Homily of Father Tony Mullins at Ordination to the Episcopate of Brendan Leahy, Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick
This majestic building, St John’s Cathedral, has been the setting for many historical celebrations in the life of our diocese. Today’s celebration and Episcopal ordination will be added to that history. Brendan Leahy, a native of Dublin, with deep roots in Kerry, and a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, will be ordained to the episcopacy and become the 49th successor to the see of Limerick. His ordination is the first Episcopal ordination in this cathedral since 1974. Father Brendan’s ordination marks a new beginning for the diocese, a new springtime in the Church of Limerick. On behalf of the laity, religious and clergy of the diocese, I extend a céad míle fáilte to Fr Brendan, and I warmly welcome him to Limerick on this day of great joy for our diocese. I also welcome his father Maurice, members of his family and members of the Focolare community. I welcome his brother priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin, led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
Here in the Sanctuary of the Cathedral we have on display the Limerick Crozier better known as the O’Dea Crozier. This wonderful work of art dates from 1418, and along with the O’Dea Mitre, ranks among the finest existing pieces of Irish medieval goldsmiths’ work. It was crafted during the episcopacy of Cornelius O’Dea, who was Archdeacon of Killaloe when he was appointed bishop of Limerick in the year 1400. He remained bishop of this diocese until 1426. When we look at this beautiful historical artefact we not only recognise it for its magnificence and splendour, but it immediately connects us with our past, our history, our faith story. We recall previous bishops of Limerick who have served this diocese since Gilbert in 1106. We also think of the many generations of people who down through the centuries were inspired to live their lives by the faith that we celebrate today, some who sacrificed their very lives for that faith.
When we look at the O’Dea crozier we see that within the curved crook of the crozier the scene from the Annunciation is depicted, the seated Virgin Mary faces the Archangel Gabriel. As we reflect on this scene of the Annunciation, we begin to understand what a momentous intervention by God occurred at that moment. Mary is at prayer, an angel appears, and she responds with a faith-filled yes. The scriptures also tell us that Mary was deeply troubled and wondered what the angel’s greeting could mean. Certainly the angel’s explanation only left her with more questions and concerns. She did not say yes because she fully understood or had all her questions answered. She said yes in faith and trust to God.
When Brendan was ordained a priest, I suspect that it did not occur to him that he would one day be Bishop of Limerick. But the Church is a Church of surprises.
In early January of this year, Father Brendan received a call from the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown, informing him of his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI as Bishop of Limerick. I am sure when Father Brendan had concluded his conversation with Archbishop Brown that like Mary at the Annunciation; he too was left with many questions and concerns. Like Mary he said yes, yes to a position of leadership in the Irish Church at a most challenging time. The really significant “yeses” in our lives demand a great deal of trust and openness. We cannot know all the implications of saying yes. We respond to the gift of God’s call in our lives. We say yes in hope and trust. Like Mary, we say yes to something being born in us that must grow and mature and take a shape we cannot predict.
In the extract from Saint John’s Gospel which we have just had proclaimed to us, Peter and his companions had come into shore from their fishing expedition. In this post resurrection encounter between Peter and the Risen Lord, Peter is renewed and the primacy of the Church is conferred on him. Peter was the first to be called into a role of leadership in the Church, and down through the centuries his successors were to follow. Today at this Episcopal ordination here in the local Church of Limerick, we are privileged to witnesses this apostolic succession maintained with the ordination of Father Brendan as our new Bishop. Apostolic succession is rooted in Christ and continued in each individual Bishop in his diocese. Through apostolic succession the local bishop links and connects the local faith community to the wider universal Church, to the Pope successor of Peter, and here in Ireland to the Episcopal Conference. Within the diocese the bishop is the key figure who links all the parish communities together. The episcopacy is a gift to the Church that enables communities of faith to form a relationship with Christ and with one another.
Prior to commissioning Peter to tend his flock, the one thing which Jesus questioned Peter about was love. ‘Peter do you love me?’ Jesus asked him. Love is the only criterion that Jesus gives for his ministry. Love is the essential requirement for Christian service. – Other qualities may be desirable, but love is completely indispensible. Peter is chosen as leader because of the quality of his love, and his mission is to look after the flock, especially the vulnerable lambs and sheep. The Acts of the Apostles tell us how the Spirit of the Risen Lord transformed Peter, from being a weak and vulnerable disciple, shattered by the events of Good Friday to being a courageous witness to the resurrection. And that is what we are all called to be, witnesses to the resurrection and witnesses to love.
Pope Benedict said that “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a loft idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” Deus Caritas Est
Faith is not a subscription to a series of principles, but a commitment to a Person, Jesus Christ.
Only through a deep and personal relationship with Christ can we hope to live a truly authentic Christian life. In that relationship we will find the true meaning and purpose of life. In and through Christ we will discern who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. Only in that relationship will we find the hope that the world and its people so desperately need.
We know that today many people in our community are weary and dispirited by the lack of hope in their lives. Many in the community feel isolated, abandoned and rejected, disillusioned and disengaged from Church and society.
On the day of his inaugural Mass Pope Francis said
“Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others” Homily at Inaugural Mass, Rome 19th March 2013
Our challenge is to recognize Christ our brother in all men and women and love them with an active love, in word and deed, thus bearing witness to the truth, and restoring hope in their lives.
In his ministry as bishop, Brendan is called to be a teacher and preacher of the “Good News”. As father and brother he is called to be a source for unity within the diocese, gathering the faith community around him, shepherding the members of the community of faith, especially the most vulnerable. He is called to be guardian of the faith and all that the Church holds dear. Above all like Peter he is called to be a person whose life is rooted in love.
Blessed Pope John Paul II captured the essence of what a bishop’s life and ministry is all about when he wrote
“The faithful ought to be able to contemplate on the face of their bishop the grace given qualities which in the various Beatitudes make up the self portrait of Christ. The face of poverty, meekness and a thirst for righteousness; the merciful face of the Father and the peaceful and peace giving man, the pure face of one who looks to God alone,” Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘On the Pastoral Work of Bishops’
Responding to this call is a great joy, but also very demanding. Like the apostles at the beginning of the Church, Fr Brendan will have to dig deep into his personal resources of wisdom and strength and intellect which he has in abundance. Above all he will draw strength from his deep faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. From that faith he will find the courage to fulfill his ministry and be confident in proclaiming with conviction the gospel of Jesus Christ. He will help people of faith to engage with a culture that no longer sees the message of Christ as relevant or important for our lives.
He has been chosen for this mission, but he is not alone in this most challenging task. On the day of the announcement of his appointment as bishop of the diocese, I said,
In Limerick, Father Brendan will find dedicated priests, committed religious and enthusiastic lay men and women of all ages, who are eager to be his co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Brendan you will have the support of all of us. Also we need not be afraid about the future because of the promise of Jesus Christ to be with us always, to the end of time.
On this day of new beginnings for our diocese, we thank God for Father Brendan and his willingness to say yes. We pray that the Holy Spirit will fill him with love and guide him in all that he is called to do. We pray for our diocese, that God will unite us around Bishop Brendan as we continue on pilgrimage, in company with Bishop Gilbert the first bishop of our diocese and his successors, and with the countless thousands of faithful women and men, religious and clergy who have made up this diocese and have heard the Lord’s call ‘follow me’ and like Peter in the Gospel, have followed together in joy, in hope and in love.
- This homily was delivered by Father Tony Mullins on Sunday 14 April 2013
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