20 June 2010
Homily of Bishop Leo O’Reilly to mark the closing of the Year for Priests
On the occasion of the Kilmore Diocesan Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine at Knock
I suggested to our priests some time back that this pilgrimage would be a good occasion for us as a diocese to mark the end of the Year for Priests. I asked them to come here today on pilgrimage, if their Mass schedules permitted, and to ask as many of their parishioners as possible to come also to share this day with us and to pray for us. I am delighted to see so many here today, whether in response to that invitation or not. We need your support and your prayers now as never before.
It was exactly a year ago yesterday that Pope Benedict opened the Year for Priests. The Pope said in his letter launching the Year: “This Year [is] meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.” Interior renewal – that is where all renewal must begin. And it is renewal for the sake of mission, the mission of witnessing to the gospel in the world.
Renewal does not begin in external structures or elaborate plans or projects. It is something that each one of us has to embrace personally and prayerfully. It means conversion, turning back to God, acknowledging our failures and our sinfulness and asking forgiveness. It means rediscovering Christ, rededicating ourselves to his service and putting him once more at the centre of our lives and of all our endeavours.
It was a terrible irony that the Year for Priests coincided with the revelations of the horrendous abuse by priests and religious contained in the Ryan and Murphy reports here in Ireland and the further revelations that these sparked in several other countries. Pope Benedict noted this coincidence in his homily at the closing of the Year for Priests in Rome on the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Vianney some days ago. He had this to say about it:
Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility [in choosing us] by our own courage and our own humility.
We priests are earthen vessels that carry a treasure. We are fragile, vulnerable and prone to failure. But we have been entrusted by God with this priceless gift of priesthood. We are bewildered and angry at the crimes of some of our brother priests against children and at the failures of bishops to put a stop to them. We feel our priesthood has been tainted and that we have all been “tarred with the same brush”. We feel shamed and humiliated by all that has happened.
But we need to reflect and to make sure that our anger is not just at the humiliation and loss of credibility that we have suffered – justified and all as that might be. The harm done to children should be the main focus of our anger – harm that often had dire consequences for the rest of their lives and tragically led some of them to early graves. Children were damaged not only by sexual abuse, but also by serious physical abuse. And this happened in some of our parishes, our schools and institutions.
St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, who is the patron saint of parish priests and has been our model and example during this Year for Priests, said: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” Abuse of children is a terrible betrayal of that love of Jesus we as priests and bishops are called in a special way to bear witness to. Can I take this opportunity of once again apologizing to all who suffered abuse at the hands of priests and religious, and particularly those in our own diocese who suffered in this way. Can I apologize too for the failures of bishops and superiors to stop that abuse continuing.
Pope Benedict proposes that we look on this coincidence of the Year for Priests and the appalling revelations of abuse by priests not as mere coincidence. He invites us to see it as a call to purification, a call to value and love all the more the great gift of priesthood that God has given us. The Pope speaks about God’s courage and humility in giving us this gift of being other Christs, and he says these sad events are a call to us to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and humility at this difficult time.
The Pope’s call echoes the call of Jesus in today’s gospel: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross every day and follow me. These words of Jesus come just after Peter had spoken up and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. Up to now the disciples followed Jesus enthusiastically as he healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the crowds and calmed the seas. Now they had to learn to follow the suffering Messiah. They had to face the scandal of the suffering and death of their Messiah. Jesus was reminding them again of the Beatitude: “Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account…” As Christians and as priests we cannot avoid carrying the cross.
Can I conclude with a final quotation from Pope Benedict’s words about the Curé of Ars which are very relevant to our theme of renewing the priesthood:
It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their Bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to his Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: “In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence.
The Pope concludes:
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!
The Year for Priests from 19 June 2009 until 11 June 2010 was declared by Pope Benedict to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars, St John Mary Vianney, patron of parish priests worldwide. The purpose of the Year for Priests is to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.
Further details about the Year for Priests …
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer, 087 310 4444