“Spreading faith, evangelisation as it is called, has a long tradition in the Irish psyche … for our times the missionary vocation for everyone is to know our faith, live our faith, and share our faith” – Archdeacon Casey
Today we gather to honour Saint Colman, patron saint of the Diocese of Cloyne. In our Mass today we ask his blessing and protection on the mission of our diocese today, building the kingdom of God in our own place.
Saint Colman founded his monastery at Cloyne in 561 AD, a mere one hundred years after the death of Saint Patrick. Astonishingly Ireland was already populated with monasteries all over the land, witness to the extraordinary fruit of the mission of Saint Patrick. The monastery which Colman founded would grow to become a monastic city and its functioning would cover much of Munster, that later became the Diocese of Cloyne as we know it today.
Much was happening at that time in the blossoming Irish Church. I take just two examples that can inspire us. At the time that Colman was founding his monastery at Cloyne, Colmcille was setting out from Finian’s monastery at Clonard, County Meath, with twelve disciples, to found a new monastery at Iona in Scotland. Such was the energy of his mission that by his death sixty monastic communities would be founded throughout Scotland and Northern England.
Then there is Columbanus, born forty years after Colmcille, probably our greatest Irish missionary, his feast-day was celebrated all over Europe yesterday. He set out from Bangor with twelve disciples, in 590 AD. He landed in Brittany, and would go on to establish monasteries at Annagrey, Fontains, Luxeuil and Bobbio in the twenty-five years before he died in 651 AD. From these monasteries and their subsidiary foundations, the faith was replanted in a Europe where it had been wiped out by the barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman Empire. Spreading faith, evangelisation as it is called, has a long tradition in the Irish psyche.
We can recall the missionary impact of the last century, within our own memory. The numbers of missionaries who went out from this land in the 1900’s to every nation on the planet, think of the:
- Maynooth Missions to China, founded by two priests, Edward Galvin and John Blowick, now under the mantle of Saint Columbanus;
- Saint Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kiltegan;
- The Society of the African Missions;
- Religious Orders and their the missions to Africa, India, Japan South America, Australia which were missonised by Irish diocesan priests since 1838;
- United States of America and Britain were sustained by our priests, brothers and nuns;
- Nuns and brothers who taught and still teach in these lands. They are our neighbours, our families, our heroes. And the faith that set them on fire for these missions was born in the homes of Ireland, supported by the families of Ireland.
This is where faith was, and is, nurtured. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. God works through parents and grandparents and the family home. That is the first missionary territory.
Confronted by the tide of secularism moving through our world, during his historic visit to Poland in 1979, Saint Pope John Paul II called for what he called “a new evangelisation”, a new proclaiming of the Gospel, a new conversion to faith, a new awakening of faith, especially for those born into Christianity who had lost their faith in Christ Jesus. This new conversion was also his call to all believers.
This new call was taken up by Pope Benedict XVI and most recently by Pope Francis is his encyclical, issued just a year ago, Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel. The Holy Father places the New Evangelization at the very centre of the Church and focuses everything else on it. It is about recovering the missionary vocation of everyone. This has become the mission and vision for the Church of our time.
If God so blessed the mission of Saint Colman and Saint Colmcille and Saint Columbanus, God can place the same Holy Spirit at the heart of our mission today.
For our times an easy way to think of this new evangelisation is under three headings:
- Know your faith;
- Live your Faith; and,
- Share your faith.
In many Irish dioceses, including our own, these are already afoot. The most significant perhaps, is the first: getting to know your faith. In our Diocese of Cloyne, close on one hundred people have committed themselves to weekly guided study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a three year in-depth course on deepening their knowledge of their faith.
Since last year the launch of The Family Prayer Book, published by Veritas, in our diocese has seen demand exceed 22,000 copies. This level of interest indicates a hunger in the hearts of many for a new spirit in their lives.
At the moment 23,000 ‘Confession Cards’ are being distributed throughout the diocese with a view to Christmas Confessions.
These are but three of several initiatives in our diocese. The journey has already begun: Know your faith, live your faith, share your faith!
My reflection began with the astonishing results of the missionary efforts undertaken by Patrick and Colmcille and Columbanus, and their multiple colleagues. Those results were born of faith and courage. Let that faith and courage be ours in our time, in a new evangelisation to renew the face of the earth, “for by his blood he has redeemed men for God from every tribe and tongue and nation.” (Rev. 5.9)
Know your faith Live your Faith Share your faith
- Archdeacon Gerard Casey is a priest of the Diocese of Cloyne. This homily was preached for the annual concelebrated Mass with Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne, and the Chapter of the diocese, at Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, on 24 November 2015
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