Homily of Bishop Donal Murray to mark the 30th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Limerick

26 Sep 2009

26 September 2009

Homily of Bishop Donal Murray to mark the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Limerick

St Joseph’s Church (1), Limerick

Next Thursday marks the thirtieth anniversary of a great day in the history of Limerick and of St Joseph’s Parish.  On October 1st 1979, Pope John Paul visited this diocese, this city, this parish.

The core of his message to us that day was that Ireland had hugely important decisions to make: decisions about the kind of Ireland we wanted to build, and decisions about the place we wanted God our Father, and the message of Christ his Son, to have in our own personal lives and in the life of our community.

But even before he put that challenge before us, he made the key point: that the choice is a choice for everyone. “. Sometimes, lay men and women do not seem to appreciate to the full the dignity and the vocation that is theirs as lay people… As God’s holy people you are called to fulfil your role in the evangelisation of the world.”(2)

In the first reading Moses rejected complaints about two people were using the gift of prophesy, even though Moses had not given them that gift. Moses knew well that all such gifts come from God.  It is not for us to try to limit the generosity of God. So Moses said that not only was he not going to tell them to stop, he rejoiced in their gift.  “If only the whole people of God were prophets” he said, “and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!”

Jesus reacted in the same way to the Apostles when they asked him to prevent people from casting out devils in his name. The Spirit of God cannot be confined.

For us, followers of Jesus, the longing of Moses has been fulfilled.  That’s what Pope John Paul told the whole of Ireland from this parish: ‘Each of you, every member of God’s people, is a prophet’. .The Lord has given his Spirit to all of us.  All of us are prophets.  A prophet is not a person who foretells the future.  The prophet is someone who speaks God’s truth who can see things in the light of the Gospel.

St James was being a prophet in the second reading when he spoke to people who had built their lives on wealth and who now find it rotting and corroding.  He spoke about the unfairness and the cheating and the manipulation that led to some of the weaker, less privileged people’s lives being ruined.  I suppose it is easy simply watching the news or reading the papers to identify those who have questions to answer in this area.  But here in this context, anyone who recognises that he or she has a prophetic responsibility has to begin by asking what kind of greed or unfairness might exist in our own lives.  What might we have done given the opportunity?

But it is not enough to find things to condemn. As a country we have learned the lesson that wealth is not as reliable as we might have thought.  What our situation calls for is for us to ask again the fundamental questions – ‘What are our lives about?’  ‘Where can one find a hope big enough to make sense in this world where there is so much suffering, injustice, sorrow and vulnerability?” “When I come to the end of my days, what will have been the most important realities in my life?”   As someone said, not many people on their deathbeds say, “I wish I had spent more time in the office.” 

We are experiencing an economic and social crisis.  The original meaning of the word ‘crisis’ is ‘choice’.  So we are back to Pope John Paul’s challenge of thirty years ago.  We have decisions to make. The decisions he suggested are still as relevant, indeed more relevant than in 1979.  We face the choice between “giving excessive importance to economic growth and material possessions” or paying attention to “the things of the spirit”; the choice between “false freedom which is only slavery” and accepting the truth of our relationship to God, the truth that makes us free to be what we are capable of becoming through his unlimited love.

The most fundamental element of that choice is to hear the message of the Gospel.  The whole of creation is a gift.  The fundamental reality is that the universe is created by Love, the deepest reality is Love.  There is no limit to the hope we can have for ourselves and for one another because, as St John said. “God first loved us” (I Jn 4:19).

That too is the basis of the encyclical published by Pope Benedict this summer. If we understand that everything is God’s gift we must share, we mustn’t resent the fact that God gives his gifts, the Holy Spirit acts according to their infinite wisdom rather than our wishes, That is what is required to heal our economic and social ills.  That cannot be done simply by demanding and respecting rights. Our relationships must be just but they must be more they must be relationships of generosity, understanding and readiness to forgive.(3) 

That is what is required in business and commerce and financial institutions and politics.  They are not simply matters of possessions and power and prestige – which after all were the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. These things have their place, but they are not the goal. If we try to make them our goal, that is if we give them the place that belongs to God, they will disappoint us and ultimately destroy us. Our goal is what is foreshadowed in this Eucharist – to be with God and with people of all times in history and all cultures and to recognise them and have them recognise us as brothers and sisters.  That vision of the human family gathered into the house of our Father, united with his Son in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is our goal.  It should shine in all that we do so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father.  In other words, we should be prophets, bringing the joy and hope of Christ to the world, to our families, to our parish.

Notes to editors
  1. Greenpark Racecourse, where Pope John Paul II spoke in Limerick, is in St Joseph’s Parish.
  2. JOHN PAUL II, Homily in Limerick, 1 October 1979
  3. Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 38.

Further information
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 087 233 7797

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