8 March 2011
Homily for Silver Jubilee of Archbishop Dermot Clifford’s Episcopal Ordination
A phobal Dé don Chláir is tuath,
In the Jewish tradition a Jubilee was celebrated every seventh year and a Great Jubilee year every fifty. The Jubilee Year was inaugurated by blowing a trumpet made from a ram’s horn named a “yobel” in Hebrew, hence the word “Jubilee”. I do not propose to blow my own trumpet this evening on my Silver Jubilee! I decided to preach the homily myself in case someone else would attempt to blow it for me and be forced to exaggerate the truth or even to invent! I feel humbled by the kindness of priests, religious and lay faithful and their guests who have honoured me with the Jubilee Celebration – this Mass of Thanksgiving and good wishes with occasional “ad multos annos”.
My own feelings were summed up for me in yesterday’s reading in the breviary from the Confessions of St. Augustine. “You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and of your wisdom there is no number. And man desires to praise you. He is but a tiny part of all you have created. He bears about him his mortality, the evidence of his sinfulness, the evidence that you resist the proud; yet this tiny part of all you have created desires to praise you. So you excite him, that to praise is his joy. For you have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” St. Augustine, sinner, convert and bishop for 35 years regularly celebrated the anniversary of his Episcopal consecration which took place in 395 AD.
As I humbly thank God for his goodness to me for the past 25 years in Cashel & Emly, I am filled with gratitude and joy – gratitude to God and to the people I have served – joy which came through in all the three readings chosen for me by one of our priests well versed in Scripture. The first reading from the prophet Zephaniah; “Shout for joy daughter of Zion, Israel shout aloud. (Yahew) will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”
St. Paul tells the Philippians, “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord”. St. John, in the Gospel reading records Jesus’ words to his Apostles on the night before He died in what is known as the Farewell Discourse;
“You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy and that joy no one shall take from you”.
When I remarked at my Ordination here that I had never expected to work for the Kingdom of God outside the Kingdom of Kerry, I found it hard for a time to distance myself mentally from my native Diocese. Then, I heard an interesting story from that quarter. Since I had worked for twelve years in an office in the Bishop’s House in Killarney, Bishop Diarmuid O’Suilleabhain put up my picture in my new robes over the desk where I worked. He got a new housekeeper soon afterwards. One day she was showing a lady friend around the house. Unknown to her, my successor as Secretary was in the next room and he overheard the conversation. “Who is that bishop in the picture?” “Is it possible you do not know him?” the housekeeper asked. “No”. “That’s amazing. He is that famous bishop out foreign – Archbishop Desmond Tutu”! This brought home to me in an amusing but telling way that in twelve weeks I was forgotten in the place I had worked for twelve years! So, I focused now on my new people of Cashel & Emly.
By a chance of fortune, a few years ago I met Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a gathering in Croke Park. When I was invited to speak to his group of thirty or so, I told him the story. He was hugely amused. He came down and stood next to me and remarked “Couldn’t anyone see the resemblance? I have found my double”. Archbishop Tutu radiates joy. He bubbles with it! Despite his age – he is 79 now – and despite the bitter struggle he has come through in his witness to the Christian message of peace and justice in South Africa during the apartheid regime. He is still full of energy and his good humour is infectious. He reminded me of how Pope Paul VI defined a priest,“A priest is a man who radiates the joy of Christ”.
Archbishop Tutu defined peace as follows in his address on the occasion when he received the Nobel Prize: “God’s Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation.” Never before had I seen the inclusion of laughter and joy in a description of peace. But wouldn’t peace be very dull without joy and laughter?
The Christian joy of which I speak now is far more than a feeling or a heightened sense of pleasure. It can be present even in suffering and in persecution. Recall how the Apostles were harassed by the Temple priests and their reaction as recorded in the Acts: “they went from the presence of the Council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer…for the name of Jesus”.
Christian joy is not contingent on a future good or bad, Celtic Tiger or recession, it is grounded in deep trust in Christ. Nothing which happens to us can separate us from the love of Christ. While it is natural to have frequent mention of joy in the Christmas liturgy, the Church mentions joy during Lent also. The first Preface for Lent, “Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare for the paschal mystery with heart and mind renewed”. The fourth Sunday of Lent is called “Laetare Sunday” the first words of the Mass being, “Rejoice Jerusalem, Be glad for her” – the Church being the new Jerusalem. St. Julian of Norwich, in the private revelations made to her, wrote that “Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, was also the Man of Joy, even in his Passion.”
My ordination as Bishop here in this Cathedral actually took place on Laetare Sunday and the Prodigal Son came home for the occasion, in the Gospel passage of St. Luke for that day!
Joy in the midst of suffering? Could that be possible? St. Peter’s letter has this consoling message to those suffering persecution:
“My dear people”, he writes, “if we can have some share in the sufferings of Christ be glad, because you will enjoy a much greater gladness when his glory is revealed (1 Peter: 13-14).
In his introduction to his Letter on the Christian meaning of Suffering, Pope John Paul II wrote;
“Declaring the power of salvific suffering, the Apostle Paul says: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church. These words seem to be found at the end of the long road that winds through the suffering which forms part of the history of man and which is illuminated by the Word of God. These words have, as it were, the value of a final discovery, which is accompanied by joy. For this reason Saint Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”. The joy comes from the discovery of the meaning of suffering, and this discovery, even if it is most personally shared in by Paul of Tarsus who wrote these words, is at the same time valid for others. The Apostle shares his own discovery and rejoices in it because of all those whom it can help – just as it helped him – to understand the salvific meaning of suffering.”
Jesus’ consoling words to his Apostles in this evening’s Gospel passage can also be consoling for us in our suffering;
“You are sad now but when I see you again, you will be full of joy and that joy no one shall take from you”.
The morning after my Ordination I was eating my breakfast and opening my letters. All of a sudden a shower of broken glass fell among my cornflakes! I am not superstitious but I got a premonition that all would not be light and roses in my new office! Actually, a good nun had sent me a framed photograph and the glass broke on the way. I have had anxious moments and occasional sleepless nights. But, they have been more than outweighed by the blessings I have enjoyed throughout my time in this Archdiocese.
I began by quoting St. Augustine. I shall end with another passage from a sermon he gave on the anniversary of his own consecration as Bishop. Since he was Bishop of Hippo for thirty-five years, it may have been his Silver Jubilee:
“The cares of my office have been a cause of anxiety to me since the day on which that burden was placed on my shoulders, of which I have to give a rigorous account. But, I am much more deeply moved by thoughts of this kind when the anniversary of that day revives the memory of the original occasion and reminds me that I should hold the office I received then as if I came to receive it today.
Unless the Lord helps us carry our burdens, we shall sink beneath them, and unless he carries us, we shall fall to our death. My position at your head frightens me, but the condition I share with you consoles me. I am a bishop set over you, but a Christian in company with you.
Therefore, my very dear friends, let us pray together that my office of bishop may be useful to both myself and you. It will be useful to me if I tell you what you ought to do, and to you, if you do what I tell you. If we continually pray for you, and you for us, with perfect Christian love, then with our Lord’s help we shall joyfully come to eternal blessedness…But I do not wish to attain eternal salvation without you”.
I should like to add one word of caution about your prayers. Many have wished me “ad multos annos” today. “May you continue for many years”. Three years would be the appropriate number! Anything else would be a bonus and bonuses are very definitely out of favour these times!
This homily was delivered by Archbishop Dermot Clifford in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, on 7 March 2011