institutions and the principle of consent.
I take this opportunity to appeal to anyone who may be tempted to resort to violence in the name of Irish freedom, especially those too young to remember the tragic waste of life, limb and economic opportunity that was the ‘troubles’. I appeal to you to respect the sovereign will of the Irish people. Turn your energy and your idealism instead to the search for political and peaceful solutions to the many urgent human and social problems which confront the people of this island, North and South. Turn your back on those who betray the Irish people by killing or threatening those who serve the sovereign will of the Irish people through the institutions and principles of the Good Friday Agreement. I have no doubt that this is what those who died for Irish freedom in 1916 would ask you to do.
There is no other solution. There is no viable way forward in the historic relationship between the Irish and British traditions on this island other than that which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Irish people, North and South, in the Good Friday Agreement.
Conclusion: the call to work for a better future
Speaking of Easter 1916, William Butler Yeats wisely warned that ‘Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart’. The recent murders of Sappers Quincy and Azimkar in Antrim and Constable Carroll in Lurgan were not only heartless. Like many inhuman acts of violence before them in the ‘troubles’, they were unjustified, morally repugnant and an offence to the ideals of the Easter Proclamation. Today we remember those who died for Ireland’s freedom in 1916. We also remember, with sorrow, all those who died, through violence, in the tragic history of this island.
As we honour their memory today, we commit ourselves, in their name, to the peaceful pursuit of reconciliation between the historic traditions on this island. We pray that the future for Ireland will be one of renewed confidence and hope.
Eternal rest grant unto them O’Lord,
And may perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed,
Through the mercy of God, rest in peace.