3 July 2011
Homily of Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor at Ordination to the Priesthood of Rev. Damian McCaughan, St Malachy’s Church, Coleraine
Readings : Zech 9.9-10; Ps. 144 ; Rom 8.9, 11-13; Mt 11.25-30
Damian, from Kilkeel to Coleraine, the faithful of this diocese of Down and Connor have prayed for you this weekend. And certainly you have been in the prayers of many of your friends and neighbours in St John’s parish, west of the Bann, in the diocese of Derry : of that there is no doubt! We have all prayed that God may bestow His grace upon you as you are ordained today to the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ.
We have prayed too in thanksgiving – for the priesthood is a gift : it is a gift for both the Church and for humanity, as Pope Benedict put it in his Letter of 16 June 2009 proclaiming the Year for Priests. Prayerfully and with great joy in our hearts we receive the gift of your vocation, born within your family and this local Christian community, explored and accepted by yourself and then nourished and fashioned with the assistance and guidance of many over six years of formation in seminary, pastoral placements in parishes and in university.
Gratitude to the many hands involved in your seminary training :
We can all imagine how charged with gratitude you are today to your parents and family, to relatives and friends, to teachers and countless others. With me I’m sure you will wish to acknowledge too the example and inspiration priests and religious have been for you as you intimated the call to follow Christ in the priesthood. I know that together with me you will wish to thank the priests, staff and family of the diocesan seminary in Belfast where you spent two years, the staff of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome where you lived and studied for the past four years and your many professors, lecturers and tutors at Queens University, the Gregorian and Angelicum universities in Rome. Here our thoughts of gratitude extend beyond death’s veil to the late Fr Jimmy McEvoy, who, like all of us, looked forward to this day, and who now looks on from within the communion of the saints who have gone before us on the way of truth.
Together with all assembled here in St Malachy’s Church, I know you will wish to thank the priests, men and women of the parishes and places where over the past years you undertook the pastoral placements assigned to you as part of your training. They too contributed to your training.
As the people of God in this local Church we express our profound thanks and appreciation to the numerous people throughout the diocese – priests of the diocese, religious women and men, your fellow seminarians, parishioners, women, men, the diocesan Lourdes Youth Team – who have played a part in the long and many-sided preparation for your ordination in seminary, parish and other contexts.
In your seminary biography we see how so many persons – from college kitchen, through Latin class, to lecture hall to parish office, youth club, prayer group and liturgical celebration – are implicated in and contribute actively to the training of a priest. Indeed we see how in your training this local Church joined with fellow-believers of many nationalities in the universal Church to grow, develop and shape you for priestly ministry. Today for all of this we give thanks together with you to God and as a Christian community we rejoice in your readiness to be ordained.
Today : This Day was mad be the Lord, we rejoice and are glad (Ps 118)
Damian, you are about to be ordained as a priest for service in the diocese of Down and Connor. As a priest it will be your daily task to proclaim the Word of God, to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and inspired by the mystery of the divine incarnation in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth to serve as pastor in numerous and varied ways, sacred and secular, the community entrusted to your pastoral care. The Word of God read at Mass and in the liturgy of the hours will fuel your ministry and your priestly identity.
Indeed the extracts from Holy Scripture which form today’s liturgy of the Word invite all Christians, and the priest in particular, to recognise and live out our identity as people born into the new life of the Spirit through our baptism in Christ.
The lines from St Paul’s letter to the Romans remind us poignantly of the fact that we are the earthly home of the Holy Spirit. In and through us God is at work in time and place. It is the task of the priest through preaching and celebration of the sacred liturgy to foster and build up this awareness and active identity in the Christian community.
The well-known Jubilee passage from St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 11. 26-30, encapsulates in prayer of praise by Christ himself, the starting-point for proclamation of God’s saving Word. To preach Christ, the one in whom God is revealed, one needs to shoulder Christ’s yoke, to spend time with Him in prayer so that one may come to know the God whom one is called to serve and proclaim as a priest.
And then the oracle from the prophet Zechariah, imaging the king of peace riding on a meek donkey rather than on a horse, reminds us of the public and societal import of priestly and prophetic ministry. These lines remind us that priestly ministry must also serve peace, harmony and constructive relations within the both the believing community and society.
