Homilies by bishops for the First Sunday of Lent

21 Feb 2010

21 February 2010

Homilies by bishops for the First Sunday of Lent

Please see below, for publication, homilies and statements which were delivered at Masses this weekend by bishops for the First Sunday of Lent.  Homilies and statements below from: Bishop Martin Drennan, Bishop of Galway; Bishop James Moriarty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin; Bishop Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath; Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor; and Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns.

Bishop Martin Drennan: What I took back from Rome after the two-day visit last week can be summed up in three phrases: face the past with honesty, the present with courage, the future with hope.

Facing the past.  The first reading today  (Dt 26:4-10) models how that might best be done. In the presence of a merciful God the story of the past can be told. Israel’s story leads to the joy of God’s forgiveness, it is recalled through the lens of faith. It is a story of how they were once slaves to fear, to work, to failure, to hopelessness. Meeting God has changed all of that. Feeling secure in his caring presence, Israel is free to name the pain points of her past, free to admit her mistakes, free to leave the past to the mercy of God and give thanks for the ways God has transformed her story. The people are not prisoners of their past, their ability to forgive has broken the power that Egypt had over them. They have moved from being crippled by past memories to rejoicing in the freedom God gives.

Facing the present.  Problems are solved over time, they demand courage and staying power. There are no quick fixes to present difficulties, just as the first reading said there was no quick fix to the people of Israel’s crises. Today’s gospel story of the temptations of Jesus shows how our hearts are being pulled in different ways. We are tempted to put wealth, power, celebrity status first, not trust in God. In testing times fear, self-pity and discouragement can take over if we are not alert to their lurking presence. Jesus faces his testing, the temptation to be a popular Messiah concerned about security, power and fame. With the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s word he rejects tat way of living. From him we learn that when we keep or gaze, our focus on God, we grow stronger. Follow the ways of the world and you will grow weaker, said St. Catherine of Siena. Lent is a time for deciding what we want to be, how we want to live. Again and again it reminds us not to forget that our journey has been given direction already, our destiny is joy and peace in the presence of God. For Jesus and for us, following the  direction that baptism gives to our lives brings a growing freedom to say no to the ways of evil and greater freedom to say yes to God and his ways.

Facing the future
.  St. Paul had faced his own past where he had used violence against Christians and let the mercy of God heal his wounds. The experience of God’s mercy brought him both joy and hope. Today’s second reading gives us a glimpse of that hope. He says, Those who believe in him will have no cause for shame……everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Faith gives hope. I’ve often seen it in many people. Those who stayed close to God in demanding times never lost heart, they were near to the God who sustains us with his gentle strength.  I find that expressed very well in a Celtic blessing :

I weave into my life this day the presence of God upon my way.
I weave into the darkest night strands of God all shining bright.
I weave into each deed that’s done joy and hope of the risen Son.

Bishop James Moriarty:  Following the meeting of the Irish Bishops in Rome, I would like to share a few thoughts and some information – in addition to the official Vatican press release.  Obviously the gathering in Rome was a unique event. The amount of time and attention given personally by Pope Benedict was very impressive. Likewise the senior Curia members present were fully engaged and made their own contributions. The various sessions that took place over Monday and Tuesday were long and intense. It was certainly a worthwhile dialogue at the highest level.

As you are aware, each Bishop had an opportunity to address the gathering. The contributions were wide‐ranging, consciously so to avoid repetition. Along with addressing the impact on survivors, our continuing outreach to them, the on‐going management of ‘safeguarding’ in the Irish Church, some Bishops addressed issues like the role of laity, church communications, the Church’s role in Education and priestly formation.

In my own contribution, I explained how my offer of resignation came about and spoke about the need for unity and a deeper sharing of the mission ‘that transcends the kind of clerical culture that led us here’.

The Vatican Press Release should not be viewed as the ‘last word’. Pope Benedict’s pastoral letter which is expected in mid‐March is the document to focus on. A draft copy of the pastoral letter was shared with the Bishops and we had an opportunity to offer comments. While taking on board these comments, the pastoral letter will be the Holy Father’s document.

It is important to emphasise that this process is on‐going and more steps are to follow.

In regard to my offer of resignation, separate from the general meeting, I had a private meeting with Cardinal Re, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who is dealing with it. The acceptance of my offer of resignation is proceeding. It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. It will not happen immediately but should not go too far beyond Easter.

I am seeking ideas about how priests and people might engage with the letter from the Holy Father and how together we might identify some tangible initiatives that might follow. This might involve forums at parish, deanery or diocesan level.

Any ideas or suggestions can be forwarded to your local priest or directly to me here in Bishop’s House, Carlow.

As always we keep the survivors in our prayers at this time and pray that this Lenten season may be a time of true renewal in the Irish Church.

Bishop Michael Smith:  The Murphy Report highlights the seriousmistakes made and the terrible suffering that too many children endured.  Following its publication, Pope Benedict invited the Irish Bishops to meet with him over two days in Rome. The Holy Father and nine senior Cardinals and Archbishops from the Curia were present for the meeting on Monday and up to lunchtime on Tuesday. By his and their presence, they wished to emphasise the seriousness with which they view this evil which affects the life of the Church in Ireland and society worldwide. The meeting began with each of the Irish Bishops giving a five minute presentationon different aspects of the issue. In the afternoon, the Cardinals and Archbishops from the Curia responded, taking up a number of the points made in the morning presentations. Pope Benedict did likewise. When these were completed, discussion began on the draft of the letter that Pope Benedict will send to the Irish Church in the next few weeks. He listened attentively to comments and suggestions made by all present and will take these into account in finalising his letter. Contrary to some reports, I found the meeting with Pope Benedict earlier this week to be the most open, honest and engaged meeting that I have attended.

