- Homily of Bishop Denis Nulty for Mass at the Youth 2000 Summer Festival in Clongowes Wood College SJ
It’s great to be back with you for the Youth 2000 Summer Festival. Perhaps you showed an interest in this festival months ago, maybe travelled on one of the free buses from different ends of the country? When you arrived here on Thursday afternoon you registered first thing. You saw the programme of activities, you said I’ll try this out, I’ll try that – All Night Adoration; Rosaries; Workshops; Confession and last night’s powerful Reconciliation Service.
A bit like Peter in last Sunday’s Feast of the Transfiguration gospel, you pray that this experience among fellow peers of faith might last, let’s build tents! But then and now we all come to realise these moments can’t be contained, can’t be captured. In fact they are here to give us an experience, a glimpse of what heaven might be like. We reach heaven through the teaching of the Church, through the nourishment of the sacraments and through the regular practice of prayer.
In this morning’s Mass we meet a distraught father who would do anything for his disturbed son. Isn’t it what parents do every day. Stand up the dads and mams, the parents here among us! Let’s show our appreciation for all they selflessly do for us.
God the Father loves every one of us and would do anything for us, let’s put ourselves into His safe keeping as we turn to His Son, acknowledge our sins as we prepare to celebrate these sacred mysteries …
Matthew’s gospel text offers us a heart wrenching story of the dad and his very disturbed son. It’s a story of love at its very best. The more disturbed a child is, the more a parent will try to help. Sometimes that help can be rejected, but it only makes the parent try even harder. I imagine the man in the gospel was worn out trying to get help for his son. The heart-rending story provides an opportunity to give a lesson on the importance of faith.
We are in the middle of a year especially dedicated to the promotion of vocations to the diocesan priesthood. Vocations will only come within a context and environment of faith. Our synod reflections across every diocese pointed to lacunae in the faith formation of many, this is something we must prioritise. Only in an environment of faith will a vocation stir and grow. That’s why Youth Festivals like these days so much encourage the conversation of faith and perhaps an awareness of a deeper vocational call.
Earlier this month on 4 August, the Feast of Saint John Vianney, it coincided with the tenth anniversary of my Episcopal Ordination. Those ten years pass by like a blink of the eye. Being a Bishop is a privilege but a daunting one to be sent to a part of the country I wasn’t familiar with, to a presbyterate I didn’t really know and into a role and a calling I was unsure of. But God’s grace is always there. Being a Bishop doesn’t carry with it a “job spec”, or description. I continue to try to be that priest I was in Mullingar, currently host to the Fleadh Cheoil, where I enjoyed my first appointment 35 years ago. The greatest gift of a priest, any priest and that includes a Bishop is to be, present with people, in the great word of Pope Francis “accompanying” people in their joys and struggles.
The theme for this special year of vocations promotion is “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” with the tag line ‘Take the Risk for Christ’. I took that risk in 1981, when I commenced seminary formation in Maynooth. I affirmed it in 1988 when I was ordained a priest in Saint Patrick’s Church, Slane, by Bishop Michael Smith. It was 12 June 1988, the day remembered more for Ireland beating England in Stuttgart! Taking a Risk for Christ is putting ourselves up front and out centre as the hands and feet of Christ working alongside wonderful lay people, for whom their faith remains very important to them.
I absolutely accept that the culture today is not near as conducive or receptive to religious vocations as in the past. That’s where faith and evangelisation come in. The text from Deuteronomy this morning while offering the Jewish confession of faith gives us the parameters of what we need to teach in faith. Sadly there are less going to Sunday Mass, the pandemic has done a huge disservice to public worship and for some it has simply slipped even innocently off their radar. Golf, hill-walking, football, sea-swimming are consuming our Sunday mornings. At the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon, just a week ago, Pope Francis charged you as young people to invite your friends back to Church. Many of you were in Lisbon and heard those words! So let’s become missionaries to our peers, even to our families!
The decline in the interest of things spiritual accompanied by sickening reports and enquires where the abuse of the young and vulnerable was uncovered has rightly so angered many, including our very good priests. Religion is not at the centre of society, we have been relegated to the side-lines but the voice of Church is still important and must be heard today. We need priests. And I need them very much in my diocese of Kildare & Leighlin – and in all dioceses.
My message today if you are a parent or grandparent, a youth leader, a friend or a sibling and a young man confides in you, encourage them. If you think someone would make a good priest one day, hold them in your prayers and gently invite them to consider priesthood.
My message to the Leaving Certs as you await exam results on 25 August next, I am inviting you to seriously consider is God calling you to serve him in a special way? Don’t be frightened, but speak with your local priest or drop by the Bishops Vocation Office stand during this Youth 2000 Summer Festival. I hope and pray that some of you may be open to hearing God’s call to priesthood. I’m also conscious that this is a journey you may take later in life, so always leave the door open.
Together we must work for a hope-filled future. In addition to the vocation to diocesan priesthood, many of you may be called to the vocation of marriage. I encourage you on this journey. Preparation for the sacrament of marriage doesn’t begin just a few months before it is celebrated but now, in the respect you show one another, in the love you show one another and the healthy relationship you enjoy with one another. The Church needs priests but it also needs faith-filled sacramentally married parents to give birth to the next generation of Youth 2000. Blessings on all of you! Amen.
Notes for Editors
- Bishop Denis Nulty is Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin
- The Year for Vocation to the Diocesan Priesthood has been organised by the Council for Vocations of the Irish Bishops’ Conference. The Year involves prayerful initiatives and awareness raising around Ireland, and will conclude on Good Shepherd Sunday 2024. For more information contact [email protected]