Homily of Bishop Brendan Leahy at Saint Mary’s Church, Limerick
I am delighted to be here in St. Mary’s for this Sunday Vigil Mass. I know that some of you are here because tomorrow you will have an early start to get to Dublin for the minor and senior matches. So let’s include in our prayers today the teams, all who are travelling, all the supporters.
During this past week, over two and a half thousand students in Limerick eagerly opened their Leaving Cert results envelope. For each one of them, whether the results were good, bad or indifferent, getting the results marked a specific moment in their lives. It was a day for drawing a line in the sand. After years at school, after making subject options, after choosing friends, after the chore of study, now they have a result and with it a time to take stock. Now they are moving on – whether in expectation of the CAO results, looking for work, taking up new employment or deciding to repeat the Leaving Cert. We wish them well. It’s a time of new choices, new beginnings, new options.
Also during the week, Limerick city itself got its moment for drawing a line in the sand, taking stock and making new options. It came with the news of the conviction of the murderer of an innocent man, the twenty-eight year old noted rugby player and fan, the late Shane Geoghegan. Media outlets reminded us of the horrific facts of his murder. Hearing or reading about the evil intentions and recklessness involved as well as the callous indifference to life was indeed chilling. We remember his family especially at this time.
The publicity around this trial reminded again of the horrible spectre of gang rivalry and crime. We heard of criminality that was lurking all around us in various parts of this city at that time. Thankfully the Gangland rules of “silence” have been overturned by those prepared to speak words of truth and to work for truth and justice. Tribute has been paid to the Gardaí, the legal system, the judiciary, and the witnesses for their part in getting us to this point of being able to successfully stand up to criminal behaviour and say: “enough, no more, this is horribly evil; it is not worthy of the dignity of our city”.
Naming an evil, though often painful to do, is always a necessary moment in overcoming it. When I was appointed to Limerick, as well as congratulating me, one of the things people said to me, half-serious, half-joking: “Isn’t Limerick the crime capital of Ireland”. It irritated me and yet I had to recognise that criminal violence and social problems have been part of this city’s story and had to be named. But they are only part of the story. That’s why I was so pleased to hear someone say to me at an event in Dublin this week, the evening after the conviction: “Since yesterday we know now, Limerick is different”. And I also met a young man who told me he studied here and really liked our city. The reality is that those, like me, who get to know Limerick, the true Limerick, love Limerick.
Yes, Limerick is a wonderful city along the Shannon, with a fine history, dignified buildings, literary figures and artistic achievements. In recent times, there is a new energy around. We have the 2030 plan in place, full of ambition and vision. New civic arrangements are being put in place that are bringing the city and county together. The Limerick Year of Culture is just around the corner. Our airport in Shannon is resurgent. Physical regeneration is starting to take shape. Many steps have been taken to create a better place for all of us.
So we can take solace in the significance of this week’s triumph over gangland evil because it has helped us draw a line in the sand regarding a particularly insidious threat to us all and build upon the great potential of our city.
And we pray that now this line has been drawn, that those who would heretofore have stayed on the dark side will cross over into the light. We pray that the great work of recent years in cutting through the evil web of crime in our city is not undone and that Limerick continues flourishes – for all its people.
As we celebrate this evening’s Mass in the oldest of the five original parishes of Limerick city, we need both to remember our roots and be grateful for significant developments of this week. But we also need to move on. Just like the young people who were shown their results and now move on to making their choices, as a city, we too need now, not only to name the difficult aspects of our story, but also to help “re-name”, as it were, our city.
In the place of that awful catch-cry of ‘crime city’, let us work to make Limerick known as a sanctuary-city where life is respected, where people feel safe, a people-city where, as well as developments in business, industry and the arts, the social capital of our relationships with one another will be admired as an example for other cities.
We will never build a new city in the shape of a people-city, a sanctuary city without people who are new, people who themselves are renewed. And that means there’s a personal choice set before for each one of us: to believe that good wins out over evil, that truth really sets us free and that love conquers all. It is the message Jesus brings. And in this week, we can renew our confidence in his Good News. Evil did not get its way this past week. Ultimately those who choose the path of evil will fall.
Belief that good wins out over evil is a vision of life that has to be lived out day by day in small practical ways in the family, within a parish or neighbourhood, in a business concern or in a school. It means taking risks in speaking up when faced with denial of truth or reaching out in situations where there is a lack of justice or love. Christianity is not a joke. It means action. We can make our own the words of St. John of the Cross: “where there is no love, put love, and you will find love”. Where there is no truth, put truth and you will find truth. Where there is no healing, put healing and you will find healing. Where there is no peace, put peace, and you will find peace.
In this sense, each of us needs to be pro-active, being the first to love; not waiting for others to take the initiative. And this can mean choosing to swim against the tide, not accepting ways of thinking or acting just because others are saying or doing this or that. Yes, Jesus wants us to be a tight-knit community but, as is clear from today’s Gospel, that can’t mean being a closed community, limited only to caring for those who are our own people, those who are part of our gang (and we can all have our own “gang” in terms of mentality and prejudices). Jesus wants us to be a community with his Gospel measure of truly laying down your life for others.
In other words, taking the initiative involves a cost. The prophet Jeremiah also shows us this. He was sent on mission to build up his society in his time. He was attacked by his own brothers, derided and persecuted as a false prophet, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a well and given up for dead. Yet, Jeremiah did not give up. God had promised him: “I know the plans I have for you; they are plans for peace, not disaster”. Jeremiah believed and kept on going. He kept running steadily in the race, as the second reading puts it. God is on the side of those working to build up networks of solidarity, justice and peace.
In this week of Leaving Cert results and the judicial drawing of a line in the sand for Limerick, we can certainly be thankful, but we need also to concentrate now on building a better future. Ultimately, we are heading towards the eternal city where we hope to live forever. But even now, we are called to give our contribution to transforming this city. Each of us can examine our heart and ask ourselves if we are doing our part. Perhaps we will discover some way we need to move out of our comfort zone in spiritually laying down our lives for others. Are there small or large tensions in our own personal or neighbour relationships that need attention? Are there members of this city that we might get to know better? Are there new ways that we can reach out to one another? Are there small or large initiatives we can take that might lead to work possibilities for others?
Jesus says he wants to bring the fire of love and truth, justice and peace on earth. He can only do it in and through us. It is Jesus-Us who continues his mission now. It is by looking to Jesus Crucified and Risen that we find the inspiration and courage to keep running the race of faith that works through love. But we can also help each other, being witnesses to one another, encouraging one another, supporting one another.
This week has given us a significant signal. We can start again. This city can, and is being given a new name, a positive name, a hopeful name. A name it deserves so that in the future, while the scars of our city’s history will remain, we will have gone beyond the wounds of fear and gangland terror, of dark and troubled socio-economic circumstances and divisions. In going beyond these wounds, we will learn from our troubles and so be able to help people in their troubles. If we take up this opportunity and build up a sanctuary-city, a people-city, then others will discover hope in us. Instead of being cited as an example of a city in despair, we will be cited as an example of hope.
For those who experience fear, Limerick city will show the way of safety;
For those who experience humiliation and dejection, Limerick city will be a beacon of hope;
For those who experience calumny, Limerick city will offer understanding;
For those who feel caught in vicious dynamics of violence, Limerick will indicate the ways of truth, justice and peace;
For those ensnared in a valley of death, Limerick will be a city of light and life, love and peace.
As one dark chapter of our story concludes, it’s now worth as a city aiming high for the future. In the words of today’s reading, let us “throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started.”