28 June 2009
Homily of Bishop Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick at ordination to the priesthood of Eamon Purcell in St John’s Cathedral, Limerick
Acts 3: 1-10; Gal 1: 11-20; Jn 21: 15-19
Eamon, you are about to be ordained as a priest. You will carry out that ministry which is inspired by the Good News that was revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus suffered and died on Calvary, but his death was not the end; it was the beginning of a new life, a new creation in which all things are made new and in which God overcomes death and mourning for ever.
We are at the end of the Year of St Paul. During your preparation for the priesthood, Eamon, you lived beside St Paul’s tomb and St Paul’s Basilica. St Paul said in our second reading that the Good News brings something utterly new: “The Gospel that was preached by me was “no human message”.
According to any human calculation, the agony and the death of Christ on Calvary was the end of everything. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus walked with their faces downcast because, they said, “our hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.” But the Gospel that you will live and preach and celebrate in your ministry, Eamon, is no human message.
It is a Gospel for our world of recession and anxiety and failure and disillusionment and sadness; a world where even the best things are impermanent and flawed. There is a hope that is bigger than any of our fears and hurts and sinfulness. The name of that hope is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. In your ministry, you will bring that hope into many different forms of darkness.
You are being called into a ministry of new life and renewal, because the Gospel transforms the lives of those who open their hearts to Christ. St Paul himself is an example of that transformation. There was no limit, he said, to the way he persecuted the Church and tried to destroy it. But when God called him, he became the great preacher of the faith to the Gentile world.
You will bring people to that new life, Eamon, by your preaching of the word of God, putting before them the hope that is strong enough to transform even the very worst that can happen. You will draw people into that new life in Baptism and you will open them to the new life that the mercy of God gives in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
And you will, first of all and always, try to remember that you should remain open to transformation yourself, by being always ready to receive the revelation of Jesus Christ in situations and in ways that you do not expect.
You are being called to a ministry of leadership – a leadership which draws out the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given in great variety and abundance to God’s people. Perhaps the most important pastoral challenge that faces the Church today is to realise that the gifts we need in order to bring the Good News of hope to a bewildered world are here among us, often unrecognised and unexpected, given by the Spirit who blows where he wills. The great weakness that we need to overcome is the temptation to think that the task of sharing the good news belongs to someone else, and not to each one of us. We must also hear more clearly what Pope John Paul said to us here in Limerick: There is no such thing as an ordinary layperson. Each of us is called to play our part in bringing the Gospel to the world. And so, Eamon, you are called to recognise, encourage and call forth the gifts that God has given to the people you will serve.
In this ordination ceremony, we give thanks; we pray that vocations to the priesthood and to religious life will flourish again in our country and our diocese. We pray today that Eamon and the younger priests of our diocese will have a sufficient number of priests to minister with them. We need to remind ourselves that it is not enough simply to pray, we have to be a community that longs for vocations, to emerge in families and parishes, a community that encourages those who feel called to answer the call. We pray that there may be many occasions like today in the coming years.
You are being called, Eamon, to the ministry of teaching people to pray and of leading people in the worship of God, by celebrating the liturgy and especially the Eucharist. You will stand before God’s people as a sign of the presence among them of Christ, the Head of his Body, the Church. You will make present among them, through the Spirit of ordination whom you receive today, the great event which proves that this is no merely human gathering and that the Gospel is no merely human message. You will preside at the Eucharist in which Jesus, triumphant over death, is truly present with us as our Goal and our Life.
As you undertake this new ministry, Eamon, I am sure that you feel daunted and somewhat fearful. You can be certain that the people you serve will pray for you and encourage you and thank God for your gifts and ask God to strengthen you in times of struggle and weakness. That is what this great gathering of your family and friends, of those who will soon greet you as a brother priest, and of the people of the diocese are saying to you by their presence with you today.
But the greatest certainty of all is that the Lord, who is calling you to be a priest, will be with you as he promised. You are being ordained, Eamon, at the beginning of the Year for Priests which began just over a week ago on the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. In a letter to priests, to mark the beginning of that year, the Holy Father wrote words that you should take as being addressed to you today:
Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!
Take heart from the confidence with which Peter believed that the Lord was with him. He had no gold or silver to give to the man who asked for help, yet he said, with great assurance, “I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk”. The same Jesus will be present with you in your ministry as you set out in your love for Christ, to feed his sheep.
Bishop of Limerick