In the Heart of the Church
is...Lived by Men and Women who Allow that Word of God to Transform
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
November 20, 2010
Homily given at a Mass remembering the 30th anniversary of the
death of the founder of the Legionaries of Mary.
Frank Duff died thirty years ago.
This quiet, personally unassuming man, in quiet simple external
circumstances in Dublin, on 7th September 1921 established a
movement of prayer, Christian care and Marian spirituality. The
Legion of Mary is a movement which has spread worldwide and has
enriched the Church in many parts of the world, especially at
moments in which the Church was experiencing difficulty and
We have come to thank God for the charism of Frank Duff: a charism
recognised in a special way by the Second Vatican Council which he
attended. We thank God for the spiritual enrichment that that
charism has brought the Members of the Legion of Mary. We thank God
for the Christian care and spiritual formation that millions have
encountered through their contact with the Legion of Mary.
We remember especially the tenacity of this outwardly retiring man:
tenacity in reaching out unashamedly to bring the message of Jesus
to people in the varied circumstances of their livers, a tenacity
driven not by human ambition but through a devotion to Mary who in
every aspect of her life opened her heart to understand and to do
the will of God.
The Church in Ireland is on a path of renewal. Renewal is an
essential dimension of the Church's life at any moment in history.
The need for renewal of the Church in Ireland is however
particularly urgent at this moment.
The scandals that have been revealed about aspects of the Church's
life have opened our eyes not just to the particular horrors of the
abuse of children and of an inadequate response to them. They have
opened our eyes to a much deeper crisis within the Church in
Society in Ireland has changed. Religious culture in Ireland has
changed. Religious practice has dropped at times in staggering
proportions. There is disillusionment among many believers. Many
have opted for or drifted into a more secularised vision of their
life. Many have become indifferent and live as if God did not exist.
The significant role of the Church in serving Irish society, a role
assumed in good faith and in a spirit of service which was
undertaken with great dedication, is now being re-examined. What
emerge are not just examples of evident failure and inadequacy
alongside vision and commitment, but of a certain sense arrogance
and power seeking, which has alienated many from the very message
that such a presence in society was supposed to represent.
We face real crisis of vocations to the priesthood. Last Saturday
here in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral I remembered at Mass 20 priests who
had ministered in the Archdiocese and who had died in the previous
twelve months. A further dozen or so priests retired from active
ministry in the same period. And yet in the past year I ordained
just one new priest for the diocese.
But the crisis of the Church is still a deeper one. It is not about
the role of the Church in society. It is not about numbers. It is
about the very nature of faith in Jesus Christ. It is about our
understanding of the message of Jesus Christ. It is about faith in
the God revealed in Jesus Christ and about the fundamental question:
who is Jesus Christ?
We do not create our own identity for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ
came to bring a message of love. But it was not a message just of
being nice to each other. We have to ask: what is it that makes a
Christian different in his or her interaction with others? What is
it that should mark the Church of Jesus Christ as a people driven by
the message of salvation revealed through the death and resurrection
The Church will never be reformed from outside. Historically it must
be recognised that the recent shattering revelations about abuse
would probably never have come to full light without outside
intervention. Renewal and reform of the Church, however, will only
come from within the Church, that is from within a community of man
and women who listen to the word of God, who come together to pray,
who celebrate the Eucharist and are called to share in the very life
of Christ himself. The Church is communion. That is not the same as
saying the Church is a community, or an association or an
institution. The Church is formed by the Word of God and is lived by
men and women who allow that word of God to transform them.
The Church is communion. The theme of the forthcoming International
Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin in 2012 is: Communion with
Christ and with one another. It is however the communion of Christ
which determines the shape of communion we form with each other. It
is not a network of social interaction which determines what our
communion with Jesus Christ is or ultimately who Jesus Christ is.
The Church is formed through our communion with Christ.
The Gospel we have heard is a complex one. It is an interesting
insight into the friendship of Jesus with this family and their
practical service to help him in his mission. Jesus on his mission
was not just surrounded by the twelve Apostles. There were many who
accompanied him on his missionary journeys, there were men and women
who served him in different ways yet who together imbibed his
teaching and his witness.
