Saint Mary’s Church, Drumagarner, Kilrea, Co Derry
“It is profoundly counter-cultural when someone is not afraid of commitment and is deeply in love with the Lord who calls them to walk forward in trust …Your greatest asset as a priest will not be your theology qualifications but that Christ-like heart which people see in you.” – Bishop McKeown
The ordination to the priesthood of Rev Malachy Gallagher (33) took place yesterday (Sunday 30 July) in the Diocese of Derry. Kilrea is the parish where Father Gallagher’s family lives. Father Gallagher is the son of Colum and Teresa Gallagher and brother of Lisa and Gerard. He is qualified as a speech therapist from University of Ulster. He spent time as a seminarian for the Diocese of Derry in Saint Malachy’s Seminary, Belfast, and at the Pontifical Irish College, Rome. Father Gallagher then spent some years in formation with Divine World Missionaries in Chicago and Taiwan. He speaks Mandarin Chinese. Father Gallagher returned to the Irish College as a student for the diocese and has spent the last year as a Deacon in the Parish of Templemore in Derry City.
Just as with a wedding, an ordination to the priesthood is a wonderful occasion. A person not only feels enthused about a particular way of life or partnership – but is prepared to make a life-long commitment to whatever the future might hold. In an age of radical uncertainty about what the years ahead might hold, and a philosophy of truth that is based on ‘my feelings’ being infallible, it is profoundly counter-cultural when someone is not afraid of commitment and is deeply in love with the Lord who calls them to walk forward in trust, whatever the future might hold. That person is blessed to believe that a crisis is not so much sign that they made a bad decision as a test of their commitment. The Lord tests those whom He loves.
In that context our readings today are really nourishing when it comes to the ordination of Malachy Gallagher.
Our first reading presents King Solomon as he takes over from David his father. He has wealth and power, status and influence. What more could he want? His answer is simple – wisdom. The Book of Wisdom, a book attributed to Solomon, will later say
For I am your servant, the son of your maidservant
A feeble man, with little understanding of justice and laws.
Indeed, were anyone perfect among the human race, if they lacked the wisdom that comes from you, they would be regarded as nothing. Wisdom (9:5-6)
Ministry in Jesus’ name is not about showing off how much you have learnt and how talented you are. Saint Paul happily talked about all preachers being ‘earthenware vessels holding a great treasure to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God an not from us.’ (2 Cor 4:7). As Solomon makes clear in his own case, the Lord has captured and wants to keep moulding your heart and not just your head. Jesus did not impress people because he had nice theological insights. He reached the hearts of lepers and the Samaritan woman, of fishermen and the Syro-Phoenician woman because heart spoke unto heart.
Your greatest asset as a priest will not be your theology qualifications but that Christ-like heart which people see in you. The greatest wisdom you will have to offer will come from a heart that knows and loves Jesus. Otherwise you are offering just yourself – and talented though you may be, you have no power to save the world! Use the talents you have to bring people to Jesus and not to put yourself in the way. Loving the Lord with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself will not be guaranteed after today’s ceremony. It is your search for this love that must dominate the rest of your life. If you do not have Jesus, you cannot bring him to others. Pray for that childlike wisdom.
Our second reading shows Paul as he reflects on the trust in God which keeps him going. God works for good with all those whom He calls. The call of the Lord may, as in Paul’s case, drag them through prison, floggings, shipwreck and rejection – but that is the way we are invited to become images of God’s Son. Indeed, Paul will write elsewhere that the pain he suffers as an apostle are proof, not of his being a fake but of his authenticity as an announcer of Jesus.
As the disciples on the road to Emmaus discovered, God does not measure history against the criteria of human successes. As we heard in recent Sunday Gospels, you are invited to be a sower of good seed on ground that you have prepared. Since the seed will bear the most fruit in deep soil, it will be your job to remove weeds and stones and to protect the seed from hungry birds.
Your role as teacher, sanctifier and leader will that you will constantly getting your hands dirty and scarred. Labour with the sweat of your brow for only then can you have the smell of the sheep.
Your ministry will often not be welcome because Jesus’ message says that the world will not be saved by better laws, more things or new political units. The world will be healed by virtue in the human heart and not just by legislation in human parliaments. Poverty and war will not be overcome merely by more collections, taxes or philanthropy but by the remaking of the human heart through grace. A New Ireland will never be created through political changes alone but when human hearts are softened. A New Ireland, ruled by old hard hearts, will never make us humane. After all, when the personal God is banished to the sidelines, the human person does not become the focus of attention. Rather we place our trust in impersonal human structures out there as if they could save us from ourselves. Trust in the wisdom of God who calls you today – even when your living and proclamation of the Gospel leaves you feeling abandoned in Gethsemane or in agony on Calvary. For God will be in your pain, uncertainty and panic. Belief in a fair-weather God is childish. Belief in a gritty God takes an adult commitment to be childlike and be able to say ‘not my will but yours be done’. Today you assume the public role of mirroring that Jesus.
In our Gospel from the end of the chapter of parable sin Matthew’s Gospel, we heard about the pearl of great price. Malachy, you have discovered a treasure hidden in a field and a pearl of great price. The way of life that you take on today through the grace of ordination is to be a constant sign, a sacrament of the beauty that you have found.
Celibacy and simplicity of life-style are not impositions from a harsh Church, rather an invitation from a loving God. Whether we are married, celibate, ordained, consecrated or single, we will be salt to the earth and light to the world only if we live as if we believed that life here is not as good as it gets. Live the sort of life that will inspire generous young people to do beautiful things for God. After all, our culture gives young hearts little to dream about. We tell them just to have fun and to do whatever you think – and each person is left to find some paltry value in a life lived without values. Your life style will be a protest against the stifling hedonism that is presented as the best we can hope for. Belief in God is not repression of our dignity but an invitation to the individual greatness that is God’s dream for each of us. Never cease to cherish the treasure you have found and keep finding ways to share your joy.
Malachy, you once trained as a speech therapist. Then, while studying in Taiwan you learned Mandarin Chinese. But over the past years, God has been teaching you to speak a new language so you can help others, especially after they have been hit by the paralysis that comes from sin, abuse or distance from God. Building up a family around Jesus who is the eldest of many brothers and sisters will be difficult. It is not easy to help people learn and practice the new language of grace. Many people are hurt and distrustful. But keep building up in people the belief that they are called to be true images of the Son of God. Build them into communities of disciples and, through their belonging, build them into missionaries who will speak this new language.
The Lord wants to share his glory with all of humankind. That will mean helping people to not be afraid of living in the real world and to avoid any childish escape into a virtual one where salvation will not be found. Speak the truth, live the truth and love the truth – and do so because you have discovered the ‘One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ And the God, who co-operates with all those who love him, will give you a heart wise and shrewd.
- Bishop Donal McKeown is Bishop of Derry
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