Homily of Bishop Leo O’Reilly at the Chrism Mass, Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim, Cavan
The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Mark is the call: ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.’ The Good News theme is there in St Luke’s account of Jesus’ first appearance in Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me…
He has sent me to bring the Good News to the Poor.
Repent and Believe the Good News is the title of the Bishops’ pastoral message for Lent 2012. The message explains that:
‘Repentance or penance is not a question of inflicting pain or hardship on ourselves for its own sake. Penance, fasting, prayer, works of mercy, giving to those who are in need and so on, is done ‘because the Kingdom of God has come near’; we repent in order to ‘believe in the good news’. It’s a change of outlook that allows us to see more clearly what God is doing in us and for us’.
The Good News of Jesus doesn’t always sound like good news to our ears. Words like, ‘whoever wants to save his life will lose it’ or ‘you must take up your cross and follow me’, don’t cause as much excitement as winning the lottery. We’re told that when Jesus invited one young man to follow him he went away sad for he was a man of great possessions. Jesus word wasn’t good news to him. Irish Times columnist Breda O’Brien used a Chinese parable to illustrate the point that it’s not always easy to discern what is good news and what isn’t.
A Chinese farmer has a horse, which runs away. A neighbour says, ‘That’s bad news’. The farmer replies, ‘Good news, bad news; who can say?’ The horse comes back and brings another wild horse with him. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, but is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg. ‘So sorry for your bad news’ says the neighbour. ‘Good news bad news, who can say?’ the farmer replies.
In a week or so the emperor’s soldiers come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared. But the farmer still says, ‘Good news, bad news, who can say?’
The trouble about the rich young man was that he couldn’t hear the good news of Jesus’ invitation to follow. He was so caught up in his wealthy life-style – it was like an addiction, being trapped in a net. He wasn’t free to respond to Jesus’ call. Penance, fasting, prayer, giving to those in need, help to free us from our addictions to material things, to open our minds and hearts to God’s Good News, to the Gospel of Jesus. These practices help us to detach ourselves from the distractions and attractions and trivialities that can occupy all our waking hours if we let them. They help us to make room for God’s word to come into our lives. They sharpen our antennae so that we are more sensitive to the whispers of God’s presence around us and within us.
All of that is very important at this time for us in Ireland. Pope Benedict, in his excellent Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland of March 2010, called for a renewal of the Church here and he asked all of us to be part of that renewal. It seems to me that he was suggesting that renewal does not take place through grand schemes but it begins in personal repentance and conversion. It begins with our response to the first words of Jesus in the Gospel: “Repent and believe the Good News.” There’s a lot of wisdom in the view that if I want to change the world I need to begin by changing myself. Pope Benedict suggests seemingly very simple ways of renewing the Church. So much so that some say he’s missing the point. He says:
‘I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture, and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland’.
This kind of penance is something which is within reach of all of us. It is not to be confined to Lent. It must be a part of our lives right throughout the year. It is central to our response to Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News.
That kind of repentance and renewal is at the heart of our ceremony today as our priests renew their priestly promises and commitment to the service of God’s people.
In the questions that I will ask in a few moments the focus is entirely on our response to Christ:
– ‘Are you ready to renew your own dedication to Christ as priests of his new covenant?’
– ‘Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and try to become more like him?’
– ‘Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ the head and shepherd of the Church?’
And finally I ask you all to pray for me: ‘that I may become more like Christ…and so be a genuine sign of Christ’s loving presence among you’.
The week-long 50th International Eucharistic Congress takes place shortly in Dublin from 10 – 17 June. It will be an important milestone on our journey of the renewal in the Church in Ireland. Many have expressed doubts about the wisdom of having it at all, or having it at this time. Good News, bad news, who can tell. I believe that if we approach it in a spirit of repentance and see the Congress as a stage on our journey of conversion, then we will find that it will be not just Good News, but great news, a great gift to our Church and, please God, a new dawn of hope for all our people.
• Bishop Leo O’Reilly is Bishop of Kilmore. This homily was delivered on Holy Thursday, 5 April 2012.
Martin Long, Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 00 353 (0) 86 172 7678