Lazarus and his Sisters were close to Jesus in friendship.
Friendship with Jesus for us means friendship in his service through
understanding his word. Each of us can join with him in his mission
and living out in his mission in the great and small tasks of life.
Frank Duff could never have been described in terms of what today
would be called "a celebrity". He shunned publicity. He shunned
superficiality. Yet his work has spread to so many parts of the
world and has affected so many lives through the fruits of constant
bonds of friendship with the Lord.
Renewal of the Church is not about media strategies or structural
reform. In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus clearly indicates in
the figure of Mary that what is vital - and what can never be
substituted by any other merits - is the willingness to know Jesus
and to enter into true friendship with him. That means allowing his
word to capture our hearts; it means having the same mind that was
within Christ Jesus himself. It is about knowing the Father through
Renewal in the Church in Ireland will be painful renewal. Jesus
message was not that anything goes. There is something radical about
the commitment which Jesus requires of us. "Let the dead bury their
dead", is not a message of compromise
There are many indications that the Church in Ireland has lost its
way. Let me be very clear: sadly many people, of various ages, no
longer really know Jesus Christ. That is not to say that they are
not good people, caring people. It is not to say that the Church is
only for a holy elite: the Church is a Church of sinners; each of us
has to repent day after day; each of us compromises and each of us
lets Jesus down and betrays Jesus.
The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not a vague
moralising agency in society. It is not there to provide some sort
of spiritual comfort zone for all comers. The Eucharist and the
sacraments are celebrations of faith in Jesus Christ within a
Christian community. Allowing the sacramental life of the Church
become some just sort of vague social celebrations is allowing the
true identity of the Church to become distorted.
I am not saying the active members of the Church community have been
authentic followers of Jesus Christ. The Church has indeed been
betrayed by its own active members. In the face of such failure the
Church has at times given the impression of wishing to be
all-embracing and all-forgiving in a simplistic manner.
Where do we go on the path of renewal? Can we be happy to celebrate
first communion services which put people into debt for thousands of
Euro for empty external expenses, while neither the children nor
their parents have been led to a true understanding of the Eucharist
and the Eucharistic community which is the Church? Can we be
satisfied when confirmation is looked on by many as a graduation out
of Church life? In not addressing such issues we are not just
deceiving ourselves but we are damaging the integrity of the message
The Church is not a holy elite. It is made up today as always by the
humble of heart. Many people with little education have a deeper
insight into the message of Jesus Christ than learned theologians or
bishops. But in today's society where the message of Jesus is less
and less accessible, the Church must become a place where formation
in the Word of God resounds in a way that it has not done so in the
Irish Church for generations.
I would like to thank the Legion of Mary in the Archdiocese of
Dublin for their generous participation in our diocesan project this
year of making the word of God in the Gospel of Saint Luke available
to families. I would like to thank the Legion of Mary nationwide for
their renewed reflection on the Word of God and its application to
daily life. I would like to thank you for your commitment to prayer
and to the Eucharist where Jesus is present in our hearts.
I am very happy today to see such a large representation of priests
present at our ceremony today. I would like to thank the priests who
act as spiritual directors to the Legion of Mary and who provide
formation for the spiritual life of the members, helping them day by
day to rediscover and to recommit themselves top the charism of the
movement. The Legion of Mary is fundamentally a lay movement but the
place of the priestly ministry is aloe essential to it. I
particularly wish to thank those priests who have so many demands on
their time and yet who are so dedicate to the work with the Legion
Frank Duff founded the Legion of Mary in 1921 at a critical moment
in Irish history. It was a time of political uncertainty which
eventually would explode into civil war. It was a time in which this
city was marked by very harsh poverty and also of widespread moral
impoverishment. Frank Duff was a man who in the face of a major
social challenge did something. He did not write a Letter to the
Editor. He gathered likeminded men and women around him into a
movement of spiritual renewal, prayer and Christian service. He was
not discouraged either by the size of the challenge or by the
paucity of his means. He was a man of the Church - misunderstood by
many in the Church, including Archbishops of Dublin. Like Mary, his
model, he never flinched. Frank Duff pondered the Word of God day by
day and through him then the Lord worked great things.
This page is the work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and