Homily of Father Dan Cavanagh for the Episcopal Ordination Mass of Bishop Dermot Farrell

11 Mar 2018

  • Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Diocese of Ossory

The tone of our celebration today is set by the wonderful Gospel we have heard: ‘Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son’.

As you said to us here, Dermot, in January, ‘Like Mary’s decision at the Annunciation and most major decisions in life, being called to be a bishop is a step into an unknown world’. All leaders begin by taking a step into the unknown. It was ever so. What sustains them is their trust in God and in his Providence and the support and the care of their friends.

So Dermot we hope, that as you leave your Parish of Dunboyne & Kilbride, your Diocese of Meath, your friends and colleagues and begin your journey with us, that you will be able to trust us, your new friends and colleagues and that you will settle here and be happy.

The story of Alexander the Great is an example of trust and friendship: In 336 BC the young Alexander went to his sister’s wedding. During the wedding his father, King Philip of Macedon, was poisoned. It was thought that he was poisoned by the agents of the King of Persia. Alexander thought, ‘I may well be next’ so he hit the road with his army. He was twenty years of age. He was very popular with the army but during the campaign he became violently ill. No doctor would touch him because the army would kill any doctor if he failed to cure Alexander. Travelling with Alexander was a young doctor named Philip, who was a friend and companion of Alexander. Philip said he would treat Alexander and he went to his tent to mix medicine. While he was mixing the medicine a letter was delivered to Alexander saying that the young doctor was in the pay of the King of Persia. The letter said that Doctor Philip had been paid to poison Alexander. When the doctor came to Alexander’s tent and gave Alexander the cup of medicine, Alexander took the cup from Dr Philip. He handed the letter he had received to Philip and then proceeded to drink the contents of the cup as Philip read the message. Alexander was cured. He trusted his young friend Philip. He trusted him because Philip was his friend and he trusted that Philip wanted the same things as he did.

We pray, Dermot, that you will trust our friendship and that as we work together you will find that we want what you want for our diocese.

We thank you for taking on the challenge of becoming our bishop.

What Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago once said to his priests, I say on behalf of all of us: ‘Dermot, our lives and ministries are mingled together through the breaking of the Bread and the blessing of the Cup. Your name will be part of every Eucharistic Prayer celebrated in the Diocese. We will work together, mourn and rejoice together, despair and hope together, dispute and be reconciled together. You are our brother, fellow priest and bishop’.

And for today we call you Dermot, primus inter pares, first among equals.

Our shared love and trust in the providence of God is the bond between us.

Pope Francis tells us, Jesus Christ not just trusts us, He loves us. And the Holy Father goes on, ‘on the lips of the minister the first proclamation must ring out over and over: Jesus Christ loves you; He gave his life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’

The question for each one of us from the four corners of the Diocese of Ossory, gathered here, is what does that love of Christ feel like in the marrow of our bones? As people of God in Ossory, how do we express that love?

Today’s gospel proclaims, ‘the one who lives by the truth comes out into the light’.

Gospel love means living the truth and coming into the light.

Dermot, your appointment brings continued hope to the people of Ossory, as we pray a blessing on your predecessors, Laurence Forristal and Seamus Freeman.

Our hope is based on your past ministry to the people of God in Mullingar, Rome, Tullamore, Maynooth and Dunboyne & Kilbride.

Your ministry has been marked by great dedication to duty, by pastoral zeal, concern for people, boundless energy and a capacity for hard work. You have revealed keen insight, organisational ability and an attention to detail. You can calmly and rationally get to the heart of the matter and analyse situations clearly.

You can keep your counsel, make hard decisions and tell it as it is. Since your student days you have been a decent ‘sagart gealánta’, animated by gospel values. As one sad Westmeath man said, ‘the cats have got the cream but then
the cats always get the cream!’

I know that the priests and the people of the Diocese of Meath are sorry to see you go, and you come here with the prayer and blessing of your people. We are delighted to welcome you as our bishop, our pastor, our leader in the faith.

So, Dermot, what kind of diocese are you coming to serve? I am coyly reminded of what Minister Jenkins said in Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’:
We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood
And Thou, I know, will be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.

The First Reading in today’s Mass reminds us of what can happen. We read ‘All the heads of the Priesthood and the people too added infidelity to infidelity’.

That is the dark side of the picture but the Second Reading gives us the other more hopeful side. Saint Paul tells us: “we are God’s work of art created in Jesus Christ to live the good life as from the beginning he has meant us to live it’

So we are a mixed bag, unfaithful at times but also greatly gifted. We know that even in the best of times, faith is an adventure of darkness and light, seeing through a glass darkly, but God has an eternal habit of forgiveness. God has had plenty of practice at forgiving. He wishes us to treat ourselves and others with his gentleness and compassion. We pray to be people of compassion.

There are many pastoral challenges facing us. As we know there has been a massive change in faith and practice in our diocese and in our country. People say what can we do in the face of such challenges? Our failings teach us that we are poor, poor like the first Apostles. But we each give what we have, and we always have enough to take the next step and the courage to face the unknown.

Today we move forward together with such courage. And we know it won’t always be easy. We each bring our difference and our diffidence, our awkwardness and our own determined point of view to each task. Saint Bernard speaking to his Cistercian confères said, “If you do not have an impossible brother in your community go out and get one.”

We are a bit unlucky, Dermot, in that we have no impossible brother in our midst! We may be foolish and we may be wise but we are never impossible. Together let us become fratres in unum, brothers in unity, a new unity around you, our bishop.

We know that we are an aging priesthood and you, our cherished congregations, are aging too. Yet every generation is called to dream anew. We can dream because the future Church is founded, not by us, but by the Holy Spirit.

So, Bishop-Elect Dermot, we welcome you under the power of the Spirit praying that our dream as God’s people in Ossory, together, will be a dream come true. In a moment you will be anointed Bishop of Ossory. It is a solemn sacred moment and we as a people gathered round you anoint you with our prayers – prayers of well-wishing, prayers of confidence, prayers of fears transformed, prayers of petition and prayers of rejoicing.

We enfold you with the graciousness of the Old Testament Blessing from the Book of Numbers as we pray: ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May he look upon you with kindness and give you his peace’. Amen


· Father Dan Cavanagh is the Parish Priest of Rosbercon in the Diocese of Ossory
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