I welcome you all as we celebrate the twenty-fifth in-service of the Tuam Presbyterate. Our in-service Silver Jubilee had to be postponed last year, but thank God it is possible for us to gather, belatedly, for it this year.
Ours must be a faith-filled response
When we gathered here in Hotel Westport in the autumn of 1996 for our first annual in-service, we had 115 diocesan priests in full-time ministry within, and 5 in ministries outside the Archdiocese. We were assisted by 15 non-diocesans at that time, and 10 priests were fully retired. There were also 14 seminarians for the diocese in seminaries in Ireland and in Rome. Today, we have 47 diocesan priests in full-time ministry; we are assisted by 11 others; 1 diocesan priest working outside the diocese, and 34 priests are fully retired. There are two seminarians. Let me mention here out indebtedness to many of our retired priests for their availability and for so generously giving of themselves to assist with their ministry. We are living in a very different era. What the future will be like; who knows? It seems there are two alternatives in our approach to life right now: either the faith-filled approach or a negative one. We can choose to approach it either as men of faith looking forward to where the Spirit of God may be leading us, or not. For us as priests, ours must be a faith-filled response. As men of faith there will be a great temptation for us to be sucked into the vortex of political fragmentation which is rampant in the society around us. It can be so easy to get lost in the cynicism that we read about in the Book of Qohelet or Ecclesiastes and which is captured in the well-known repetition “there is nothing new under the sun”. Yet the Gospel we preach continues to emphasise that we believe in and proclaim Someone ever-vibrant and ever-new. Remember that powerful line from Sunday’s second reading: “The word of God is something alive and active …” The Gospel we preach is always fresh and relevant. This newness, in our preaching and in our pastoral ministry, however, is never realised in a continuous repetition of the old.
Moments of grace
As we are preparing to set out together with open minds on a Synodal Pathway, Pope Francis’ words in his homily on Sunday in Saint Peter’s Basilica are helpful. He said, “In these days of the Synod, Jesus calls us, as he did the rich man in the Gospel, to empty ourselves, to free ourselves from all that is worldly, including our inward looking and worn-out pastoral models, and to ask ourselves what it is that God wants to say to us in this time – and the direction in which He wants to lead us.” So, we look forward to something new, exciting, encouraging, and life-giving.
Perhaps the respite that we have had with Covid has been providential. It has provided us with what you might call a sos, a rest, a time when we could take stock, reflect on what has been taking place, and reassess the way in which we live our priestly vocation. We have had an altogether new experience. We discovered a new approach to sacraments – for example the Sacrament of Confirmation without the Mass (and without the Archbishop!), smaller numbers, more dignified celebrations, and perhaps more dignified First Holy Communion and Marriage ceremonies too. Perhaps we are better equipped and more open now where the Holy Spirit is leading us through this Synodal Pathway. Coming, as it does, in the wake of the pandemic, the Synodal Pathway proposed by the Holy Father, is a moment of grace for us. And while so much has been achieved in parishes and in the diocese in different ways through various committees and councils, there will always be those who feel left out and left behind. Therefore, we must endeavour with all our might to leave nobody out and nobody behind on this journey. We need to see that those who are not in the Church’s inner circle are invited, included and encouraged to walk together with us.
Already on a synodal pathway
During my ministry as Archbishop, we have had to respond to the declining number of priests. We have been challenged by the increasingly rapid secularisation and the challenge for faith; how to present the Gospel in a society which is so busy about so many other things. How to present the beauty of the world and creation in a society which is so concerned about commercialisation and utilisation, how to present marriage and the stability of love in a highly sexualised world which at times can be so hedonistic. In rising to this challenge, we have been blessed by those who have worked so diligently and professionally in Family Ministry especially in The Family Life Centre in Castlebar and in the Family Life Ministry in Knock, and to those in ACCORD who helped prepare couples for marriage and who helped those who experienced difficulties thereafter.
