Bishop Michael Router’s Homily for the , 15th August 2021.
Divine Renovation is a programme developed by Fr. James Mallon’s from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada which tries to move parish life away from maintenance and tries to re-orient it towards mission and evangelisation.
Today’s gospel on this Feast of the Annunciation recounts the visit of Mary to Elizabeth. Mary had just received the news that she was to be the mother of God’s Son, and that he was to come into the world to bring salvation to all who received him. The gospel today includes her remarkable statement known as the Magnificat in which she outlines how the power of God was working through her to bring salvation to the world. Through the child in her womb, the child that she had said yes to, God would turn the world on its head. He would show the power of his arm, he would rout the proud of heart. He would pull down princes from their thrones, exalt the lowly, fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.
It is a remarkable statement of mission from someone who was young, humble, poor, and powerless and who lived in a land that was oppressed, on the margins, and politically unimportant. Yet though she would know much suffering, confusion and pain in her life, what she proclaimed would come true, and her child Jesus would grow into the single most important and influential man who ever walked the earth. Jesus revealed the Father to us as a merciful and just God and therefore undermined all systems of government, power and influence that survived through injustice and brutality. From humble beginnings, from deep confusion, from a moment of crisis Mary’s yes to her mission brought the savior into the world and nothing was ever the same again.
It is possible to look at the condition the Church finds itself in today and say that it is in a situation similar to Mary’s, powerless, immersed in confusion and crisis. But in many ways being in crisis is a good place to be. It sparks the creative energy within people and helps them to dream about new methods of mission and new approaches to religious life. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and it is true that when we are in most need good things begin to happen.
Today the challenge is clear to those of us of faith in Ireland, that we need to move away from trying to preserve in an unreflective way the model of church that we have had for the past 170 years since the famine, to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and to begin to focus our thoughts and our energies on renewing the mission of the Church that Jesus founded. The mission of the Church has always been to bring the life-giving message of Jesus to all people wherever they are to be found. Jesus himself did not stay within the walls of the temple or the synagogue, important as those places were for him as a Jew. He strayed beyond their safe and comfortable boundaries and wandered into the marketplace, through the fields and farms, into the houses and the places where people gathered to relax and to socialise. It was in those places that he encountered people where they were at, doing the things that were so ordinary yet so important. It was there that he made a real and lasting impression.
It seems to me that if we are to go forward as a Church in this challenging century we must go back to Jesus’ own model of leadership. Those who take their faith seriously both lay and religious must shed their fears and engage with others in the workplace, the school, the football club, the bingo hall, the pub, on internet sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or indeed wherever it is that people gather. It is, however, very important that we do so in a delicate and sensitive manner. There is nothing worse than someone forcing what they believe to be certainties down someone else’s throat no matter how well intentioned they may be. It is simply our job to witness to the faith through our actions as much as our words and not be afraid to talk about the joy and comfort it brings into our lives.
In the age in which we live there is a very strong temptation in religious matters to play it safe and to mix only with the dwindling number of people who share our faith and who don’t challenge us. Such an approach makes us feel secure and we priests, in particular, feel appreciated. Such an inward-looking approach, however, will not bring success in the long-term task of building the Church. The alternative approach of reaching out to and journeying with those who don’t share our faith is much more dangerous but also much more effective in the long term.
Jesus is always our role model for evangelization in a secular society, and we can learn much from reflecting, particularly, on the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-25). In that post-resurrection encounter Jesus meets people who are struggling with loss. He walks with them and listens. He asks questions. He gives meaning to the complicated mystery of life. His words burn within them and make a deep impression because they have the ring of authentic truth. He eventually reveals his identity at a simple supper table. This encounter offers guidance to us on how to be Church in a secular world. Like the disciples on the road, we are so disheartened by what we have lost – status, large congregations and young people in our churches – that we have forgotten that the one resource we really need is Jesus, the one who is alive and well and who walks beside us on the journey. Please God the synodal pathway we have embarked upon as a diocese, as a national and universal Church may reawaken new energy and a missionary zeal within us.
The process of divine renovation, which we launch in the parishes of Knockbridge and Kilkerly today, is a call to move away from the burden of maintenance, of trying to frantically preserve what we have, and instead trying to embrace the uncertainty and the challenge of mission wherever that may take us. To help lead the Church in Knockbridge and Kilkerly in this process of divine renovation of moving from maintenance to mission, I will shortly commission a leadership team who will help to overhaul the focus of the Church here and to encourage everyone who is baptized to accept their call to mission and to participate in the great work of evangelization which can no longer be left, if it ever could, just to priests and religious.
+ Bishop Michael Router