Bishop Donal Murray, the Bishop of Limerick, celebrated Mass yesterday (9 December 2007, Second Sunday of Advent) in St John’s Cathedral, Limerick, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of his appointment as bishop
10th December 2007
Bishop Donal Murray, the Bishop of Limerick, celebrated Mass yesterday (9 December 2007, Second Sunday of Advent) in St John’s Cathedral, Limerick, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of his appointment as bishop.
Please see Bishop Murray’s homily below:
“Like every moment in the life of a Christian, the acceptance of the call to be a bishop is founded on hope” – Bishop Murray
ADVENT is the season of hope and expectation and looking to the future. When I was ordained a bishop over twenty-five years ago, I knew that I was taking a step into the unknown – but I never guessed quite how true that was. If I had realised then how much Ireland and the world was going to change in those twenty-five years, I would have been even more apprehensive than I was! But it was not just a question of taking a step into the unknown. Like every moment in the life of a Christian, the acceptance of the call to be a bishop is founded on hope. Today’s second reading puts it with remarkable force: “Everything that was written… in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope.”
Looking back on those twenty five years I see a picture very different from what I could ever have imagined. I see things to regret: mistakes made and opportunities missed and hurts inflicted; I see events I could never have anticipated: changes, crises, delight and devastation; I see things for which I can never adequately express my thanks: the joys and blessings, the remarkable signs of Christian faith and life and energy in many people and parishes. I am especially grateful for the support and prayers of priests and religious and of all God’s people, which have sustained me in ways that neither I nor you can fully know.
I have often referred during these years to the question of the apostle Thomas: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” It is a very good question: we cannot foresee the road ahead; the future is always unknown. Pope Benedict said in his new encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), which was published on 30 November last, that when Christians look to the future: “It is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.”
We do not know the details of the road we have to travel or of the eternal life that awaits us, but Christ who said, “I am the Way”, walks with us. Because he is with us and in us we already have the beginning of what we hope for. He accompanies us in all the opportunities and crises and celebrations and disappointments; he accompanies us even through death itself. As Pope Benedict puts it He “walks with me even on the path of final solitude, where no one can accompany me… He himself has walked this path, and He has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with Him, we can find a way through.”
In this celebration of the Eucharist we will shortly have the presentation of the gifts. We bring to the altar, not just bread and wine, but all that they symbolise – our work, our efforts to do good, our pain and our sorrow, even our inadequacies and failures. We bring them to him to be transformed in the death and resurrection of Christ. We bring our whole selves in the certainty that, together with Christ, we can find a way through. Here, acted out in front of us in that simple gesture, is the meaning of our lives: we are to offer ourselves with Christ in order to be transformed with Him.
That is our task; it is also our hope. We have a hope big enough to give meaning to everything, stronger than any suffering or disillusionment or evil, stronger even than death.
That simple gesture poses challenging questions about our lives. In Spe Salvi, the Holy Father puts the questions like this: “Is the Christian faith for us… a life-changing and life-sustaining hope? …is it a message which shapes our life in a new way’…” “Does the truth matter enough to me to make suffering worthwhile: Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself?”
It is the task of a bishop, and the task of every Christian, to be a sign for the world of the always fresh, profoundly challenging, utterly transforming power of believing and hoping and loving with all our heart and soul and might in the God of hope.
That task confronts a great obstacle today. We live in a world that is full of activity and noise and pressures. It is a world which tends to reduce faith to being, at best, one among the many, often overwhelming, demands on our time and attention. A great deal of our life takes place in contexts where it is hard to see any room for questions like: “how does this contribute to my growth as a human being, a family member, a neighbour and as a child of God?” But if our hope does not concern every aspect of our lives, it cannot be the life-changing and life-sustaining meaning of everything. Only the infinite can satisfy us, “something that will always be more than we can ever attain”.
