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‘Sinfulness is failure to love and failure to be merciful’

By Sarah Mac Donald - 04 October, 2016

Pic: John McElroy

Pic: John McElroy

The role of the legal system is to “independently and vigorously” ensure that men, women and children, whether they are citizens or not, have equitable access to what they need to realise their God-given potential, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in his homily at Mass for the start of the new law term.

In St Michan’s Church, Halston Street, Dublin, the Archbishop of Dublin told representatives of the legal profession that the task of public authorities is to ensure equity, to protect the weak and to curb the arrogance of those who exercise power.

Referring to Pope Francis’ publication, The name of God is Mercy, Archbishop Martin said the book’s title was not just catchy; it said something about the very essence of being a Christian.

If the name of God is mercy, then we have to understand that we can only begin to understand God when we allow ourselves to encounter his mercy, he said.

“We cannot understand God if we exclude ourselves from an encounter with mercy through our own feelings of self-security and self-superiority and self-assigned status,” he warned.

Describing God as one who unconditionally reaches out, the Archbishop said the Christian God reveals himself not like a pagan’s god, who dwells in the fearful dimensions of creation.

“Our God is one who cares and sustains the beauty and harmony of his creation which he created in love.”

He added that the Holy Spirit brings the gift of communion and interaction, respect and harmony between every aspect of creation. “Where communication fails, division begins,” he underlined.

Elsewhere in his homily on Monday morning, Archbishop Martin asked how, if the name of God is mercy, we ended up with the idea of a harsh condemnatory God who only wishes to judge us in our sinfulness and humiliate us.

“If we have created such a God then we misunderstand both God and sin. Sinfulness is not about breaking arbitrary rules: sinfulness is failure to love and failure to be merciful.”

“If sinfulness is failure to be merciful then many who are quick to condemn sinners, may well be in a category of sinners all of their own.”

He highlighted that communication in the Spirit is not just about techniques. It is about authenticity in relationships.

“The Spirit fosters that communication which is at the basis of unity. When human cells grow in an isolated way from the body they mutate in a cancerous self-serving and self-preserving way.”

“When a splintering of interests began to infect political and social culture – or indeed within the Church – then pernicious divisions appear and the patterned growth which is of the nature of any living organism begins to break down and further detrimental inequalities emerge.”

“Where communication breaks down within the human community then selfish interests begin to dominate. Growth with equity will never be fostered when the few are favoured and included and others are left on the margins and excluded.”

The Archbishop stressed that a new language of communication within society was needed, where every individual can attain voice and ownership in dignity and in which all have a sense of being treated and respected in the depth of their personal identity.

“Mercy recognises and embraces the dignity of the other and can transform the most troubled and disturbed hearts.”

“This Spirit-filled communication will embrace beyond all human borders: migrants will become brothers and sisters, homeless will encounter human warmth, voiceless will find a hearing, the poor will enjoy sustenance, the wounded will receive healing, sinners will encounter forgiveness and be welcomed back and become loving men and women though experiencing love,” he said.

Separately, in his address at the Michelmas New Law Term Service in St Michan’s Church of Ireland parish, Rev Dr Donald Watts, Clerk Emeritus of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said that Irish society, whether north or south of the border, is not really at peace with itself.

“No matter how many inquiries are held there always seems to be something else emerge to disturb us,” he observed.

“There are too many unanswered questions lurking, which cannot be ignored because they impinge on the present and no doubt may continue to dictate the future.”

Acknowledging that we are living in troubled and troubling times, Rev Dr Watts said the certainties of the past have been challenged – sometimes rightly so – “but how we struggle to replace them with anything that offers a lasting basis for life and contentment”.

He recalled a time, perhaps a generation ago, when it didn’t seem all that difficult to do what God requires.

“On the surface at least, society had adopted Christian values and mores and we could simply follow the lead of society.”

“Sadly, we are now only gradually discovering what went on below the surface of so-called Christian society. To be a Christian, at one time, did not make us stand out from society, we largely merged with society.”

He said those days are gone and “perhaps we should rejoice that they are gone”.

Today we have to be clear about what we believe and why we believe it. “We must be ready in Paul’s words ‘to give a reason for the faith that is within us’.”

“We need to stand firm on what we believe, recognising that the values of Christian faith have the potential to be opposed in society today – a society where too often self is at the centre and greed a powerful motivating force.”

Rev Dr Watts stressed that Christians should not be looking for any privileged position; rather they should shy away from it.

“We should be out in the market-place of public opinion arguing strongly, but graciously, for Christian values and sense of self worth. We should be setting an agenda, not simply reacting to one.”

He added that at times that will mean facing opposition, though probably not the persecution of which Jesus spoke, at least not on these islands –not yet!

“We must, of course, constantly be mindful of people of faith in other parts of our world for whom persecution is a real and devastating reality.”

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