Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 1st January 2014
“Peace is a theme and a thought which comes naturally to all of us as a New Year begins. It comes naturally to all, no matter who we are and what our ethnic or religious background is.
We all wish that the New Year which begins will bring peace to each one of us: to us in our own hearts, to our families and children and communities, to our nation and to our world.
Yet, year after year, we are called to look back at a year which was anything but peaceful. We have become almost immune to the figures and statistics of war.
Over the past twelve months we have been hearing day after day – alone regarding the conflict in Syria - the terms “millions” and “hundreds of thousands”, as we speak of people displaced from their homes or forced to flee their nation.
The list of conflicts is long and sadly many conflicts with their own “hundreds of thousands” of victims – especially in Africa – barely even make the radar-screens of our news headlines.
No one is spared. The children of wars are among the largest group of victims who have appeared on our television reviews of the year 2013. These children would wish to dream of peace, but most likely they pass their nights with nightmares of what they have experienced and of what they fear.
We make our appeals to “the international community” – but unfortunately there are many kinds of international community: there is the international community of good intentions, but it has sparse results. There is the international community of organised crime. There is the international community of shady, shadowy and corrupt arms dealers.
But there are also those who, like us, gather wherever they are this morning, and raise their voices to say: “enough”. There are those who are prepared to risk their own lives to prevent conflict and maintain a fragile peace. This morning we remember in our prayers all the members of our Defence Forces who continue to witness to the extraordinary tradition of this country in peace-keeping.
There are members of An Garda Síochána, there are development workers, there are missionaries and religious, there are our diplomatic representatives and many others who work quietly to leave a distinctive Irish imprint on working for peace. We express our appreciation to all of them and we remember all of them in our prayers as well as their families at home.
Peace is too important to be left just to the professionals. It is communities that make or break peace. We need to develop at all levels, beginning in our own hearts, a deep culture of fostering peace and reconciliation and coming together in the realization that we need each other and that difference must not be a source of hatred and division, suspicion and fear, but something which enriches, something indeed which belongs to being a human person. When God created humankind he created us as a family.
That is why Pope Francis chose for this year’s World Day of Peace the theme: “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace”. In his Message for today, the Pope begins with the biblical narrative of the origins of society and the evolution of relations between individuals and people. The biblical image stresses our common origin in terms of a family: we come from common parents.
But already in this first family – from the very origins of humankind - we also encounter a rejection of what our common origins entail. Cain and Abel are called to be brothers, to represent fraternity, but the egoism of Cain amounts to a rejection of the common vocation of all human beings not just to be brothers and sisters, but to live as brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis stresses how the story of Cain and Abel reminds us both of our inherent call to be brothers and sisters and at the same time of our tragic capacity to reject the bonds of reciprocity and fellowship, of communion and self giving.
That fundamental tension remains at the root of many of the divisions in our world and in our society. Globalization could be a process of ensuring that the marginalised become protagonists of an economy which serves human development, a challenge to a protectionism which divides humankind and tends to privilege and prioritize ourselves to the detriment of the talents and the hopes of others. Globalization can easily just become the extension of personal egoism and the maintenance of privilege.
A different model of globalization is possible if we recognise, as Pope Francis writes, that: “human beings need and are capable of something greater than maximising their individual interest”. The aim of modern society must rather be: “to permit everyone to recognise in the other a brother or a sister to care for and to work together with in building fulfilling life for all”.
Fraternity, like charity, begins at home. Not in the sense of looking after ourselves first, but in the attitudes of our hearts. Fraternity and the ensuing peace it generates start in the climate we create around ourselves and in our society. Pope Francis likes to surprise. He certainly surprised the Bishops and Cardinals of the Roman Curia when he received them just before Christmas and reprimanded them with a word which we might all take to heart.
He spoke of: “conscientious objection to gossip!”
“We rightfully insist on the importance of conscientious objection”, the Pope said, “but perhaps we too need to exercise it as a means of defending ourselves from an unwritten law of our surroundings, which unfortunately is that of gossip. For gossip is harmful to people, harmful to our work and our surroundings”.
A peaceful climate in our homes and in our society will only be created when we realise how much our insensitivity can hurt and harm others. Pope Francis has indeed won respect by his ability to show respect towards those with whom he may not agree. Fraternity obliges us to act in the same way. Cynicism and insinuation are not the paths to a peaceful and harmonious society.
Jesus came among us to show us the pathway of love. In him the goodness and loving kindness of God took human flesh. In his birth he restores true fraternity, in that in him we share in his own sonship of the Father. In our common sonship of God, Pope Francis stresses that: “all men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are beloved by God”.
The Pope stresses that therefore - for the true believer - there are no “disposable lives” and therefore no one can remain indifferent to the lot of our brothers and sisters.
In God’s family there can be no second-class brothers and sisters, yet we categorize without noticing into second-class and third-class and indeed even beyond.
The shepherds, we heard in our Gospel reading, came and found Jesus in the manger, with Joseph and Mary. They went about telling of their experience and “all were astonished by what they had to say”. All “marvelled” – another translation says - at the story they told.
We too are called to marvel at God’s actions, not to become closed and cynical and indifferent and unyielding. Peace needs men and women who can marvel at the possibilities of goodness and hope.
When it comes to working for peace there are those whose calling it is to try to knit together the fragile threads that might still unite estranged peoples. And there are those who lead by marvelling, by rising above estrangement and seeing – even in those with whom they disagree - the real bonds of humanity that unite us. We need both strands.
By my own nature and training, I tend to stress what can be attained by diplomacy and negotiation, but we all know that no amount of diplomacy and negotiation will work if there are not those who lead towards peace by recalling the higher things and by rising above self-centeredness or cynicism and courageously building the bridges of that fraternity which is the foundation and pathway to peace.