Twenty five years ago, I chose as my Episcopal motto ‘Veritas in Caritate’ (‘The Truth in Love’). I later discovered that it had been the motto of Bishop Henry Murphy who is remembered with such affection in this diocese; and it is the motto of St Munchin’s College. It tells us how Christians approach life, ‘doing the truth in love’ so as to be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph 3: 7-19). It is also about the very foundation of hope. Pope Benedict says: “(The Christian faith) has shown us that God – Truth and Love in person – desired to suffer for us and with us.”
Our time has seen great achievements in science and technology, in awareness that we human beings are interdependent members of one family, in consciousness of the need for respectful dialogue between people of different faiths and cultures. But progress is always ambiguous: there has also been ‘progress’ from the slingshot to the atom bomb. That is why what John the Baptist called God’s winnowing fan is always needed. All our achievements are flawed and limited and inadequate and fragile in various ways. We need to recognise a greater goal which will show us that we have further to go, that nothing we have achieved or acquired, none of our plans are big enough. Hope points to a new world, the world whose coming we await in Advent, where “the wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, the calf and the lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them.”
Progress is often seen as a process by which we become more and more independent, able to overcome ever more effectively the limitations of time and space and the hardships of labour and the struggle for survival. We have begun to see indications that this is a process that has its own limits. We have begun to see that there are constraints on how we can use the resources of the planet.
The real limitation on this understanding of progress is that the meaning and goal of our lives is not a possession we grasp or an expertise we deploy; it is a loving, personal relationship with our Creator, a gift we receive. The achievements of science and technology offer amazing opportunities, but, like anything else in human life, their value has to be judged in the end by how far they enable us to open ourselves to the love of God and to love all our fellow human beings as Christ loves us. The real progress is to recognise more fully and live more trustingly our relationship to God and our total dependence on God’s merciful love.
Today is an occasion for looking back over the last twenty-five years with gratitude to offer it to the Lord; it is also a time to look ahead. We know in our hearts that we live in a time of great change and challenge. We have no idea what the world of the 2030s or ’40s or ’50s will be like. Many of us, of course, will not be part of them. Will it be the paradise of peace that we hoped the new millennium would bring, or will it be a world destroyed by pollution and war and climate change? Will Ireland in the 2050s be a country where Christian faith is strong, or will it be part of a secularised desert in which God has disappeared below the horizon of people’s lives?
What is needed in all of us, you and me and all those who believe in Christ, is the fire of hope. That is the gift that we can pass on to those who will live in that world of the future. Without that hope we and they will either become weary and disillusioned, or we will descend into the division and violence that are so often symptoms of a lack of vision. I often ask myself when I confirm young people, what kind of world they will live in and whether they will be part of a living Catholic community like the one in which I received so many blessings and so much support. It seems certain that they will experience in the next twenty-five years far more change, far more challenges than those which marked the last twenty-five. We owe it to the generations that will follow us to make sure that the treasure of hope is visible and attractive and powerfully active in our lives. Many of us lived most of our lives in a generation when one might have taken that for granted. They will not.
The people who went before us left us a legacy: our parents and grandparents, our priests and bishops, from Bishop Newman back to Bishop Gille and St Munchin, the saints and martyrs of Limerick. They persevered and kept Christian hope alive in their time. Now it is our turn to persevere so that the same light shines from us. We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that the flame of hope can continue to burn brightly even in the most impossible situations. In the encyclical, the Pope points to examples ranging from a nine-year old African girl kidnapped and beaten and sold into slavery, a bishop who spent thirteen years in jail, nine of the in solitary confinement, a martyr who wrote a letter from a hellish concentration camp. All of them, even in unbearable suffering, found that the light of hope was stronger than any darkness.
That is the light that we bear. It is a light that is needed today as much, perhaps more, than any other time in history. It is not a hope for the fulfilment of our plans, but of God’s. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and God’s ways are higher than our ways, and the word that comes forth from him does not return empty (cf. Is 55: 5-11).
The Pope tells us that: “If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope. It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere.”
As we look to the future, I hope that I may continue to rely on your prayers. I hope that we can continue to work and reflect together on how we can know the way and how we can deepen our hope in God. May we all be strengthened by that hope which is offered to us by God who is: “Truth and Love in person.”
+ Donal Murray
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