Homily of Monsignor Brendan Byrne at Mass for the Episcopal Ordination and Installation of Father Denis Nulty as Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin
Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow, Sunday 4 August 2013
- “Taking charge of a diocese of 56 parishes with almost ¼ million Catholics is a huge task. So we say that the bishop must be a man of God, a person of prayer, and of faith. But he must also be one with his people.” – Monsignor Byrne
- “In Pope Francis we see a fresh, new dynamic wind of the Spirit blowing in the Church and we are confident the same will happen here as we begin this new chapter in this ancient story of Kildare and Leighlin.” – Monsignor Byrne
“There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything” (Col. 3:11)
As we gather here today for this wonderful and much anticipated ordination ceremony, Saint Paul’s powerful words ensure that our focus remains on the One who is at the heart of every Christian celebration, the Lord himself, the Good Shepherd, He who is our saviour.
Our Old Testament reading for this Sunday likewise teaches us that nothing that belongs only to the earthly life will save us. The farmer who sees the full barns as his life assurance is very short sighted. “What of all his laborious days,…his restless nights?” “All is vanity”.
Christ alone matters. We rejoice today that we have a new spiritual leader who will drive home that message constantly to us, please God, in the years ahead.
So it is wonderful to welcome all who are here today, all who have come to pray for Father Denis and to celebrate with his family and friends. I welcome our two cardinals and all the members of the hierarchy and I thank you for being here. I want to thank Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for being the chief consecrating prelate along with our Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles J Brown, and Bishop Michael Smith of Meath. I welcome all who travelled from Meath and further afield, and those who are following the ceremony in the centres nearby or watching it online. I also warmly welcome the representatives from the other Churches who join with us. Together, in the Lord’s name, let us rejoice.
As we rejoice it is right that we should pay tribute to two recent Church leaders. When Pope Benedict relinquished the Papacy earlier this year, it sent a clear signal about humility, a truly historic act taken for the good of the Church. It is now over three years since Bishop Jim Moriarty, with similar humility, stepped down from office here in Kildare & Leighlin and expressed the hope that it would open the way to a better future for all concerned. Bishop Jim – you will always have our respect and admiration for your service among us and we pray God’s blessing upon you in your retirement, as we also pray for our Pope Emeritus Benedict.
Of course, we now have a new Bishop of Rome and we thank him for sending us Denis as our bishop. The simplicity and sincerity of Pope Francis has attracted much attention and almost universal approval. His little ferverinos at Mass and his simple life style send a clear message to all of us – and may I dare to say it? – especially to anyone taking up a role of leadership in the Church.
His now famous homily to the priests of his diocese of Rome on Holy Thursday is a real challenge. Putting on the chasuble for Mass, he says, the priest or bishop is carrying his flock with all their crosses, pains and anxieties. The oil of Chrism flowing on his head brings him back to his baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but it flows to the outer hem of his garment to remind him he must reach the ‘outskirts’ of society where there is “suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters”. The good shepherd must “put his own skin and his heart on line” and those around him must be able to perceive the “smell of the sheep” off him.
Taking charge of a diocese of 56 parishes with almost ¼ million Catholics is a huge task. So we say that the bishop must be a man of God, a person of prayer, and of faith. But he must also be one with his people. Those twin needs are beautifully highlighted in the lovely sheepfold in the City of the Poor in Lourdes. There we see that balance, that scales, of the founder Monsignor Jean Rodhain. On one side of the scales the tabernacle, the presence of Christ; on the other side the globe of the world and a little sheaf of wheat, symbolising a hungry world. The sides must be evenly balanced.
Putting on Christ and caring for his people can often be a heavy burden. So we pray that Denis’ motto to “serve the Lord with gladness” will lighten even the heaviest crosses that he will be called upon to carry.
