Homily of Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ at his Mass of Installation Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast

16 Apr 2024

‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’ (Luke 24: 46 – 48)

Today’s Gospel tells us all that we need to know about the Diocese of Down and Connor, its people, its clergy and its bishop.  We are witnesses to this: Christ, the Son of God suffered and was put to death and he rose from the dead. It was not for his own sake but so that ‘in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.’ We are witnesses to this. We have no other purpose.

In the oratory in my house there are two pieces of stained glass. They are both images of the Risen Lord Jesus. In both he is dressed in white and in one he is in the very act of stepping up out of the tomb. There are two angels visible over his two shoulders and three women in the foreground just about to have their minds blown by this awesome reality. In the other image he has his left arm raised, greeting the world, and in his right hand he is holding aloft the banner of victory.

It will be important for me to look at those images every day. It is essential that every one of us have the triumphant Risen Lord before our minds every day. And, on this Third Sunday of Easter he is right before us in the Gospel we have just read.

The Risen Lord Jesus comes into sheer chaos; two of the followers were heading for the hills, feeling badly let down; those who stayed in Jerusalem gathered around the eleven as the cowered out of fear and self-pity. Eleven, not twelve; that is another window on the tragedy they were living through.

But something is happening; the two who were fleeing recognise him ‘in the breaking of bread’ in the little town of Emmaus; they race back and hear that some of the women have seen the Lord alive.

And then Jesus stands among them.  The Risen Lord comes among his followers who have been brought face to face in a most cruel way with the darkness of the world, with the reality of sin and with the humiliation of their own inadequacy. In those circumstances the very first thing he says is; ‘Peace be with you!’.  Never in all of history was a greeting more hard-earned. ‘Peace be with you!’.

We need to pay close attention because this is his first message to us, gathered here today. As a group of disciples, we all experience some form of chaos, feelings of failure, inadequacy, or being let down. Each of us knows our own desolation. When Jesus says to us ‘Peace be with you’, what do we hear? What do we do with it? My initial reaction might be; ‘For there to be peace in my heart, someone or something else needs to change. Circumstances must change for me to find peace.’

There are so many circumstances that challenge our peace.  It can be the difficulties of our own personal history, the terrible pain and misery of so many people in our world or the sad state of the Church. The one who says to us ‘Peace be with you’ is the Lord of history. When he, the crucified and Risen one proclaims peace then we have a duty to choose peace, to share in his peace.

The peace that he invites us in to is not superficial; it doesn’t ignore the realities. We see that in the next key moment in the scene. Jesus says:

Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed.

His hands and his feet still carry the marks of the nails, signs of suffering and signs of divine love. He deliberately calls attention to them. There is terrible suffering and injustice in our world. In the Church there is woundedness that we have inflicted on each other. Jesus stands among us as one who knows our woundedness; he wants us to know that where we feel weak and broken, he is with us most especially.

For us to be who we are called to be we must hear the Risen Lord say; firstly ‘Peace be with you’ and secondly ‘Look at my hands and my feet’.

I spoke to the priests very specially at the Mass of Chrism about the renewal of our hearts. The Risen Lord Jesus who came among his broken and hurting followers and spoke of peace and showed them his hands and his feet, wanted nothing more than to renew their hearts. If we listen to him today and let him live among us, he will renew our hearts.

When he does, we will be channels of peace in our world. We will reach out confidently in love, with our brothers and sisters of other Christian communions, and together we will encourage our local politicians to be generous and bold as they seek to make our political institutions work for the good of all. On the global level even today the escalation of war is an awful threat. Christians who are channels of peace are ever more necessary.

Our lives are all a pilgrimage to grow every closer to God and to live with Him forever. Our diocese is very specifically seeking to chart a pathway to the future and much good work has been done to prepare us for that. I am excited to be a part of it. Pathways are created by walking together and our Christian path is laid down by walking with the Risen Lord. I hope to spend a lot of time in the coming weeks and months praying and discerning with you, the priests and people of the diocese, how and where the Lord is leading us. 

The Gospel tells us everything we need to know about our diocese and its future. It is the Risen Lord who will lead and guide us. He will speak, he is speaking, to us of the Peace that he uniquely brings, a peace that flourishes in the midst of weakness and brokenness. The fact that we are weak and broken does not need to be a disadvantage on our Christian pathway. On the contrary, we have among us the God of all possibilities who transforms darkness into light, who brings out hope where despair reigns and salvation where sin abounds.

We are witnesses to this!


Details on the Installation ceremony

The Celebrant and homilist will be Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Down and Connor.

Concelebrants include:

  • Most Rev. Eamon Martin, Metropolitan Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
  • Most Rev. Luis M. Montemayor, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland
  • Most Rev. Noël Treanor, Apostolic Nuncio to the European Union and Bishop Emeritus of Down and Connor
  • Most Rev. Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry
  • Rev. Bernard McGuckian SJ, brother of Bishop Alan McGuckian
  • Rev. Michael McGuckian SJ, brother of Bishop Alan McGuckian
  • Rev. Shane Daly SJ, Provincial of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Ireland
  • Most Rev. Philip Boyce, Bishop Emeritus of Raphoe

Presider:          His Eminence Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop Emeritus of Armagh

In addition, members of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, both serving and retired and other clergy from the Diocese of Down and Connor and the Diocese of Raphoe will be present. Family members and friends of Bishop McGuckian along with lay representatives from across the Diocese will also be present and involved in the ceremony including John B McGuckian (brother of Bishop McGuckian), Jim Deeds (who assisted Bishop McGuckian with the ‘Living Church’ initiative) as well as teachers and students from local schools.

