Homily of Bishop Brendan Leahy, Saint Munchin’s College, Limerick
There’s a recent tradition here in St. Munchin’s of first years filling time capsules with letters to themselves outlining their dreams and hopes for the future. It’s a good thing to do because as the Bible puts it (Prov 29:18), without a vision people perish. It is following their dreams and hopes that past students like Donal O’ Grady went on to become captain of the Limerick team and Keith Earls, Donnacha Ryan, Denis Hurley, Danny Barnes, Conor Murray and Alan Cotter became members of the Munster Squad, while past pupils like Kieran O’Donnell and Niall Collins became TDs and Tim O’Connor became very involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. Several of the past pupils became priests of the diocese of Limerick.
I wonder if fifty years ago today, the members of very large gathering that watched the then Minister for Education and future president of Ireland, Dr. Patrick J. Hillery cut the tape, marking the opening of this building, were given time-capsules, what might they have put in them? What dreams and hopes would they have had for this school? No doubt, they would have hoped for great progress in years ago. Because St. Munchin’s, the oldest school in Limerick, already had a great reputation. There already was great demand to get into the college. The then President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera who was in attendance told of how he had sat the entrance exam for St. Munchin’s College, but had failed to secure a place!
Fifty years afterwards, it’s now our turn to tell our stories as well as share our hopes and dreams for the future. How have things gone in these past fifty years? How are things now? How would we like them to be in the future? I won’t be distributing time-capsules, but why don’t we stop for a moment and imagine we have one. Let’s place into it our thanks for the progress made in the past fifty years, our desires for the stage the school is now at, and then also our dreams and hopes for the next years of this school. In our mind’s eye, at this ceremony, let’s place those time-capsules on the altar. And when the priest pours the drop of water into the wine, let’s imagine we are pouring our hopes and dreams and desires into the wine so that they get offered with Jesus’ offering in the Mass.
In terms of the past, we can be grateful. So much has gone on. We cannot but be grateful to God for the many fine students and staff, including many priests of Limerick diocese, who have contributed to the progress of this college. It is wonderful to see so many past pupils and staff here. Your good deeds live on in the atmosphere of the college. There is one event that has marked the past fifty years. Many of you probably don’t know much about but it is very important also for this college. I’m referring to the Second Vatican Council. It was a large worldwide gathering of Catholic Church in Rome to reflect on how best the Church might move forward in a world that is changing rapidly. The outcome of the Council was a dream of a Church that would be more dynamic, more of service, more of dialogue. And one of the major points of that Council was that the lay profile of the Church should emerge more clearly. All of that shaped the past fifty years of this college as it embraced new teaching methodologies, new resources, new ways. The number of lay staff increased. And, as well as men going on to be priests, many young men went on to take up active roles in their local communities. One of the things that has struck me going around the diocese is the men I meet who say to me: “I was St. Munchin’s”. They are proud of that and they feel a special link with the diocese. Many of them are involved in various ways – in parish councils, chairpersons of boards of management of schools and local community leaders. As the First Reading puts it, they are acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with God.
In terms of the present, we can see that the school has reached a new stage. There is a greater interaction of staff, students and their families. There is greater use of IT and social media. There has been building renovation and we will celebrate that another day. But today it is right that we refer to a significant development that marks the new stage of the college fifty years after its re-location here in Corbally, namely, the appointment of the first lay principal, Mr. David Quilter who I congratulate on this occasion and wish him well. This new step is a sign of the new things that God is doing. As I said, the Holy Spirit is prompting the Catholic Church today to highlight the lay vocation. The Church isn’t just the Pope, bishops and priests. The Church is the whole people of God and all of you are an expression of the Church. As the Second Reading reminds us, a reading from which the college motto comes, there is a wide variety of ways of living by the truth and in love.
In terms of the future, what dreams and hopes might we put into the time-capsule? Yes, of course, we need to name the goals we’d like to reach in academics, in sports, in personal relationships. Ultimately we want progress in the future, as did those who were here 50 years ago. And progress can really only be achieved when it is one with God.
Progress in my eyes would also very much be in you taking up the challenge I am about to set for you, an ask that may not be what you were expecting from me today. I want to invite you to do something that will make this oldest college in Limerick really special. Why not aim to make this school a place where it is “cool” to believe in God, to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, and the Church he founded on earth? It’s my dream for today.
Is it a realistic dream? Or is it somehow too ‘uncool’ to say ‘I believe in God’? I would suggest not. There is plenty of example of those who do so whom I’m sure you would agree are quite cool in their own right.
Take next Sunday’s All-Ireland football semi-final – and bear in mind I am split down the middle on this one having been raised between Dublin and Kerry. But, although the Dublin team is not named yet, its centre back and probably the most physical and hardened of all of their players, Ger Brennan, has spoken openly about his faith and belief in God. Indeed he is on record as saying that one of his goals in life, along with football success, is deepening his relationship with God.’ Is Ger Brennan cool? You might not think so if you were a Kerry fan watching his tackle on Declan O’Sullivan in the All-Ireland final two years ago. You would have said more hard than cool. But Ger Brennan has conviction and one of his convictions is in God.
There are plenty of other international stars of sport and stage that you probably could say, yeah, they’re cool, who happily declare their faith in God.
Think of actor Mark Wahlberg, who found redemption in Christ which enabled him turn away from his difficult youth, being a member of a gang in Boston. Think of Michael Jordan, the most famous basketball player of all timE, soccer stars Kaka, Ronaldo, Pele.
Perhaps we need to be more explicit about our faith today than they were fifty years ago. As the Gospel puts it, the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. The world more than ever needs people who are prepared to make a difference in life, who are not afraid to say they believe in God, that they are prepared to be leaders in that sense of going against the current, standing up for truth and solidarity, not settling for half-truths they hear about the Church. After all the Church has been around for two thousand years, done enormous amount of good and, despite the obvious limits of some, has contributed to building up a more fraternal world, a world that is more united and at peace.
I was struck by an interview I read where someone asked Bono did he not think that belief in Jesus as the Son of God was farfetched. Bono replied: “No, it’s not farfetched to me.”
I put it to you that to really believe in Jesus means at least four things:
- Be radical. Take the Gospel, read it and put Jesus’ words into practice. You’ll see it makes a difference.
- Make good friends. It’s what Jesus did. Together with your friends, work on projects that build up this world according to the Golden Rule that the Gospel gives: “treat others as you would like them to treat you”.
- Live your faith 24/7. Believing in Jesus is not just about going to Mass – though that is really important because that’s a key moment when you meet Jesus. It’s not about saying prayers, though that’s important – look at Donncha O’Callaghan saying his prayers before and after matches! Living your faith 24/7 means bringing the Gospel vision into all aspects of your life – from the way you use money to the way you go about relationships, from the way you use facebook to the way you study.
- Recognise that following Jesus means knowing how to take up your own personal cross in life and transform suffering into love.
Fifty years ago, little did they know that on that same day across the Atlantic in Washington DC, Martin Luther King was giving his “I have a dream” speech. I was delighted to see that the Youtube clip of it is up on the college website. Full marks to whichever of you thought of that. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” was to change American society. He believed in God, in Jesus. The re-location of St. Munchin’s to Corbally is linked to that “I have a dream” day. As each of us imaginatively fills our time-capsule today, let’s be thankful, let’s hand over to God our dreams and hopes, and, above all, let’s decide, each of us personally and together, to work so as to make this school a place where it’s cool to believe in God, in Jesus, 24/7.
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