From your studies you know that as priests we are called to exercise these and other attendant responsibilities in union with the bishop and with our fellow priests in the diocesan presbyterium. You also know how we are charged at all times to serve, rather than be served, and to seek out, care for and save the lost sheep, the wanderer. And you know how we are called to preserve and work for the unity of God’s people. All of this – preaching, teaching, sanctifying and serving the faithful in truth and Christ-like love – is the heart of priestly service and ministry.
In his homily at the closure of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI reminded us that a priest is not primarily an office-holder who acquires rights and privileges. It is worth recalling his words here today and meditating on them from time to time:
“The priest is not a mere office holder … Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power : in Christ’s name he speaks words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation – words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood – words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unites it to him. The priesthood then is not simply “office” but sacrament : God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women, and to act on their behalf. This audacity of God who entrusts himself to human beings – who, conscious of our weaknesses, nonetheless considers men capable of acting and being present in his stead – this audacity of God is the true grandeur concealed in the word “priesthood”.
Priestly ministry in the years ahead
It would be foolhardy to pretend that we can foresee the precise conditions in which you will live out the priesthood over the decades of your life, Damian. Your abiding vocation will be to “open the world to God”, to open the pages of Sacred Scripture to others, to assist the continuing self-revelation of God through the work of preaching, sanctifying and charity.
The society in which you will minister God’s Word and sacraments is evolving rapidly and profoundly. The Church is also undergoing change and development. The Christian life, the option to believe and follow Christ, is more and more a matter of personal choice and decision, rather than of passive familial or sociological patterning.
Against this background and together with the community of Christian believers, the bishop, the clergy and the religious, the dynamic of the Church’s life will involve you in elaborating new forms of faith formation and pastoral outreach. Certainly you will work, indeed you will have to work, in close cooperation with fellow priests, assisted formally and voluntarily, by parishioners, to serve pastoral zones incorporating a number of presently autonomous parishes. You will know, learn and practise forms of collaborative ministry and methods of shared pastoral responsibility with laity that will continue to unfold over your lifetime from within the Church and from the rich and still barely fathomed sources of its living tradition. All of this is part of what is called the new evangelisation, of which the “Listening Process” recently launched in this diocese is an integral part.
In all of this it will be your abiding vocation to seek to manifest in your person and ministry this “audacity of God” with humanity, of which Pope Benedict XVI speaks, and so to point to the beauty, dignity and freedom of the Christian identity and way of life.
I have no doubt, Damian, your priestly ministry will span exciting, testing, turbulent times and that you will know moments of personal agony. I am also sure that your courage and trust in responding to God’s call in the current trying times in the Church’s history and your dedication to prayer and meditation on the Word of God and your celebration of the sacraments will sustain and keep you faithful to the promises you make here today throughout your lifetime of priestly service.
With my brother priests, those present here and all those who have engagements on this Sunday in their parishes, I welcome you into the presbyterate of the diocese of Down and Connor. We receive you with great joy and we wish you many years and decades of fruitful and joyful ministry.
Together with the faithful, whom we are all called to serve, we pray in words of this liturgy, which we shall use in a few moments : “may God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfilment”.
Notes to Editors
Rev. Damian McCaughan (31), the eldest of four children, is a native from the parish of Coleraine. Following his early studies at St Malachy’s Primary School, Coleraine and Loreto College, Coleraine, he pursued an undergraduate degree in Broadcasting Studies at the University of Leeds. During this Broadcasting Studies degree, he had the opportunity to take courses with the BBC’s training department and spent a year working as a Trainee Researcher for ITV Yorkshire. Following his graduation in 2001, Damian worked for a number of years as a Marketing Consultant in the IT and financial services sector.
In August 2005, Damian entered St Malachy’s College Seminary, Belfast where he began his formation for the priesthood and studied scholastic philosophy at Queens University Belfast. In August 2007, Damian continued his formation programme in the Pontifical Irish College, Rome where he completed a degree in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. In April 2010, he was ordained a deacon in Rome and is currently completing a Licentiate in Spiritual Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas.
Fr Edward McGee, Down and Connor Media Liaison Officer Tel. 078111 44268