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Homily of Bishop Denis at the opening of Novena in Newbridge

‘Sharing Faith’

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Most of us, if we are honest, come to Jesus by night. The night of our doubts, the night of our sins, the night of our woundedness. For St. John of the Cross it was the Night of the Dark Soul.

Faith is interesting. We will always remember much more clearly the times when our faith was challenged, than the moments when the feathers of our faith were completely unruffled. Nicodemus comes by night, he came by night for many reasons.

By all accounts Nicodemus was a common name in the time of Jesus. This guy appears a number of times in John’s gospel, in tonight’s text and in the later Chapter’s 7 and 10. He is the one who tries to defend Jesus in a spirit of justice and fair play: “Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ ”[1]

In the later chapter it says: “Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds[2]. Notice the emphasis placed on the fact that Nicodemus approached Jesus in the dark of the night. Here was a Pharisee who was a minority member of the Sadducean controlled Jewish governing body, the Sanhedrin.

He risked so much contacting Jesus, it had to be done in the stealth of the night. A final piece on our friend Nicodemus, he is unique to John’s gospel text, there is no synoptic tradition around him. I like to approach John’s gospel through the prism of the artwork of an artist like Caravaggio – light and darkness. Nicodemus would very much be an individual cowering in the darkness, but a person whose face lit up when he met Jesus.

Your Annual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help encourages you to meet the Easter Jesus through the different speakers over the coming nine weeks. Speakers like Peter McVerry, Robert McCabe, Annette McCormack, Kathleen Chada, Ronan Connolly, Mary Bergin, Rónán Mullen and others will help to elucidate the wounded Easter Jesus in your life. A novena is as much an encounter as it is a moment of grace. Sometimes it mightn’t be the speaker as much as someone you meet, someone you sit near to, someone you walk home with, that will make all the difference in your faith journey. I simply ask you to be like the disciple Thomas, not afraid to put your hands into Our Lord’s wounds and equally like Nicodemus, not afraid to approach the Lord in the darkness of the night.

The conversation that flows from that meeting in the dark of the night, as it is recounted in our gospel is essentially around our understanding of baptism. I baptised four people during our splendid Easter Vigil at Carlow; I imagine at Vigils across our Diocese people were baptised. Those I baptised included two children from China, a child from Singapore and one from Poland. They were all children. I think the baptism of adults makes much more sense during the Vigil than younger children who rightly could and should be baptised at the regular parish baptism opportunities. The Easter Vigil emerging out of the darkness into light is like a retake on that moment Nicodemus stepped out into the night to meet Jesus.

The Ritual of Baptism is very rich, the questions asked off parents and godparents are very searching: “do you promise” … “are you willing” … “is it your understanding?” Imagine the power of an adult responding to those questions: “I do”…. “I will” … “it is my understanding”.  ‘Sharing Faith’ is your Novena 2017 theme, we cannot share what we don’t have.

I delight in the particular encounters Pope Francis engages with on plane journeys around papal visits. Our faith is not a set of prohibitions, but is something overwhelmingly positive. It is a positive option. The Church is at her best, we are at our best when we find ourselves saying yes to all that is noble, decent, good and life-giving. And occasionally when the church has to say No because of an immeasurably greater yes, we are still speaking a hugely positive message.

In Census 2016, 78% of 4.76 million in the census saw themselves as ‘Roman Catholic’. And this is at a time in our church, in society, to have and profess faith and call ourselves Roman Catholic is akin to choosing Scott Peck’s ‘Road less Travelled’. But it is not the road less travelled, it is the road travelled on by 78%. A letter to the Irish Times recently by someone who registered himself in the census as having “no religion” wrote that this was a studied response to a question completed in privacy on a Sunday night in April 2016.

The letter writer challenged the prevailing voices in our media who speak of a wholly secular and post faith society as if it were an empirical fact. There is nothing more empirical than the census results. He concluded no doubt the media spin will read: “22 per cent of population no longer Roman Catholic[3]. Is the glass half full or half empty – it is all about perspective. And how right he was. That is why those who have faith and live that faith need to express it publically and unashamedly like our friend Nicodemus. We completed those census returns in the dark of the night a year ago; Nicodemus met Jesus in the dark of the night over two thousand years ago.

Our faith, our Church is not wagging a threatening finger, but applauding life, love, marriage, family, babies, elders, care for one another, compassion for the poor, embrace of those suffering, education of the most disadvantaged and mercy for the most broken. Our Church is a wounded church. Our faith is a wounded faith, but it is an Easter faith rooted in the wounded but Risen Christ. He is fully alive, walking amongst us this Monday evening and will be with us every Monday as we continue our Novena.

[1] Jn.7:50-51

[2] Jn. 19:39

[3] Letter to the Irish Times by Larry Dunne: 08.04.17, pg. 17.