“In recognition of over forty years of loyal and dedicated service
to the SMA community in Wilton, Cork,
her strong and lasting spiritual links with our missionaries,
and in accordance with the Decision of the 1992 SMA Plenary Council
is hereby admitted to Honorary Membership
in the Society of African Missions.”
– Fr. Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Superior General
Editor’s Note: Honorary membership of the Society of African Missions is conferred only in very special circumstances. On Friday 14 December 2018, some 50 SMA members and friends joined with our Provincial Leader, Fr. Michael McCabe SMA, to celebrate over 40 years of loyal service by Mary O’Flynn at our SMA Wilton House. It was a very happy and moving day, which included the celebration of the Eucharist, the conferring of Membership upon Mary, and the presentation of the Society’s certificate of Membership.
Below, we reproduce Fr. Michael’s welcoming remarks at our Eucharistic celebration, followed by his homily.
On behalf of the entire Society we take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to Mary for over four decades of dedication and devotion to our work on behalf of the African Missions.
Today, we celebrate officially Mary O’Flynn’s admission to honorary membership of the Society. In this Eucharist, we join with Mary and her friends in thanking God for the particular gifts with which the Spirit has endowed her and which she has employed generously in the service of the SMA and its mission for over 40 years as receptionist and secretary of our House here in Wilton.
“There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit distributes them.”
The readings I have chosen for our Mass today underline two central and interlinked aspects of our Christian faith: a) what it means to be a member of the Church and b) the true meaning of Christian service. In this homily I would like to say a few words about both aspects and how they must be kept together.
St Paul devoted considerable attention to reflection on the nature of the Church and wrote about it in several of his letters. His favourite image for the Church was “The body of Christ”. In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, from which our first reading was taken, Paul develops a vision of the Church using the analogy of the human body. In the human body, all the organs are different from one another and yet, they work together in harmony for the good of the whole body. If any organ is sick, the entire body is affected.
So it is, says Paul, with the members of the Body of Christ. While the members of the Church are not all the same, since they have received different gifts, these gifts come from the one Spirit and complement one another. So there is no room for a spirit of competition or ‘one-up-manship’ in the Church. The gifts we receive are all about service of one another and of others – especially the poorest and neediest of God children. They are not self-promotion, self-fulfilment, or, less still, about advancing our careers. Jesus taught his disciples this important lesson by washing their feet at the last Supper. He wanted his disciples not to imitate the Pagans but to embed a radically different model of authority as service.
Pauline vision of the Church was strongly endorsed by the Second Vatican Council which tried to correct an existing overemphasis on the role of the hierarchy. In its famous document, Lumen Gentium, it stated that all the members of the Church form one body, are united in one Spirit, and are subject of one Head, Jesus Christ (LG, no. 7). While there are, and indeed must be, a diversity of gifts and functions within the one Body of Christ, these different gifts and functions are not for the benefit of who are given them, but for the service of others. When so used, they build up the unity of the Church. The Second Vatican Council also endorsed the Pauline vision of a Church whose members enjoy a fundamental equality of status and dignity, and all of whom are called to actively participate in the life and mission of the Church, by virtue of their baptism.
Unfortunately, the Vatican II understanding of Church has not been well understood by the majority of its members in Ireland, and especially not by the media who continue to speak of the Church as if it were the exclusive domain of the Bishops, priests and Religious. The “clerical mind-set”, which is rightly criticised, is most manifest, not in the clergy, but too often in the media who invariably identify the Church exclusively with the clergy. Fortunately, Pope Francis is making valiant efforts to correct this false understanding. He excoriates what he calls the “virus of clericalism” and calls for a more “synodal” Church, that is, a Church in which all members journey together as a family, listening to, and supporting one another, in a spirit of humble service to God’s reign in the world.
The concept of a synodal Church is much discussed and gaining in popularity these days. The Irish Episcopal conference debated the topic at its recent meeting in Maynooth and several individual bishops have highlighted it in recent addresses, notably the bishop of Limerick, Brendan Leahy, the bishop of Cloyne, William Crean, and the bishop of Ossory, Dermot Farrell. Basically, these bishops are calling for a much more active involvement of the laity in the life and mission of the Church, and in its ministerial and governance structures. Of course collaboration between clergy and laity is not something new. In the late 19th century Blessed John Henry Newman spoke eloquently about the role of the laity in the Church, saying that “we would look rather foolish without them!”
From its earliest presence in Ireland, the SMA has had the support and involvement of the laity in its work and mission. Eddie Hogan, our Archivist spoke of this in a homily he gave on Mission Sunday 2018. I quote his words:
“While the official Church was far from enthusiastic [about the SMA], the opposite was true of the Catholic laity. Here was an example of the rank and file of the Church being more advanced in its thinking than the leaders. Irish Catholics, despite all their difficulties, were outward looking, already interested in and knowledgeable about ‘foreign mission’. They had learned much from the literature produced by the French movement and which was translated and circulated here almost ‘under the counter’.
“From the day the SMA set foot here, the Society had their support, not just morally, but practically – in every conceivable way. Our work was truly blessed because of this support and could not fail because the laity understood what we were about and, indeed, had already embraced it. And in the century and a half which followed, the missionary-minded Irish Laity was always ‘to our back’.” (SMA Irish Province Bulletin, Christmas 2018, p. 29).
Today we need the laity not only at our back, but at our side, and perhaps also in front of us, leading us on to new horizons of mission, and helping us, in a very different Ireland from the one which formed us, to keep alive the missionary dream of our Founder.
Today, while remembering and thanking God for the vast cohort of men and women who have supported us down through the years, we recognise especially one great lady who, as I said at the beginning of this Mass, served the SMA here in Wilton for over 40 years. She was indeed at our back and at our side, working away quietly and without fuss. Kind and gentle, courteous and discrete, patient and reliable, Mary’s service to the SMA went far beyond the call of duty. She endeared herself to the members of the Wilton community and to all who came to know her. Mary was, and is, very much part of the wider SMA family and has nurtured a keen interest in Africa and our missionary work. It is with joy that we welcome her officially as an honorary member of the SMA.
I congratulate Mary and present her with her Certificate of Honorary Membership, which reads as follows:
“In recognition of over forty years of loyal and dedicated service to the SMA community in Wilton, Cork, her strong and lasting spiritual links with our missionaries, and in accordance with the Decision of the 1992 SMA Plenary Council MARY O’FLYNN is hereby admitted to Honorary Membership in the Society of African Missions.”
The Certificate is signed by the Superior General, Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll, SMA, and dated 18 September 2018.