Now that we have heard of the task that lies ahead for you I want to assure you, Denis, in the moments before your episcopal ordination, of the warm welcome and good wishes, the support and the prayers of everyone in the diocese for you. We pray that Mary, our mother, to whom you have great devotion, will always intercede for you with her Son, the Good Shepherd, the eternal priest. It is a lovely custom when a priest is ordained, that a word of thanks is offered to his family for providing their son and brother for service in the Church. This is the Silver Jubilee of Father Denis’ ordination so as we welcome his family here today, we again say Thank you, and we are especially mindful of your late parents, Den and Nan, who are surely celebrating with us here today.
Denis, I believe you are the first Meath man to be become Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Now here is a bit of history for you. The two dioceses, Kildare and Leighlin, were united in 1678 on the recommendation of the then Primate, Oliver Plunkett. A number of Meath clergy did serve as Bishops of Kildare in earlier times. In 1270 Nicholas Cusack came from Meath to be Bishop of Kildare after the Pope had annulled the elections of two different contestants for the office. The appointment of Thomas Dillon of Meath to Kildare in 1526 might be of special interest to our Papal Nuncio Archbishop Brown. He was appointed after a 13 year vacancy. (I have to confess that we did not take the risk of sharing this with Archbishop Brown while we waited for the last three years). However Bishop Dillon lasted only 3 years and over the next ten years no less that 4 bishops were appointed until another Meath man, Thady Reynolds was appointed in 1540. But the King, Henry VIII, refused to accept him and appointed his own man instead. Only one Meath man ventured as far south as Leighlin – that was John Mulgan, Rector of the Church of Lin, in Meath in 1420.
Now we have this Meath man, Father Denis, who was born and reared in Slane, where Saint Patrick lit the Easter fire, a fire that Saint Brigid welcomed and scattered across the plains of Kildare. Those two flames – one from Slane and one from Kildare – rightly hold a place of prominence in our cathedral today.
So we again express our thanks to the Diocese of Meath for providing us with a bishop at this time. They have sent us their tallest priest. As I remarked on the day of the announcement in May, this guarantees that we will all look up to him as our Bishop, but I added that we would look forward to sharing that deeper bond in which we will ‘see eye to eye’, and know ourselves truly to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Since then many of us have come to know him much better and all have been impressed by his faith, his enthusiasm and by what might be called his ‘joie de vivre’, and his natural and direct way of engaging with people.
We have also heard of the very high regard in which Father Denis is held in his home diocese and his very dedicated service over 25 years in two busy parishes – Mullingar and Saint Mary’s Drogheda. At the time of his appointment to Drogheda, he was the youngest Parish Priest in the country. Again we should credit Bishop Smith for his foresight, as in a few moments Denis will become the youngest Bishop in the country.
Once ordained Bishop Denis, fully vested as bishop, will be led by Archbishop Martin to the cathedra, the bishop’s seat, which has been vacant for almost 3 ½ years. We give thanks to God (no one more than I) that this seat will be no longer vacant. This is the first occasion in 77 years that a priest has been ordained bishop here to immediately take over as bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.
In Pope Francis we see a fresh, new dynamic wind of the Spirit blowing in the Church and we are confident the same will happen here as we begin this new chapter in this ancient story of Kildare and Leighlin.
As we prepare for Denis’ ordination, let us take with us the words of Saint Paul –
“There is only Christ. He is everything; he is in everything.”
Our faith in the Lord gives us the strength to look to the future with a new hope and confidence. Christ is counting on each of us. As Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, was, so may we let ourselves be enthralled by him.
Denis, we prayed with you and for you in the lead up to today’s ceremony. Our prayer was and is:
Filled with the Holy Spirit,
may you minister with wisdom, understanding and right judgement.
In your leadership of our diocese,
may you display courage, reverence and a deep wonder and awe in God’s presence.
May God hold you close to his heart
so that you may be a humble instrument of his love and compassion in the service of his people. Amen
Monsignor Brendan Byrne
4 August 2013
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