News archive 2009

Bishop Michael Smith Silver Jubilee Celebration

PRESS RELEASE
1 February 2009

Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Episcopal Ordination of Most Reverend Michael Smith

Bishop of Meath, Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar

Special letter of congratulations from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to Bishop Michael Smith:

“As we approach the happy and joyful occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of your Episcopal Ordination, I would like to communicate my desire to be part of the celebrations.  I offer you my sincere and well deserved congratulations, while imploring a just reward for you from our Saviour and bestowing the Apostolic Blessing, above all on yourself and on the faithful of the Diocese of Meath.”

Key points from Bishop Smith’s reflection during the Jubilee Mass, followed by the full text:

Key points

  • I wish to welcome our Taoiseach Brian Cowen. I wish you well in the many demanding challenges you face over the coming year and beyond.  In spite of present pain, there is enormous good and a great deal that is positive to be found in our country.  We offer you our solidarity and good wishes on the journey ahead.
  • To all of you, priests, religious and people, I say thanks for your support and friendship over these years. You have eased my journey and lightened the burden that fulfilling the call to ministry as a Bishop often entails, in our age no less that in ages past.  Especially I thank the priests of the diocese for their friendship and support over the years and their dedication and commitment to their ministry in times that are often demanding and difficult.
  • The ways of the Lord certainly offer one much to ponder and reflect upon. Christ said simply to His apostles ‘you have not chosen Me, I have chosen you.’  These are words I often reflect upon as I ponder and wonder on the events that gave direction to my life.  However they are also deeply challenging words since they contain a demand for total commitment to the call of God.  As one reflects on the limitations and inadequacies that touch one’s own life and wonder why the call could not have fallen elsewhere, you have to come back to those words of Jesus”.
  • This is only the fourth public celebration of the silver jubilee of a Bishop in this diocese over the past several hundred years.  The context in which they held their celebrations were very far removed from our present day experience.  In their wildest dreams they could not envisaged the extraordinary developments that have taken place in our country.
  • Faith is challenged in these times as it was in times past.  One of the central challenges to our faith has been the betrayal of trust and the wounding of many.  Healing these wounds must continue to be at the heart of the mission of the Church.
  • The Lord has given me the energy and health over the past twenty five years as I try – with all my own personal limitations – to fulfil the call that came to me.  I trust you will continue to keep me in prayer that I may be faithful in fulfilling the calling I received to be Bishop in a Diocese in which St Patrick first preached the faith in our country, a Diocese that continues to have a proud and noble history in affirming and witnessing to that faith.

In attendance

An Taoiseach, Mr Brian Cowen TD, was represented  by his Aide de Camp, Comdt Michael Treacy. Mr Noel Dempsey TD, Minister for Transport and the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza were also among the congregation at the Jubilee Mass today to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bishop Michael Smith’s Episcopal Ordination.

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Smith at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar with over 100 priests from the Diocese of Meath.  Lay people from various aspects of Church life took part in the liturgy.  The Scripture readings were read by Mr Colm O’Rourke, Principal of St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan and Ms Agatha McPartland, Secretary of the Diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage.  These represent Bishop Smith’s commitment to Catholic education and to the care of the sick. 

Among those taking part was Ms Lucia Cully, who was the first child to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation from the newly ordained Bishop on 5 March 1984 in Kildalkey.  Speaking before the Mass, Lucia explained that: “a lot of things have changed in my life since I was confirmed by Bishop Smith 25 years ago.  But in all these changes my faith remains an important part of my life and I thank God for the blessings that have come my way.”  Five years ago Lucia married Brian Moran and the couple now live in Rathcairn with their children Molly (2) and recently born twins Jack and Saoirse.

Paying tribute to Bishop Smith, local deputy Minister Noel Dempsey said: “I would like to congratulate Bishop Smith on the occasion of his silver jubilee.  Bishop Smith is known as someone of enormous dedication and focus.  His work is greatly appreciated by his community at large and I wish him all very best for the future.”

