Homily at Mass in Thanksgiving for Priesthood

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Thirty Third Sunday of the Year 2012


Mass in thanksgiving for priesthood

Church of the Holy Child, Larkhill/Whitehall/Santry November  2012

Homily notes from  Archbishop Martin


We are coming towards the end of the Church’s year.  The striking Gospel reading we have just heard is part of a discourse of Jesus as he journeys towards the final moments of his life on earth, on the path towards his passion and death.


Taking up the language of the Prophets, Jesus begins to talk to his disciples about the future: what is to become of the world and of creation and how might the entire history of the world one day be brought to its fulfilment, at his own coming again, realising what the liturgy calls “the blessed hope”.


The language that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel may seem upsetting to us.  It has been used throughout history by false heralds of the end of the world, giving date and time and place, and interpreting any signal of nature as signs of the “time of distress” when the world would end.  But these false heralds have, one after the other, inevitably had to come down from their mountains and return disappointed the next day to ordinary life.  They had misread the scriptures.  They had not understood the teaching of Jesus.


Jesus does not enter into details about how the world would end or what his second coming would look like.  He is drawing us out to reflect on something more fundamental: where is history going, where do we find sense in history? We have all seen and experienced and continue to see the ups and down of history, the history of our own personal lives and those of our families and of the entire human family.   At times our frustrations with the ups and downs of our lives can lead us to dejection and hopelessness.  


Jesus is reminding us that history has meaning if it is directed in a particular direction: that of realising God’s plan for humankind and for all of creation.  The message of today’s Gospel is not a message of gloom but one of hope and of how we can realise hope within the realities of our day – if we recognise the signs of the times in their true sense and if we realise that what does not pass away, today or at any time in our future, is the word of God.  

The parable of the fig tree shows how we, like the hearers of Jesus, are well able to read the simple signs of the times of nature and the seasons.  In a time of rapid change in our world and in the Church, Christians must also learn how to read the signs of the times in and about our contemporary society.  The signs of the times are not, however, to be found simply by sounding out and then reacting to the public opinion of the moment.  Jesus did not spin his message to respond to the trends of the day.  Reading the signs of the times means immersing ourselves deeply into the word of God, as found in the scriptures and the tradition of the Church, to discern where we find the signs of God’s action within the realities of the times we live in.


This is the real challenge for priests today, especially as ministers of God’s word.  They are called to witness to the Word of God entrusted to them in their ministry through the authenticity of their own lives.  They are called to bring this witness and lived interpretation to the word of God to those who embrace and live that the word and wish to deepen it.  Today, through the New Evangelisation, they are called in a special way to reach out to those who somehow wish to remain part of the Catholic community, but who have drifted away from faith and for whom the Catholic community has somehow become marginal to the way they live and to their world as they understand it.  This is the challenge of New Evangelisation.


The New Evangelisation and the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI are not just about plans and strategies and programmes.  They about the manner in which we authentically live our faith as a gift received from the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to witness to that gift of faith in a doubting and uncertain world, but also a world which is searching and seeking for something deeper in life.


The first witness of the priest, as one who is entrusted with proclaiming the Word of God, is to show that his faith in Jesus really brings meaning and hope into his own lives. Only the fully evangelized can be true evangelizers. 


The challenge of New Evangelisation is one which requires courage and enthusiasm. We thank God at this celebration for our priests and how they today continue faithfully to carry out their ministry in the face of ever deeper challenges from both within and outside the Church.


“Being a priest today is following a lonely and unsettling furrow, but the vast majority of priests know that they have the human and spiritual resources to face those realities.  If any group has faced and existentially lived through the crisis that the Church is experiencing in Ireland and have led the path to turning the corner of renewal it is priests”.


I choose these last words about priests deliberately because they are words I used in a talk last year as an expression of my support for and indeed my admiration for the work of priests. I was saddened when one commentator later, ignoring these words, took up another phase of that talk, misrepresented it and said that I had used the occasion only to undermine priests.  That misrepresentation continues regularly to re-appear in other news reports.


Priests today, in the face of many difficulties and challenges they face, are not helped by negative polemics or personal agendas.  Like any of us, as I said earlier, there are moments in which the frustrations of priests – with the ups and downs of their lives and the uncertainties they experience about how their ministry is experienced – can lead them to dejection.   That is why priests need our prayers and our support so that they can carry out their mission with renewed enthusiasm and dedication.


          Our Church needs priests; our Church needs holy priests; our Church needs priests whose lives are deeply rooted in the word of God and in prayer;  our Church needs priests who find fulfilment in what is at the heart of their ministry; our priests need to be encouraged to find new ways of priestly fraternity.  The prayerful support of the entire believing community is vital to their identity and ministry. Priests need to know just how much their ministry is vital to the lives of those they are called to serve.  I am privileged to witness that support of parishioners for their priests week by week in the parishes I visit.  The fruitfulness of priestly ministry is interconnected with the prayers and the Christian life of the entire community of believers.


We are here to encourage more young men to listen to the signs of the time that are present in their own hearts and discern whether Christ may not be calling them towards a priestly vocation. Again this is not just a matter of new campaigns and programmes.  Vocations spring from within the life of the community of believers.  The more we reflect on and live out the centrality of the Eucharist, the more we will understand how vital the mission of the priest is as minister of the Eucharist and as one whose life becomes what is celebrated in the Eucharist. The priest must develop a likeness to the Jesus who revealed through his suffering and death the greatness of God’s love.


We thank God today also for the work of Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society and for your continuous prayerful and practical support for vocations and for the ministry of priests.  At the conclusion of this Mass, I will present the Papal Medal Bene Merenti to Maureen Keogh who has contributed to and inspired your work over so many years.  We thank God for her work, alongside so many other man and women, who gratefully recognise, respect and sustain the unique ministry of priest in today’s world.


Jesus message about the future of creation and where the world is going is in fact not just a message about the future but a message about how we live our faith today.  It is a message about our belief in the fact that Jesus’ word will prevail.  It is a belief that goodness and love can prevail and that goodness will prevail if we respond to evil with goodness and if we respond to the effects of greed and selfishness by living a life of goodness and self-giving love.


History is not just the science of looking back.  History is the story of the passage and transmission, generation after generation, of what is good and truthful and loving so that our living together as God’s family bears a fruit that is worthy of our humanity, as it journeys under the inspiration of the Sprit towards the blessed hope, the coming into our lives of the salvation of Jesus Christ.