Representatives of other Christian denominations will also be in attendance as well as civic leaders and local and national public representatives.

Saint Peter’s Cathedral Choir and the Down and Connor Schola Cantorum will perform the music throughout the liturgy under the direction of Mr James McConnell. The Master of Ceremonies will be Father Martin Graham.

Notes for Editors

His Holiness appointed Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ as Bishop of Down and Connor on Friday 2nd February 2024.

The Diocese of Down and Connor is the second largest diocese in Ireland stretching from Portrush and Portstewart in the north of the diocese to Kilkeel in the south of the diocese. The Catholic population is 330,000 and there are 87 parishes and 151 churches in the Diocese.

Life and Ministry of Bishop Alan McGuckian

Bishop Alexander Aloysius (Alan) McGuckian SJ was born on 26 February 1953, the youngest of six children of the late Brian and Pauline McGuckian in Cloughmills, Co Antrim.

Having completed primary schooling in Cloughmills and post-primary studies in Saint MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower, Bishop Alan undertook a year of First Arts in Queen’s University, Belfast, where he studied Irish and Scholastic Philosophy (1971-1972). In October 1972 he then joined the Jesuit novitiate in Clontarf in Dublin.

Bishop McGuckian is proficient in a number of modern languages and has studied an undergraduate BA in Latin and Spanish from University College Dublin (1974-1977) and later graduated with an MA in Irish Translation from QUB, Belfast. His training for the priesthood involved the study of Philosophy in the Milltown Institute in Dublin (1977-1979) and Theology in the Toronto School of Theology specialising in the study of Scripture (M.Div and STL – 1981-1985).

After his ordination to the priesthood on 22 June 1984, Father McGuckian worked as a teacher in secondary education in Clongowes Wood College SJ, Co Kildare (1984-1988). This was followed by a six-month period of spiritual renewal in southern India and an experience of serving in a shanty town in Quezon City in the Philippines, before taking his Final Profession as a Jesuit on 15 February 1997.

From 1992-2003, Father Alan served as appointed as Director of the Jesuit Communication Centre in Dublin. During this period he was involved in setting up the websites sacredspace.ie and catholicireland.net. Along with Mr Tony Bolger he set up Church Resources and Church Services TV. At the same time his commitment to the Irish language led him to serve for over ten years as editor of both An Timire and Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta. Later, when already living in Belfast, he translated the autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola from the Spanish original into the Irish language under the title Scéal an Oilithrigh (Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta).

In 2011, Father Alan collaborated with Philip Orr in writing the drama 1912; one hundred years on, marking the centenary of the fateful year that saw the Home Rule Bill accepted by the House of Commons and the signing of the Ulster Covenant.

In Belfast, Father Alan served as chaplain to many of the Gaelscoileanna in the Diocese of Down and Connor and was, for a few years, Chaplain in the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and Belfast. He also served as spiritual director to the Diocesan Seminary.

From 2012 to 2017, Father Alan worked closely with the Diocese of Down and Connor in the ‘Living Church’ project. Beginning with a Listening Process in 2011 which aimed to hear the hopes and fears of the priests, religious and the lay faithful across the diocese culminating in the publication of the Living Church Report in 2012. Father Alan was invited to set up and lead the Living Church Office to take forward the Diocesan Pastoral Plan commissioned by Bishop Noel Treanor.

Father Alan was the first director of the Permanent Diaconate within the diocese. The diocese now has sixteen serving permanent deacons, several of them married, ministering in parishes and chaplaincies across the diocese.

On 9 June 2017, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Alan as Bishop of Raphoe in Co Donegal, and he was ordained Bishop on 6 August 2017 in Letterkenny. Since this time, Bishop Alan has served in a number of responsibilities as a member of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, including as a member of its Standing Committee, as the Conference’s representative to the International Commission for English in the Liturgy, as chair of the Council for Justice and Peace / NICCOSA, as a member of the Council for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Development, and as liaison Bishop with Pax Christi Ireland.

Episcopal Motto

The new Bishop of Down and Connor has chosen the motto, ‘Et velle et perficere’ (God puts both the desire and the action into you” which is a passage taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:13-16: “It is God for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you. Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhand brood, and you will shine in the world like bright stars because you will be offering it the word of life.”

This was also the motto of his former school, St MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower, Co. Antrim, where he was a post-primary student.

Episcopal Crest

The left half of Bishop Alan’s episcopal crest contains the arms of the diocese of Down and Connor. The lamb is a reference to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29); the crossed keys are a reference to the ‘Keys of the kingdom of Heaven’ entrusted by Christ to St Peter (Matthew 16:19).

The right half of the crest includes, on a blue background, the seal of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and the scallop shell of the pilgrim of Santiago de Compostela, the traditional pilgrimage of St James. In Catholic heraldry the chevron stands for the rafter that holds up the roof of the church. Here it represents Mary, Mother and protector of the pilgrim Church on earth. The argent (silver) denotes her transparency or purity.