Notes for Editors

  • Over the past 25 years, Bishop Smith has ordained more than 70 priests and celebrated over 1,300 Confirmation ceremonies.  As Patron of Catholic schools in the diocese, he has provided new schools in parts of Meath, Westmeath and Offaly that have seen rapid development and population increased.  Bishop Smith has also overseen the extension and renovation of most other schools, including 30 such projects over the past two years alone.
  • Photos from the ceremony will be available shortly after the Mass has concluded.  Please contact the Secretary of the Diocese, Fr Paul Crosbie at 044 934833 or email paul@dioceseofmeath.ie. Alternatively see our image gallery on www.catholicbishops.ie.

Please see below the full text of today’s reflection by Bishop Smith:

Christ is also very clear that at the heart of living our faith is the ever present call to be a witness to His truth and His teaching.  This is the mandate I and all of us have received – Bishop Michael Smith

Before we end our celebration I wish to say a few words and offer a couple of reflections.

I thank you for your presence, representing as you do all the parishes of the Diocese.  It is something that has happened four times in the last three hundred years in our Diocese but this is the first time it has been celebrated in our Cathedral.  It would do us good to reflect on the circumstances in which these three celebrations took place.  I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Mgr. Marron and the organising committee, Irene and Ann at the house, and all who worked with them in preparing this celebration.  I basically had only to turn up and indeed was on holidays for much of the past month.

I do not intend going through a litany of thanks to the very many that were involved both in preparation for today and for the ceremony we have just celebrated.  To all I express my deepest gratitude and thanks.  However I wish to welcome our Taoiseach Brian Cowen.  I wish you well in the many demanding challenges you face over the coming year and beyond.  In spite of present pain, there is enormous good and a great deal that is positive to be found in our country.  We offer you our solidarity and good wishes on the journey ahead.

I welcome the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Leanza, representing Pope Benedict in our country.  You honour all of us by your presence this day.  Bishop Tony and I go back a long way and I am deeply indebted to him for his graciousness and support.  To all of you, priests, religious and people I say thanks for your support and friendship over these years.  You have eased my journey and lightened the burden that fulfilling the call to ministry as a Bishop often entails, in our age no less that in ages past.  Especially I thank the priests of the diocese for their friendship and support over the years and their dedication and commitment to their ministry in times that are often demanding and difficult.

The Gospels tell us several times that Mary wondered and pondered at the events that were taking place around her Son.  A celebration such as this invites one to wonder and ponder the mystery of it all.  In one’s quieter moments I am sure I can be allowed to wonder how in the name of the Lord I ended up in this ministry.  However it is not something that one can dwell on.  At an early age I had decided that priesthood was the vocation I wished to pursue in life.  That was my own personal decision and one that I have never regretted.  Through ordination to priesthood one commits one’s life into the hands of others and you promise to accept the decisions made for you and the tasks assigned to you.  As I have reminded many priests on their ordination day over the past 25 years the final words of the ordination rite are an invitation to model one’s life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.  There will always be an element of the cross in the living out of one’s priestly vocation; even more so the call to be a Bishop.  It is not for decoration that a Bishop is invited to wear a cross.  That decision was made by others.  It is primarily a call to service, a call to spend one’s life in complete service of the Lord.

In pondering how this call came to me at a relatively young age – they are going for more mature appointments in these times – I am conscious of several times in my life when the decisions of others had an immense influence on the direction it would take.  Could I share two of these with you?

While my decision to follow a vocation to priesthood was very clear I was less sure about what direction that should take.  At Christmas time during my final year in St Finian’s a few of us went down to spend a couple of days with the St Patrick Missionary Society in Kiltegan to assess the possibility of a missionary vocation.  When I returned to St Finian’s after the Christmas holidays the then President Fr Larry Fagan called me aside one day – he had obviously heard that I had been down in Kiltegan over Christmas – and asked if I was still thinking of priesthood.  I said that I was and he just replied ‘then we are sending you to Rome’.  No discussion or assessment, just a simple definitive decision.

I accepted his verdict little realising what it would mean for my life.  It led to being present at every day of the 2nd Vatican Council, assisting the Irish Bishops on a daily basis over four years.  Following the Council, Bishops’ Conferences had to establish many commissions and agencies which our Bishops did at the end of 1969.  This necessitated having someone to move the paper and lick the stamps and a few months later I found myself in the role – part-time – as the first executive secretary of our own Bishops’ Conference – a direct consequence I have no doubt of my involvement with them during the Council.  I often wonder why Fr Fagan made his decision.  Even though he lived to see me appointed as Bishop he never told me!  I have no doubt that it was his decision, expressed in a few simple words that landed me in this calling.

