Homily of Bishop Dermot Farrell at the State Commemoration Ceremonies
Church of the Sacred Heart, Arbour Hill
- The seeds of democracy – freedom, vision, ideals and hope – sown at a foundational moment in the history of the Irish State had – and still have – momentous political consequences whose implications resonate to this day.
- Rather than bending the events of Easter Week 1916 in an attempt to claim legitimacy for a merciless campaign of indiscriminate acts of violence and murder, another logic is required.
- In our time the Good Friday Agreement has a similar dynamic: it allows a generation never to witness the horrors of violence, but reap the benefits of peace.
- The great challenge, now as it was then, is to create a society which will enable all of its citizens to flourish in equality in a country with an identifiably distinctive voice in Europe and in the world, an Irish republic, a sovereign independent state to use the words of the Proclamation.
Today as we gather to honour the memory of all those whose past sacrifices have made our present freedoms possible, we hear a parable that uses the image of sowing a small seed to speak of how radical change can unfold. A single mustard seed is barely visible. When it grows, however, it grows into a vigorous tree and “puts out broad branches so the birds of the air can take shelter in its shade.” For Christ and His early followers small beginnings were the heart of the matter.
God brings His reign or rule through the ordinary, everyday actions of people, whose vision and passion for freedom and justice are the seed of hope. And this hope has the power to bear fruit in a transformed world. To plant such seeds takes courage. Those who take courageous action do not always have the satisfaction of knowing what role they play in turning the tide of history.
In the parable of mustard seed, Jesus lays out the logic that God wants good things to start small and grow over time. Like the mustard seed, the leaders whose memory we honour and, whose names are etched in our history books, put forth the branches of a fledgling democracy, and today we are free to make nests in their shade. But that freedom, as we know, is a treasure that must be constantly preserved and handed down, as a precious legacy, to future generations. The seeds of democracy –freedom, vision, ideals and hope – sown at a foundational moment in the history of the Irish State had – and still have – momentous political consequences whose implications resonate to this day.
Today’s first reading points to a logic that is contrary to that of the world. David had risen up against Saul, and could have exacted revenge on Saul. The opportunity presented itself. But David recognized something more important, something sacred, was at stake, and chose another logic. Although Saul was his opponent, David was unwilling to assassinate him. That may not reflect conventional military wisdom; what is noteworthy is David’s response in the conflict with Saul. Today, we too need to stand with David who overcame evil with good in his attitude towards Saul. In a democracy every single person without exception needs to find the strength to begin to live out of such a logic. Rather than bending the events of Easter Week 1916 in an attempt to claim legitimacy for a merciless campaign of indiscriminate acts of violence and murder, another logic is required. Vengeance, retribution and ruthless justice only amplify the power of evil, as the bearer of each new grudge acts in ways that inspire ever more hate and evil propensities.
For the gospel writers, Jesus is David again. He reigns not from a palace, but from the cross; the one who triumphs over Caesar doesn’t rely on the strength of an army, but on the strength of forgiveness. In his wisdom, Jesus often challenged common human assumptions. Our baser human instincts may tell us that enemies are to be confronted, defeated and destroyed. And so there is in our world a seemingly endless cycle of violence and retaliation. We see this cycle played out among small children, and among great nations, and everything in between. But what happens when someone interrupts this cycle of violence and retaliation and makes an attempt at reconciliation? That dynamic is illustrated by today’s First Reading when David passes up an opportunity to kill his mortal enemy, King Saul. In our time the Good Friday Agreement has a similar dynamic: it allows a generation never to witness the horrors of violence, but reap the benefits of peace.
We are accustomed to thinking of the political leaders we honour today as people who stand out for their heroic actions. We are inclined to put them on a pedestal; we imagine we could never do what they did. In our iconography we portray an idealised past. Ironically such a portrayal undermines a life-giving vison of, and for, the future. Rather than helping people embrace the present, such a sterile vision of the past is little more than a flight from the present. Our Christian faith calls us to engage with the present, and with the present as it is. But it also asks us to view the world in a different optic – one of service, support, sacrifice – where people are seen as gift rather than entities to be profited from. The 1916 leaders looked at the world through a different lens – and in doing so saw things according to a new scale of values.
Rulers of powerful empires – up and down the centuries – have assumed that the Goliaths of this world could wipe out the Davids through violence and brute force. But their take on reality, is not the only view. There is a deeper way of seeing things: it is a “profound law of reality” that “life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others” (Evangelii Gaudium 10). This is another logic, another way of choosing to live (see Deut 30:19).
The sacrifices of the heroes of Easter 1916 were possible because of the strength of the cause in which they believed. My prayer for us all today, on this day of commemoration, is that we will be able to enkindle a similar dynamism to that which inspired our forbearers to give their lives – in ourselves first, and then, more easily, in those to whom we seek to inspire. The great challenge, now as it was then, is to create a society which will enable all of its citizens to flourish in equality in a country with an identifiably distinctive voice in Europe and in the world, an Irish republic, a sovereign independent state to use the words of the Proclamation.
This brings us back to ourselves, to our own hearts. For it is there that freedom and peace, but also war are born. More radically than in the palaces of kings and the corridors of power, it is our hearts that are the birthplaces of war.
We “civilised” women and men across the world allow a quarter of humanity go to bed hungry each night, and, in our own land, leave more than 10,000 homeless. Announcing salvation through private enterprise does not sit easily with a Republic that “guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts cherishing all of the children of the nation equally . . .” to quote the 1916 Proclamation where it enumerates the inalienable rights of all human beings. Indeed, the refugees and migrants who come to our shores, come seeking for themselves the vision of society outlined in the Proclamation, a place of justice, peace and safety for all.
Lord, we pray for the generosity to cherish all. Strengthen our courage today, God of compassion, to act out of love toward both friends and strangers, even if it may cost us dearly. Forgiving God, enlarge the love in our hearts. Take away our hearts of stone; give us hearts of flesh, warm hearts that seek to understand, that accept, that strive for peace. Guide us always in the way of peace.
Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Ephesians 2: 4-10
- Bishop Dermot Farrell is Bishop of Ossory.
- This annual 1916 Mass of Remembrance took place at 10.00am today in the Church of the Sacred Heart – the church of the Defence Forces – in Arbour Hill, Dublin.