Homily given by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh at ordinations to the priesthood of Rev Ryan McAleer and Rev Thomas McHugh, Sunday 1 July 2012:
At this stage in the ordination of a priest, the Church usually asks the family and friends, of those being ordained, and indeed all here present, to consider carefully what exactly is taking place. Ryan and Thomas are now to be raised to the order of priest. We all rejoice to see them reach this happy day. It means that they have travelled a journey – quite a long journey – an inward journey – a spiritual journey. Along the way they learned to freely respond to the love of God who has called them. Today we are immensely grateful to them, and to all of you who, by your love and care, have enabled them to see that love of God and achieve the freedom, they needed to answer the call.
For every vocation comes from a meeting – a conversation. The history of every vocation is the history of a dialogue. It is a dialogue between God and free human beings. Every follower of Christ is someone called. However, that calling is seen more clearly in those, called by Christ, to leave all in order to follow him more nearly and love him more dearly – namely priests and members of religious congregations. The fact is that Christ always chooses some people to work closely together with him, in a more direct manner, to help him carry out the Father’s plan to save the world.
Ryan and Thomas, you are among those privileged ones, invited by Christ to put everything to one side in order to live a more profound communion with Him, in fact to be with Him.
Leaving all is not easy. It requires huge trust and humility. Of course the hardest thing of all to put to one side is our own will. You cannot learn trust from a book – only with experience. Today I give thanks to God for all those who by their advice, prayers and example, enabled your to do precisely that – to empty yourselves and trust after the example of Christ who emptied himself – taking the form of a servant. A Christ who came, not to be served, but to serve. A Christ who came to give his life, as a ransom for many. That self-emptying is essential in order to be ready to answer the call. Today the Risen Lord calls all future priests in order to transform them, in order to change them.
As a recent Vatican document puts it: ‘the Risen Lord calls future priests in order to transform them; to change them into true proclaimers of his presence in the world and to be, not just proclaimers, but witnesses to his presence in the world’.
We can only witness to what we see: The Church lives in the world and the Church is called to live in the present moment. It looks, with wisdom, at history and there she sees the abiding presence of God. There it sees the presence of a God who not only accompanies but, at all times, challenges and calls us into his friendship, even at times that might appear the least fruitful and fortunate.
Jesus sent the apostles into the world to carry on his work as teachers, priests and shepherds. Today Jesus continues that work through the bishops, the successors of the apostles, and through priests, who are co-workers of the bishops.
Ryan and Thomas, you must apply your energies to the task of teaching in the name of Christ. Read the Word constantly and carefully; believe what you read, teach what you believe; put into practice what you teach.
You know that at the Eucharistic Congress hundreds could not get into the lectures and workshops. There was not enough space. There is this huge hunger out there for more knowledge and meaning. There is this huge thirst to know God. There is a thirst for happiness in every human heat. Many young people experience this hunger and thirst acutely. And there is no-one better suited to bringing good news to young people than young people themselves.
I know that Thomas and Ryan, through the work of the Diocesan Youth Council and World Youth Days, enjoy excellent relations with so many young people and youth leaders in this diocese. I believe that this leaves you both well placed to help many teenagers and young adults to grow spiritually into a higher level of awareness, one closer to the mind that was in Christ Jesus. It will enable you to help people and have more faith in the actions of the Holy Spirit. With the help of the Holy Spirit the Church continues to set before people – young and old – an enthusiastic and life-challenging faith – the sort of faith can satisfy the thirst for happiness and fulfilment in every human heart.
For this to work it will mean offering the experience of your own faith – the kind of faith that comes from your relationship with Christ. It will mean sharing and revealing something of your own faith journey – including the difficulties. Happily, the Gospel today for the Feast of St Oliver Plunkett is the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. Jesus has no hesitation in saying that he is the Good Shepherd. He proved it by dying for us on Calvary.
Today it is less likely that anyone in this country will have to literally lay down his life for his people but certainly to be a good pastor always involves a sacrifice. Sometimes a great sacrifice. The sacrifice of day after day putting the interests of Christ and of one’s parishioners before the interests of oneself.
Jesus said: ‘I know my own’. This was no mere superficial knowing. He not only knew people by name but, as the Gospel says elsewhere, he knew what was in each one. Then he says: ‘My own know me’ – which means that he had revealed himself to them. How well do they know him? Just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. From his profound knowledge and love of the Father, Jesus got the freedom to give his life freely for us.
Today we celebrate the memory of a man who got the courage to give his life for his faith. It came from the sure knowledge of the Father’s love for him. Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Oliver Plunkett – an outstanding example of a good shepherd, after the example of Jesus Christ himself. Immediately he arrived back to Ireland in 1670, he set about getting to know the people and giving them the opportunity to know him. In the space of one year he visited six large diocese; held a Provincial Synod and various diocesan Synods.
In his own words he says: “God knows that I think of nothing else, day and night than the service of souls. Political or temporal matters have no part in my life; neither in my mind nor on my lips”. Of course he had many set-backs but his serenity, in the face of adversity, was truly amazing. Listen to his own words again: “Sentence of death was passed against me on the fifteenth. It has not caused me the least terror or deprived me of even a quarter of an hour’s sleep”.
Surely this is clear proof of his own profound relationship with Christ – who gave him such peace of mind. Oliver Plunkett was executed on 1 July 1681 – the last martyr for the Catholic faith in England. Thankfully we have come a long way since then. Last week Queen Elizabeth made history when she entered St Michael’s Catholic Church in Enniskillen. On the scaffold Oliver pronounced these words:
“I do heartily forgive them, (the false witnesses) and also the judges, who by denying me sufficient time to bring my records and witnesses from Ireland did expose my life to evident danger. I do also forgive all those who had a hand in bringing me from Ireland to be tried here, where it was morally impossible for me to have a fair trial. I do finally forgive all who did concur directly or indirectly to take away my life; and I ask forgiveness of all those whom I ever offended by thought, word or deed….”
Those remarkable words can still provide inspiration today. On the political level the work of reconciliation is under way but unfinished. It is work in progress and hopefully will continue.
On the ecumenical level among the followers of Christ, dialogues in progress between Christian denominations indicate progress. They remind us of the desire of Christ that his disciples should become one flock with one shepherd. All who listen to his voice, work to achieve that unity.
Ryan and Thomas, the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews recalls that you have been chosen from among God’s people. It is our privilege to act for them in relation to God. Never let us forget how much we owe to God’s Holy People and how much we depend on them. So let us stay close to them at all times.
Our job is to do our best to keep those faithful people together in a united family. Our task is to lead them, effectively, yes, actually lead them, mainly by our example, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father.
May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the great High Priest, watch over both of you now and always.