The second one involved someone I was privileged to work closely with over very many years, the late Bishop John McCormack.  On his appointment as Bishop he appointed me to the role he had just vacated, that of diocesan secretary.  A gentle and good man he spent himself in the service of the Church.  As you know he suffered a serious illness while in Lourdes in September 1983.  He was unable to resume work and, with great dignity and acceptance, he lived with his illness for thirteen years.  A few weeks after he suffered his illness I was appointed as auxiliary bishop.  That I was appointed so quickly can only mean that I had already been the subjected to the process of enquiry, often lengthy, that precedes the appointment of a Bishop.  I later became aware that if he had suffered his illness a few weeks later I may not be standing here in this Cathedral this day.  Obviously if one is called to be a bishop then I would wish that this call be in my own diocese rather than elsewhere.

The ways of the Lord certainly offer one much to ponder and reflect upon. Christ said simply to His apostles ‘you have not chosen Me, I have chosen you.’  These are words I often reflect upon as I ponder and wonder on the many events, especially the two I have mentioned, that gave direction to my life.  However they are also deeply challenging words since they contain a demand for total commitment to the call of God.  As one reflects on the limitations and inadequacies that touch one’s own life and wonder why the call could not have fallen elsewhere you have to come back to those words of Jesus, along with many others He spoke when He gathered with the Apostles in the upper room, shortly before His death.

Over the past twenty five years I have been sustained by the prayers and support of so many.  I have met many deeply devote lay people – people of great faith and profound prayer – who placed me at the top of their list when kneeling in prayer before the Lord.  It is a humbling but, at the same time, a sustaining experience.  I have been able to draw on the support of priests and religious along with the large number of faithful who are involved directly in the mission of the faith.  Faith is challenged in these times as it was in times past.  One of the central challenges to our faith has been the betrayal of trust and the wounding of many.  Healing these wounds must continue to be at the heart of the mission of the Church.

As I have already mentioned, this is the fourth public celebration of the silver jubilee of a Bishop in this diocese over the past several hundred years.  There may have been one towards the end of the 13th century.  The previous three were in the 19th century.  Could I briefly mention them since they offer hope in a time when negativity seems to be so dominant in public comment.  Bishop Patrick Plunkett from Kells celebrated his silver jubilee in 1803 – he nearly made his golden jubilee – a time of great trauma and unrest in the country.  Bishop John Cantwell celebrated his silver jubilee in 1855 in the aftermath of the famine and at a time of great emigration from the country.  Bishop Thomas Nulty from Oldcastle celebrated his jubilee in 1891 at a time of great political and social upheavals over land and basic rights.  That two of the four involve Bishops from Oldcastle parish does not mean there is anything special in the water in that parish!

However the context in which they held their celebrations were very far removed from our present day experience.  In their wildest dreams they could not envisaged the extraordinary developments that have taken place in our country.  A little knowledge of our history and what generations before us had to cope with would put into true perspective our present challenges.

Echoing the words of encouragement spoken to St Paul in Corinth I am conscious that there continues to be many in all our parishes and communities on the side of the Lord, those who continue to live out their faith even if the ambient in which they live it is not as supportive or enhancing as in previous times.  Every generation is given guardianship of this legacy.  We are all called, in the words of the second reading, to ‘fan into a flame the faith we have received.’  Our effort to enhance that legacy is sustained by the promise of Christ to be with us always ‘yes to the end of days.’  But Christ is also very clear that at the heart of living our faith is the ever present call to be a witness to His truth and His teaching.  This is the mandate I and all of us have received. 

The Lord has given me the energy and health over the past twenty five years as I try – with all my own personal limitations – to fulfil the call that came to me.  What lies ahead is very much in His hands.  I trust you will continue to keep me in prayer before Him that I may be faithful in fulfilling the calling I received to be Bishop of this Diocese, a Diocese in which St Patrick first preached the faith in our country, a Diocese that continues to have a proud and noble history in affirming and witnessing to that faith.

ENDS

Further information:
Fr Paul Crosbie, Secretary of the Diocese of Meath, Mullingar, at 044 934833 or email paul@dioceseofmeath.ie
Mr Martin Long, Director of the Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 086 172 7678

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