“A Great Future to Build…”
A few years ago, I celebrated the funeral of a person who passed away in very difficult circumstances. It was one of those occasions where people were seeking meaning in a situation that did not make sense. I think any priest can identify with this experience. It is not easy to speak into the silence, to try to answer the big questions when people’s hearts are broken. As I gave out Holy Communion a young girl with Down’s Syndrome, whom I did not know, came forward to receive. After she received, she paused, looked at me, and then put her arms around me in a warm embrace, then she let go and returned to her seat. I share this tonight because it symbolises for me something very significant, something we may have learned all the more from the experience of the past two challenging years. We focus very much on how people need priests. People need priests for support, care, guidance, compassion, they need them to pray for them. But there is another truth which has been brought into sharp focus these past two years, priests need people. The hug from that little girl brought that home to me.
During the pandemic I stood in this Cathedral on my own celebrating Mass looking at a webcam, every priest here has done the same in his own church. It was not nice. While it was necessary to get us through an emergency, this is not how we are to be as Church. We are an incarnational Church, we meet the risen Christ in the water, the bread, the wine, which become his body, his blood, we meet him in the gestures, the processions, the Word, the incense, we meet the risen Christ in one another assembled as the People of God. Perhaps as we emerge out of this most difficult time, we have the opportunity to renew and recommit ourselves to Christ and to one another.
Pope Francis during his visit to Malta last week went to the island of Gozo. During his address there he outlined some very significant areas that are helpful to us in this significant moment for the Church in Ireland and the Church in our Diocese. He talked of “rediscovering the essentials of our faith” which are: “Our relationship with Jesus and the preaching of his Gospel.” He reminded us that the life of the Church is not merely about “a past to remember” but “a great future to build.” He went on to say that “We need to ensure that religious practices do not get reduced to relics from the past, but remain the expression of a living, open faith that spreads the joy of the Gospel, for the joy of the Church is to evangelize.” That phrase “the joy of the Church is to evangelise” he repeats a number of times in his address.
Perhaps as we emerge out of this pandemic it is time for us to “rediscover the essentials of our faith,” how are we deepening our relationship with Christ and how are we going to preach his Gospel into the future? There is a lot happening in the life of the Church at this time. We are on a synodal pathway where many strong views are emerging as to how the Church should respond to the challenges posed by modern culture. Some find this disturbing, personally I find it encouraging to see this energy in the life of the Church because the greatest enemy of the Church is apathy. I am also very encouraged by some new initiatives in our own Diocese, green shoots emerging as we “rediscover the essentials of our faith” together. We have several examples: Our Pastoral Leadership Team, made up of people and priests who are discerning together how to respond to the challenges we face. Our newly established Diocesan Liturgy Group who have worked on tonight’s liturgy. The new Diocesan Youth Committee, reflecting on how we can reach out to young people in the challenges they face around faith. A couple of weeks ago I met with a group of twenty-two people ranging in age from their twenties to forties who want to work with parents of children preparing for Sacraments. As well as these new initiatives we have people, so many present here this evening, who are so generous in giving of their time to various ministries in their parish such Readers, Eucharistic Ministers, Choirs, Adoration Ministry, Altar Societies, Parish Pastoral Councils, the Stewards who were so critical during the pandemic and there are so many other groups. All of this brings home to me how, as Pope Francis put it last week, the Church is not merely “a past to remember” but has “a great future to build.” Achonry Diocese has a great “past to remember“ but also has “a great future to build.” It will be quite a different future, but one the Lord has entrusted to us to build.
A few months ago, I invited the Pastoral Leadership Team, the Deacons, and Priests to begin a discussion together of how we might respond to the some of the challenges we face. Since then, I had the opportunity to meet with the priests, to listen to their views. Now is the time to widen this discussion to include people from our parishes to hear what they might have to say about how we respond to the new situation that faces us. This will be happening in the coming weeks and months.
Isaiah reminds us in the Word this evening that the Lord has anointed us, it is the passage handed to Jesus in the synagogue. Each one of us has been anointed in Baptism, some of us deepened that commitment in our anointing at Ordination. When we were anointed in Baptism, in Confirmation, or in Ordination we were united with Christ, the Anointed One. He has called us to bring his Gospel to the situation we find ourselves in today. It is not easy, but it was never supposed to be easy! Let us be open and generous in our response. We are not alone; he is with us. May we like those in the synagogue, keep our eyes fixed on him and allow him to surprise us with his presence as he did with me when that little girl put her arms around me at that difficult funeral, assuring me of the Lord’s love in a moment when I needed it.
- This Chrism Mass will take place in Saint Nathy’s Cathedral, Ballaghaderreen, in the Diocese of Achonry at 7.30pm this evening.
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