Since thepublication of its Framework document in 1996, setting down procedures for the processing of complaints, the Catholic Church in Ireland has constantly evaluated and reviewed our national policy and procedures for safeguarding children. In this diocese that has been done in complete cooperation with the HSE, seeking to ensure that best practice is in place.

Lent invites us to repentance. Lent also has at its heart a deep message of hope, a hope rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The Church must always take its teaching from the life and words of Christ, repenting when it has failed to do so.

Bishop Noel Treanor: I should like to offer you a short report on the meeting of the Irish Bishops in Rome on 15-16 February with Pope Benedict XVI. The following comments are a synopsis of what I said in St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast at the conclusion of Mass on Ash Wednesday evening.

The invitation issued to the diocesan bishops of Ireland by Pope Benedict and his presence at the meeting on Monday and Tuesday is a measure of the importance Benedict XVI gives to addressing the crime, sin and horror of sexual abuse of children, minors and vulnerable adults. The Pope expressed his distress at what had happened here in Ireland.

This meeting was a point in the long process of dealing with the tragic shame and wound of abuse in the lives of victims, in the life of the Church and by extension in society. Of itself this meeting cannot heal this horrific wound.  We should pray daily that such healing will occur in God’s time.  

The bishops returned time and again in their contributions to the horrific and tragic fact that this occurred within the Church. They recognised that mismanagement had occurred and that there were cover-ups. They articulated the suffering, hurt and pain of victims.

Bishops spoke of the action the Church is taking in Ireland to respond to child sexual abuse by clergy, religious and Church workers.

In my own contribution I indicated inter alia that the diocese of Down and Connor has a Child Protection Office, staffed by professionals.  I recalled that this diocese has a total of 3,182 persons (clergy, religious, lay women and men) who voluntarily work to promote the safeguarding of children in our parishes and their organisations. I instanced this as evidence of the vibrancy of faith in Jesus Christ in our lives and parishes and of participation of laity in the life of the local Church. (Once again I thank all of you who give your time and expertise in this area).

The meeting began with a Mass on Monday morning. Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State, was the main celebrant.  Evoking the horror of the crime and sin of sexual abuse, he called us to repentance and renewal. The programme was intense. Bishops met between the working sessions to discuss and prepare the issues arising.

Pope Benedict will issue his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland in the course of Lent. He wishes to work on it further after listening to the bishops and to his advisers.

In today’s gospel Saint Luke tells us how Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil.  The story reminds us starkly about the reality of evil.  The battle between good and evil goes on within each of us and in the life of the church.  Where there is great good, evil can often exist close at hand.  But Jesus reveals a way contrary to that of Satan – the way of humble service and of complete obedience to God’s word.

My dear brothers and sisters, I write these lines to you so that you may have some sense of the prayerful and reflective discussions with Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals of the Roman Curia.  I have chosen to offer these few lines directly to you, my fellow believers in Jesus Christ. I pray that this Lent will be a time of blessings and renewal in our lives.

Bishop Denis Brennan: As you all know, last week I travelled with the other bishops of Ireland to Rome to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.  This important meeting was both an exchange of views and a listening exercise, involving the Holy Father, a number of Cardinal Prefects and the Irish bishops.  It marks another stage in the vital search for healing, in which we must persevere for the sake of those who were affected by sexual abuse perpetrated by some clergy and religious.  When he met with the bishops of Ireland during their Ad limina visit in October 2006, the Holy Father said: ‘the wounds caused by such acts run deep’.  The most recent meeting in Rome was an opportunity for our further growthinto the realisation of this sad reality.  

Since our return home on Tuesday last, we have witnessed, once again, the pain of deeply wounded survivors, who feel great disappointment because the outcome of our meeting fell far short oftheir expectations.

I would like to do what I can tooffer reassurance and comfort here. The visit to Pope Benedict by the bishops is only one part of an ongoing process, which has as its goal, the healing andconsoling of survivors of clerical sexual abuse.  The Holy Father will be writing to us here in Ireland in the coming weeks. I look forward to this letter and see it as an important milestone on a road, from which there is no going back.  We are living through a time of great trial as a result of grave scandals and how they have been mishandled inour Church community. The diocese of Ferns is firmly set on a path where reconciliation with survivors – based on justice and respect – remains priority.  This is a path on which we have been travelling for some time now, and I thank the ever growing number of people – lay, religious and clerical – who form part of the safeguarding children network within our diocese, our parishes and our school.

We are not in this darkness alone.  Although the darkness can be very great, the Word of God is our mainstay: ‘though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light to me’ (Micah 7:80). OurChristian hope urges us never to desist from seeking ways that will lead topeace and healing for all.  I invite you to join with me in praying that our Church will continue to grow in its understanding of God’smercy this Lent and that we will to be guided and strengthened by the gifts ofthe Holy Spirit.


Notes for Editors

  • Lent for 2010 began on Ash Wednesday, 17 February.  Pope Benedict XVI’s message for Lent 2010 highlights the theme of justice.  Lent, as the traditional season of renewal and penance in the Catholic Church, is a time when the Church calls on the faithful to renew their commitment to Christian life.  This renewal is a central part of our preparation for Easter.  The Gospel tells us how to approach renewal through prayer, fasting and charity.
  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence.  Fasting means that the amount of food we eat is considerably reduced.  Abstinence means that we give up particular kinds of food or drink, for example meat and alcohol.  Friday, and especially the Fridays of Lent, recalls the crucifixion of Our Lord as we prepare for Easter.  Fridays are set aside as special days of penance.

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678