7 January 2018 Homily by Bishop Treanor for the Baptism of Our Lord




I Jesus Christ is the Lord of all men (Ac 10.36)

Today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and together with the whole Church throughout the world, we read the account of the baptism of Jesus as recounted in the gospel according to St Mark. From now until the feast of Christ, universal king, at the end of the liturgical year, we shall follow the text of the gospel according to St Mark on most Sundays.

This passage from its opening chapter proclaims Jesus as the Son of God. It declares his identity with the assertion : “you are my Son” (Mk 1.11)  and we shall hear this asserted again by a surprising voice, that of the Roman centurion, before the dead Christ on the cross (Mk 15.39).  As we read the gospel text, you will have noticed the three references – (i) to the opening of the heavens, (ii) the descent of the Spirit like a dove and (iii) the voice from heaven – all of which build up the expectation of this identification of Jesus – as Son of God, as God incarnate.

The text we have read today, like the entire gospel, is a proclamation of faith in Jesus as God incarnate. This scene precedes the beginning of Jesus’ mission and work in Galilee, as is mentioned in the second reading, an extract, it is thought, from a sermon of St Peter, (Ac 10. 37). In line with yesterday’s feast of the Epiphany, marking the universal quality of the Good News for all humanity, we take note today of a central assertion in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles : “Jesus Christ is the Lord of all men” (Ac 10.36).

II The Good News of Jesus Christ : a universal message of truth, justice and peace for humanity

It is against this background of the central proclamation of the identity of Jesus Christ in the aftermath of Christmas, the feast of the Nativity, and the universal quality of the Good News as the message of salvation in Christ for all humanity,  that the World Day of Peace Message is issued by the Pope for New Year’s Day each year.

This has been the case since 1967, when Pope Paul VI declared New Year’s Day as World Day of Peace in the Catholic Church.  This year’s message, issued by Pope Francis, is the fifty-first such message. It carries the title: Migrants and Refugees : women and men in search of Peace.

These World Day of Peace Messages have dealt over the years with many burning and difficult issues facing society, peoples and nations.  They throw a gospel light on their subject matter, issues of vital significance for justice and peace among peoples and in the world.  They show how the Good News of Jesus Christ calls us Christians, his followers, to pursue and work for the realisation of justice, fraternity and peace as issues, such as migration, refugees, human trafficking, care of creation, are addressed in our communities and indeed also by public policy at local, national and international levels. In this sense they reflect and express the universal care of the Good News – and of the Church –  for humanity and for the human condition.

These annual Messages are a distillation, an annual injection, as it were, of the Social Teaching of the Church.  Addressed to Catholics and all persons of good will, they are available on the internet and are well worth reading.

III.  I have appointed you light of the nations (Is 42.6)

As this New Year gets takes full flight this week, it’s worth having another look at this fifth Message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Peace.

When you read it, you will notice that Pope Francis sets out four foundational action points for a strategy to address migration, a major and testing phenomenon of our times.  Four words are proposed as the basis for responding to the massive flows of migrants coming to our latitudes because of war, poverty, oppression, the effects of climate change on survival in parts of the world. The four action points are :

  • Welcome
  • Protect
  • Promote
  • Integrate

Now, as we know, the numbers of migrants reaching our local shores is small. Those numbers are negligible in comparison with numbers arriving on the southern and south eastern borders of Europe.

Inspired by their Christian faith and a sense of fraternal solidarity, much has been done in recent years by individuals, groups and agencies here in Northern Ireland to send assistance, supplies and support to points of arrival in the Mediterranean basin.  Others in various professional fields and in institutions of Social Care and outreach, as well as in Education, have given great support to migrants and refugees along the lines of these four action points.  To engage in such activities in whatever small way is to walk in the footsteps of Christ and to be, in the words of the first reading, a light to the nations (Is 42.6).

IV A “contemplative gaze” : the energy and fuel of the “light to the nations”  

If Pope Francis outlines four building blocks for a strategy, his proposal is rooted in a remarkable angle of approach to what is a dramatic issue of our times, indeed an issue that has given rise to controversy, to primal fears, the defensive sealing of borders and alas to xenophobia.  When you look at the text of his Message, you will notice that he speaks of approaching migration and its attendant issue with “a contemplative gaze”. As one reads that short section of the Message, one notes how contemplation transforms mind and heart, attitude, into appreciative, positive attitude and action.

