Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary for the ordination Mass of Father Seán Flynn

08 Jun 2014

“The vocational call to priesthood is profoundly countercultural because the primary dominating voices today stress doing one’s own thing. We felt drawn to God. We are dependent on the support, encouragement and prayers of so many people on our journey … It is into that role that Seán is being ordained today on this Pentecost Sunday” – Archbishop Neary

An old African proverb states “It takes a village to rear a child”. We gather today to pray with and for Seán Flynn as we celebrate his ordination to the priesthood. Vocations are born in families where love and self-denial are the fabric of daily life, where there is gentleness, compassion, willingness to forgive, a concern for justice and an openness to God’s call. So many people have been part of Seán’s formation. His family and his neighbours. His teachers, the local Church, people, religious and priests in Castlebar, staff and colleagues in Maynooth and priests of our Archdiocese of Tuam. We gather today to give thanks to God for the call which has been extended to Seán, for his very generous ‘yes’ to that call and for the way in which so many people here in the congregation and elsewhere have enabled him to discern that it was God who was calling.

Why did Seán contemplate following Jesus Christ as a priest? Why does any man or woman decide to marry? Why does a religious or priest decide to follow their particular vocation? There are as many answers to that question as there are people in those respective vocations. Underlying all of the answers must be love, whether that be love for the other person in the case of marriage, or love for Jesus Christ in the case of the religious and the priest. There is no short or simple answer. The call came to us and yes we have also chosen it freely: we have said “yes” to our vocation. In Seán’s case he has not only a sense of the one who called, but he has also a sense of what it means to be called. In many respects the vocational call to priesthood is profoundly countercultural because the primary dominating voices today stress doing one’s own thing. We felt drawn to God. Every priest will tell you that we have done nothing to deserve this call. Nobody has a right to it. We are dependent on the support, encouragement and prayers of so many people on our journey.

In the Bible, calling and creating are closely associated (Mark 3). The evangelist tells us that Jesus “calls to him those whom he wished”. “He created them twelve” and for a two-fold purpose – firstly, “to be with him” and secondly, to be sent out to preach. In a busy world of hectic activity the priest will be drawn into all kinds of situations, situations which our predecessors may never have imagined. Reading the signs accurately requires that the priest be a contemplative – receiving life, health, those around us, love, friendship as gift. Becoming a more grateful person is absolutely essential for a priestly ministry.

This is what is involved in being “with Jesus”. We do not have answers to all the problems which confront us and we would be very foolish indeed to think that we have and yet there is a quiet confidence, inspired by our relationship in prayer with Jesus Christ. We acknowledge our shortcomings and yet realise that the Lord can work through imperfect instruments. We recognise that we are working on behalf of the Lord and also represent the Church, a Church where there is weakness, compromise, luke-warmness, complacency and sin, and yet it is within the Church that we have access to the scriptures, the sacraments and pastoral care. When the sick, the anxious, the poor and the lonely come to us it is because we are Christ’s instruments.

Seán, as a minister of Jesus Christ, will baptise children not yet born, will forgive sins not yet committed, will journey with people in their pain and loneliness, will point people in the direction of hope and healing. But first he will be someone who knows the Lord, listens to Him in prayer and shares with Him the ups and downs of his priestly ministry.

The priest today must be an agent of hope in what often might seem a hopeless situation. There are moments in the life of any transformative leader when hope is eclipsed by clouds of doubt – not about God, but about the people and above all about oneself. There are times when we feel like giving up. Moses, Jeremiah and prophets reached points of such despair that they prayed to die. Today, I ask for the supportive prayers of all present here today for Seán and indeed all priests as we endeavour to live our vocation. In Seán’s pastoral relationships with his people he will experience moments of transfiguration, and like the disciples on the Emmaus Road his eyes will be opened as he empathises with his parishioners in their joys and sorrows. While this can be exhausting it can also be a time of great fulfilment and serenity.

As we priests work with and encourage the baptised faithful to assume their responsibilities we learn from them and acknowledge that in our respective vocations, working together we help to build up the Church as Christ’s body. We allow ourselves to be corrected, supported and challenged by our brothers and sisters. The life to which Seán commits himself today can only be fully understood in the light of faith. As priests we cannot ignore the many warnings of the Bible about “bad shepherds”, who have no love for their sheep. Indeed the suffering that is part of any leadership position in the Church today and the responsibility which it carries should bring humility. While the image of the priest has evolved over the years and life styles have changed, nevertheless, the central role of the priest has remained unchanged.

It is into that role that Seán is being ordained today on this Pentecost Sunday. It provides all of us with an opportunity to rethink the way in which we have been sent. “Receive the Holy Spirit”, is a promise from the risen Jesus to a fearful Church. The Holy Spirit refers to the intruding, invasive, energising power from God that blows us beyond ourselves, to take actions, to dare dreams, to run risks that in our accustomed powerlessness are well beyond us. The assurance of Jesus is that God will be with us always, until the end of time.

We are in great need of the Holy Spirit today as we encounter situations which by ourselves we are unable to address but which with the Holy Spirit we can create new opportunities, enabling us to scale new heights and impressing upon us the fact that the work in which we are involved is God’s work. On this special occasion I make a heartfelt plea to you all to renew your prayer for vocations to priesthood and religious life. Maybe there is someone here present today who is contemplating such a vocation, I ask you to pray with me for that person today that that call will receive a generous response. We pray with and for Seán that with the Holy Spirit as his guiding agent he will always be a true minister of Jesus Christ bringing hope and healing to our wounded world.

Notes to Editors

· Archbishop Michael Neary is the Archbishop of Tuam. This Ordination Mass took place at 2:30pm today in the Church of the Holy Rosary, Chapel Street, Castlebar, Co Mayo in the Archdiocese of Tuam. The Archdiocese includes half of County Mayo, half of County Galway and part of County Roscommon. There are 56 parishes, 131 churches and the Archdiocese has a Catholic population of 121,843. The Patron Saint of the Archdiocese is Saint Jarlath, whose feast day was celebrated on Friday last, 6 June.

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