When Fr. John Dunne asked me to give the homily at the Silver Jubilee Mass this year, I was at first hesitant because I tend to shy away from formal occasions. But as time went on I began to see it as an opportunity not just to reflect on the meaning of the Silver Jubilee for the seven men involved, but also an opportunity for myself to reflect on mission and priesthood.
Fr O’Rourke preaches as Fathers Denvir, Olivoni and Faherty listen.
So I am honoured and grateful for this opportunity, firstly to be present here with our six Jubilarians: Fathers Alberto, Chris, Damian, John, Padraig and Tommy to share in the celebrations of a collective 125 years of service to mission as priests. I also am mindful of Fr Ken Cooney who is not with us today as he is still in South Africa.
That is a lot of years, a lot of days, blessing and touching the lives of numerous communities and individuals in different parts of the world. None of us will fully understand the full extent of the good work that has been done by these seven men, not even the Jubilarians themselves. The kind word, the listening ear, the compassionate presence, helping someone find a way where there seemed to be no way, these simple things will have made a world of a difference to many that each of you have met over the past twenty five years.
In the past few years I am sure many of us who found ourselves travelling to place that were new or unfamiliar with the aid of that new gadget called a Sat Nav. When we take the wrong direction, immediately you hear the words “recalculating, recalculating” from that lady with the mechanical voice repeated many times. And within seconds you receive directions on the next turn you need to take to get back on track. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Spiritual Sat Nav which would alert us when we have taken a wrong turn and then give us directions on how to get back on track. Actually we do have a guidance system which helps with directions through the journeys of life: Psalm 119 tells us that the work of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.
Let Go, Let God
Fr Peter Thompson read from the prophet Isaiah.
About twenty years ago I attended the Intercession for Priests in All Hallows College for two days. During that time, participants were asked to go in two’s on an Emmaus Walk, to share something of their faith journey together. I was coupled up with an elderly priest, whom I will call Fr. Brian. He shared with me about how he took a religion class every Friday afternoon at the local convent school with a group of girls attending a Secretarial Course. Fr. Brian often felt he was wasting his time during these Friday sessions, as the girls seemed to more preoccupied with fashion, boys and where they were going to socialise that weekend. But Fr. Brian kept going every week to the religion class as he enjoyed the girls youthful spirit and spontaneity. Some years later Fr. Brian, now working in a different parish, was walking down the street and a very good looking young woman, beautifully dressed, came up to him smiling and gave Fr. Brian a big hug and told him how happy she was to see him. Fr. Brian hadn’t a clue who this woman was. She then told him that she was one of the girls on that Friday Secretarial Course. “I am delighted to have this chance to meet you again Fr. Brian,” she said “because for a long time I have wanted to thank you for something that you said one day during RE Class, which has been of great help to me during some very difficult times in the past few years”. Fr. Brian had no recollection of the bit of wisdom he had shared all those years before, but he said that the experience of meeting that young woman thought him one very important lesson: “Say your prayers, do your work, and the Holy Spirit will work in spite of you”.
Say your prayers – Start with God, reminding yourself its Gods work, Gods call, Gods mission, Gods ministry. We are just but workers in his vineyard. By saying our prayers implies that we continue to remind ourselves daily, it is not my work, but I am called to participate in it, I am responding to an invitation. Prayer creates a space of allowing, allowing God to do Gods work, in and through me. With the right intention and listening heart, I am ready for the next stage.
Do your work – I get out of bed every morning with a thankful heart, with a sense of purpose, a mission, a task at hand. I am not afraid to pull up my sleeves and get fully involved in what that new day presents to me. I make available with a generous heart the gifts and abilities God has given to me for the service of others… Through our work, the dreams and plans and inspirations of our hearts, become manifest in reality. The word becomes flesh. We co-create something new with God grace.
The Holy Spirit will work in spite of you – being very mindful of the first reading of Isaiah chapter 61 today where we are reminded that the Spirit of the Lord has been given to us, that we are anointed and sent out in its power. It is a spirit of action, inviting us to bring Good News to the poor, healing broken hearts, announcing Liberty to captives, freedom to prisoners and comfort to all who mourn. You almost get the image of water that is ready to burst forth through a dam, wanting to bless, renew and restore.
Fr. Brian’s words “the holy spirit will work in spite of you,” reminds me in some way of the image of St. Paul in Second Corinthians 4 comparing us to Earthen Vessels, containing a treasure. We are like fragile pots, with our weaknesses and human shortcomings, but containing treasure far beyond our wildest imagining. The invitation to us is to continue to be Co–Creators in God’s work. Maybe we can sum up what our task is in the phrase, “pray as if it all depends on God, act as if it all depends on you.”
St Paul in the Romans 12:4-8, which Fr Mark Monaghan (pictured) just read, says, “God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well”. Paul is stating what most of us would see as an obvious fact: that we are all gifted in different ways. Among you, the 1988 class, these gifts are many and varied.
I am sure you have heard the phrase: God does not want so much your ability as your availability. Thank you for the way you used your gifts / talents at the service of the building of God’s Kingdom. Your unique contribution which is particular to each one of you, which only you could have made, has added to the rich heritage of the mission activity of the SMA. Each one of you, with your unique and varied contributions and particular personalities has made the SMA a much more interesting group to be members of, and we thank you for that.
You have spent a substantial number of years working in six countries of Africa, as well as the Philippines, England and Ireland. Your activities have been wide and varied, including such work as evangelization in urban and rural apostolate, youth work, education, formation work in Nigeria and Philippines, organising and running of project in war torn Liberia, the study and teaching of local languages in South Africa, involvement in leadership on diocesan, regional and at provincial levels, providing medical and health care facilities in Nigeria, mission promotion work in Ireland, conflict and peace work in Kenya, and much much more.
Daily Routine or Daily Renewal
Some years ago I was the main celebrant at the Eucharist of a small group of SMA at our Regional House in Mwanza, Tanzania. After Communion time we were having a quite time of reflection, during which time I could hear some low level murmuring going on. I was a little irritated with the behaviour and asked what the problem was. One of the group replied by asking me “What about us?” I suddenly realized that at Communion I had consumed everything, purified the chalice and left the other three people present with nothing. This happened at a time when I was living on my own for some months and had often celebrated Mass on my own.
How easy it is for a daily practice to become a mechanical routine during which time you can so easily leave your heart outside the door. How easy it is to miss the crucial point of what is actually taking place.
Today’s gospel from Luke 22 is a great example of how we can miss the point. At the celebration of the Passover we heard that Jesus took some bread… gave thanks… broke it… he gave it to his disciples. He did the same with the cup after supper.
Here we have Jesus offering his very self to the disciples (the same self-giving which we encounter in each celebration of the Eucharist). But the disciples attention is in a completely different place, concerned with who should be regarded as the greatest among them.
Each day as we celebrate and participate in the Eucharist, we are given afresh, an opportunity to encounter that self-giving of Jesus, and to respond in giving ourselves, our talents and energy to the service of the Gospel. Sometime our response has been lacking and may have been caught up in self interest and fear, rather than generosity and service to our brothers and sisters.
In the words of Thomas Merton’s Prayer of Abandonment, I pray that you, Chris, Damian, John, Tommy, Alberto, Padraig and Ken, and each one present here, for now and for all the years that the Lord gives us on this earth:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will,
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you
and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.