We have been concerned about planning and clustering and pastoral development. We have endeavoured to promote vocations. We have successfully completed the Permanent Diaconate programme, and I look forward, please God, to ordaining our first Permanent Deacons at the end of November this year.
As an Archdiocese, we have played our part in promoting the time-honoured practice of pilgrimage to Knock, Croagh Patrick, Máméan and Ballintubber. I am proud of the Holy See’s recent recognition of Knock as an International Eucharistic and Marian Shrine which continues to welcome over a million pilgrims annually including, in 2018, Pope Francis himself. I am very proud of our geographical and spiritual closeness to these places made holy by the prayers and pilgrim feet of God’s people. These places of pilgrimage were here long before any of us and they will outlive all of us.
We have recently refurbished our beautiful Cathedral. We have, in every parish and church area, responded to the anxiety associated with the pastoral demands of the Covid pandemic.
Over the years, we have invested very heavily in Safeguarding Children, and, thank God, as a result, children are much safer now in the Archdiocese due to your own heroic efforts and those of our many collaborators at parochial and diocesan level. While we must always guard against complacency, the good position in which we find ourselves now in terms of Safeguarding Children is due to the leadership provided by both priests and laity, the single-minded determination to develop and follow best practice, the resources that have been produced and made available, and the training that has taken place. I expect the Final Report of the recent Safeguarding Review of the Archdiocese of Tuam, carried out by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, to confirm this.
The John Paul II Awards take place in schools and parishes throughout the Archdiocese now. These, and many other initiatives, like Net Ministries, could not have happened without your generosity, encouragement, dedication, determination and support, and for that I want to say a very special word of thanks to you and to all those you have encouraged and who now work with you, and who are part of our pastoral and planning groups both at parish and at diocesan level.
I don’t claim any personal credit for any of the work that has been done in the Archdiocese over the years. Rather, I see it as work that has been done by yourselves and myself together as a team and, it must be acknowledged, at times at a cost and a price to all of us. The title of John Dalrymple’s book on discipleship captures it perfectly: Costing Not Less Than Everything. However, it is, I believe, true to say, and I am pleased to acknowledge it publicly at this particular time, that we have been in this diocese, already on a synodal pathway for many years.
Moving on from the pandemic
The last two years, of course, have been particularly difficult due to Covid, but hopefully we can return to that collaborative working relationship which has been so visible a trademark here for such a long time. I pray God’s blessing and the protection of Our Lady of Knock on your priestly ministry as you continue to live out your ordination promises in the great work you do day in and day out across the Archdiocese of Tuam.
Challenges of Office, Gratitude, Forgiveness, Succession
As you know, I came into office at a challenging time in the history of the Church and in the history of the Archdiocese. Some very difficult decisions had to be taken, and I want to thank those who helped me in reaching those decisions. I have been particularly blessed in those who worked with me. It has not been easy at times, particularly when I was in possession of information which I could not, for reasons of confidentiality, share with you – the priests, or others.
That being said, I would like to avail of this opportunity to call to mind the support that I have received from you over my years as Archbishop. I wish to acknowledge that support and to thank you for it. I ask forgiveness from you if I have offended or hurt you in any way. I also forgive those who have done wrong to me. I never took that as personal, however. I know that there are some who find it very difficult to deal with those in positions of authority, and when I was on the receiving end of their frustrations and anger, I always regarded it as something associated with my office rather than anything personal. So, please be assured, as my time as Archbishop draws to a close, that I harbour no ill-will towards anybody.
Like you, I look forward to the appointment of my successor. He will have my full support, and I have every confidence that you will support him in his ministry as you have supported me in mine.
May the Holy Spirit of God continue to guide and direct us as we attend to the important responsibilities we have undertaken as part of our privileged and God-given mission.
Adsumus, Sancte Spiritus.
- This homily was preached at Hotel Westport, on Tuesday 12 October 2021.
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