The Archdiocese of Dublin hosted the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Saint Mary’s pro-Cathedral on Saturday 30 April. At a Mass to welcome the icon Archbishop Diarmuid Marin, Archbishop of Dublin reflected on the ministry of Pope Francis and how we live our lives as Christians in 2016. He said “The Christian life is a life where we humbly seek to know God and to live his path. Jesus’ message is never one which abandons people in their failure. It is always one which reaches out to draw people to conversion.
“When I say that I have to pinch myself and remind myself that this is not a question of Jesus reaching out to others and calling them to conversion: he is reaching out to me to call me to conversion. All of us are sinners; all of us need to respond to the call of conversion. To think otherwise is to fall into arrogance. We are all sinners. Jesus teaches about sin; however Jesus does not wish us to fall into a climate of fear and negativity. His mercy is always there to reach out to us when we fail.”
Archbishop Martin went on to say that one of the problems is that we live in a world where we so often judge things and indeed people in black and white. He said: “We would like simple yes or no answers on subjects which are much more complex than we wish to admit. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis wants all of us to reflect on God’s mercy. Pope Francis does not set out to change the teaching of Jesus Christ or to say that in life’s choices anything goes; yet he constantly reaches out to those who find that teaching hard to realise in their own lives.
“Where can we find a starting point in understanding Pope Francis position? I find a starting point in the first interview which Pope Francis gave shortly after his election, when he was asked by the interviewer: “who exactly is Jorge Mario Bergoglio”. The Pope’s instant answer was: “I am a sinner”. Then he paused and said: “Let me reflect on that”. “No”, he said, “that is correct, I am a sinner”.
“This is the key to understanding many of Pope’s Francis’s phrases. A Pope who considers himself in the first place a sinner will never be arrogant and harsh in his judgement of other sinners. Even more important, a sinner who has experienced God’s mercy in the face of his own sinfulness will appreciate how that mercy – and not condemnation – is the path which can help others to reach the fullness of God’s teaching. Pope Francis, in another text, has said that the Christian life is not a never falling down, but an always getting up again, thanks to [the hand of God] which catches us.
Welcoming the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual help which is currently making a pilgrimage to all 26 Catholic cathedrals, Archbishop Martin said: “This evening we welcome at our Mass the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. What is an icon? Icons are not photographs. They are not attempts by an artist to portray his or her personal ideas of how Jesus or the Blessed Virgin or a Saint may possibly have looked like. They are more like an impressionist portrait than a photograph: their task is to make us think and ponder and reflect and lead us through contemplation ever more deeply into the mystery of God.
“An icon is a work of art which speaks to the heart and evokes prayerful reflection. An icon is never something just put into a frame forever; it is an attempt to draw us every day anew into something deeper, rather than define a static flash-photographic image. An icon is an attempt to draw us into the Mystery of a God who wishes to be close to us in all things and especially at those times when we are in distress or anxiety or troubled by a sense of helplessness. It is an image which enables us to realise that in every moment of distress, God is there with his compassion and care.
“It is not that this icon this evening is just an icon of Mary. Mary is herself the icon. She is the one who pondered and contemplated the many things about her son’s life and mission and learned day by day, in her own sorrow, to remain faithful to her son. She remained with her son and remained faithful to him even as she was pained by what was happening to him. At the Wedding Feast of Cana, she told the servants to do as her son commanded, even when she herself did not fully understand how her son would act. Her faith is a model of our faith. Her tender care for her son is the guarantee of her care for us. He pondering God’s word shows us the path which leads us to her son and to an understanding of our faith.”
Referring to the readings of the day, Archbishop Martin said the tensions evident in the early Church are still to be found today twenty-one centuries later “Our readings remind us of how the early Church came to realise more fully how the Christian faith is not a faith of unnecessary burdens and human rules. Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a perennial reminder of how our God is a God who always remains faithful to his people, a God who is always close to his people but, strangely for our logic, is especially close to those who fail and to those who are not faithful to him. Her Perpetual Help is our hope.
“We pray for the constant help of Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, for ourselves, for those who are dear to us, for those in our world who feel lost and abandoned and for our Church that it will become in society ever more a true icon of God’s mercy.”