With this suggestion Pope Francis invites us to link into the long and rich tradition of the vitalising link between prayerful reflection and daily business and action. This is an invitation to re-discover the energising and enlightening link between exploring the Good News of the gospel in prayer and reflection and our dealings with and response to the day and daily issues of our lives and society.

With this brush stroke reference to the significance of “a contemplative gaze” on life, Pope Francis effectively reminds us of the Christian imperative to live life in the light of the gospel, to radiate the major decisions in and about life with the values of the gospel.

As Christians we have a God-given responsibility for the good ordering of the present and the future of our world.  For Christians, both as individual citizens and as a presence in the body politic, the driver for decision-making cannot be “vested interest” alone ; the good of all, and the universal destination of the goods of the earth must always colour and shape our decisions so that justice may be served and peace fostered. In this sense and inspired by “a contemplative gaze”, for Christians the exercise of power in the light of the Good News of the gospel will always be ordered decisively and in discernment to promoting solidarity and to fostering fraternity between the peoples of the earth.

As one considers the interplay between contemplation and the ordering of public life and policies, between contemplation and politics, as sketched in Pope Francis’ 2018 World Day of Peace Message, one thinks of our collective civic responsibility for the future here in this corner of the world and of the island of Ireland.

We might well consider, indeed we should ask with some urgency, what foundational lines for a strategy for Northern Ireland might emerge from a “contemplative gaze” in the light of the Good News of the gospel on our present and future existence as a society which is becoming ever more varied in cultural, ethnic and religious provenance. Do we citizens, who are Christians, wish to exercise an enlightened and responsible ordering of our social, economic, political, cultural future as a society?  As Christians we have the spiritual capacity to achieve great things in the task of shaping the future, to continue the good work of building a future based on the Christian aspiration and commitment to assuring justice and peace for all.

A “contemplative gaze” on our current situation will highlight stagnation in politics and a lethargic acceptance and tolerance by ourselves as citizens of this state of affairs in the face of a weak economy, of a private sector bereft of the dynamic support it needs from political institutions and of a lack of creative political engagement with determinative issues for the political future of our society.

Our society in Northern Ireland, we as citizens and as a body politic, have urgent need of a renewed narrative for politics.

Our Christian heritage provides us with the spiritual energy and the necessary wisdom of faith to imagine together new paradigms for a politics of tomorrow that gives place to all cultures and traditions, that generates the solid social humus that attracts the inward investment necessary to create and give employment and security to people and families and energises and secures processes of reconciliation and peace building. Our times and world context require imaginative and courageous efforts in leadership to hone a vision, freed from fears and suspicions of the other, that carries us energetically as a community of citizens working for the good of all.

Known for our care for the stranger, for our response to disaster scenarios throughout the world, we urgently need leadership in offering a renewed narrative for a radically new future which is opening before us in a dwindling and every more interdependent world and here at home. We need prophetic, imaginative and courageous leadership which offers a new narrative for a dawning and challenging future in which we – all citizens of whatever ethnic, cultural, confessional, religious or other background – constitute together our primary resource and human wealth base.  To build a viable future for us all, we need urgently and creatively to put our hands together to the plough and to abandon the crippling and stagnating forces of fear and suspicion in the name of building a new future for all citizens, and especially for the weakest and the newly arrived in our society.

As Christians of all confessions who contemplate the Word of God and who are imbued by the same gospel, as another New Year gets under way, the perennial call of the gospel summons us to see and treat all who live and breathe here as our neighbour, as our brother and sister in Christ, precisely as and because issues remain to be resolved. Their resolution in our lifetime is the continuing working of God’s kingdom among us.

Let us pray for the courage individually and as a society to cultivate a “contemplative gaze” rooted in the Word of God, so that we may live in peace and walk pathways of hope, mutual care and support for all on this small island and so contribute by our collective and societal example to furthering in justice and peace the welfare and well-being of humanity.