Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell at the ordination of Damian Casey to the priesthood
Merchant’s Quay on 24 April 2021
Liturgically we are still in the Easter season, so I may adapt one of its motifs to the present occasion. Haec est dies (‘This is the day which the Lord has made’). The motif is particularly appropriate to the occasion of ordaining a man to the priesthood.
This is an important day for the Franciscan Order and a memorable one for myself, as it is my first Liturgy of Ordination. The pandemic, which has sown disease, grief, suffering and uncertainty, has changed the best laid plans with family, friends and neighbours participating virtually. I am sure this was not what was planned, but it is very good to be here in Merchant’s Quay this afternoon for this ordination.
Damian, I would suspect that this day has been a long time coming for you. Since you entered formation, you have been availing of the rich and varied opportunities presented to you in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where you studied – Sacred Music, Liturgy, Philosophy, and then in the Franciscan Study Centre, Canterbury, and the Angelicum University, Rome, for the study of spirituality, scripture and theology, and more recently when you served as a deacon in the parish of Ennis. You have reflected on all of that in your prayer life and in your relationship with the Lord. Many hours in preparation have taken place for this day. Through your careful discernment and prayer, you have discovered that God has called you to this vocation, and now you are responding with your whole heart. Today, the Church entrusts to you this sacred ministry of priesthood. Through the laying on of hands, you will share in Christ’s sacred ministry.
When Jesus walked the roads of Palestine, he proclaimed the Word of God and brought God’s mercy and comfort to all. Yet, that is not the entire story! Not only did Jesus proclaim the Word, he was and is the Word made flesh, who entered human history. Moreover, he gave himself away utterly. Because Christ has gone before us in life and in death, he gives us a new vision, opens up new horizons, travels with us on that road and nourishes us, bringing us hope and the courage to carry the message that “Christ, the Saviour, has been born” to those who have not yet heard it or who cannot yet believe it (Luke 2:11).
Damian, during the ceremony today, I will present you the paten and chalice containing the gifts to be offered in the Eucharist, saying “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate, model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” The life of St Francis teaches us to remain before the cross, to let the crucified Christ gaze upon us, to let ourselves be forgiven, and to be recreated by his love. It is not after the passion, but at the heart of the cross that we come to see the truth (1 Cor 2:2). Like Christ, Christians, too, will follow the same path, so as to be transformed into the image of the Son, by the action of the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). As is repeatedly made clear in the Acts of the Apostles, it is the Holy Spirit, God’s breadth in us, who thrusts “us out of our ecclesiastical nest into mission” (see Timothy Radcliffe, Why Go To Church? The Drama of the Eucharist, p 198). In imitation of the Lord, we too must give ourselves away utterly. Damian, embrace the cross, embrace the way of God, so that some other morning, like Peter, an uninvited host, may cook fish for you at another charcoal fire (see John 21:9).
Today you are asked: “are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?” As a priest you are called to communicate the living Word of God to others by preaching, instruction, writing, indeed, all available means of communication. Yet, preaching and teaching requires more of you than learning and good technique. “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people” (Evangelii Gaudium, 135). As Pope Francis said “Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess the preacher, not just intellectually but in his entire being” (Evangelii Gaudium, 151). That takes time. As you preach and teach, people will want to know if you are personally invested in what you say. When you were ordained to the diaconate you were entrusted with the Book of the Gospels with these words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
It is His Gospel that you proclaim and preach, not yours; it is the Word of God, not our own word! (2 Cor 4:5). It is the Word, however, that we must make our own. It must be preached without compromise, without accommodation, fear or hesitation, in a culture where there is neither harmonious uniformity nor aggressive opposition. Your words, your deeds, your conduct, and your demeanour must brim with the radiant truth and love of Jesus who lives among us in the Church (Col 1:28). St Francis spoke not merely with words, but with his life. Let the Spirit inscribe the Word on your heart so that your lips may utter words of wisdom and love. As a priest, you are to further the Church’s sacramental and liturgical life, celebrating the Eucharist, baptizing, reconciling sinners, witnessing marriages, and anointing of the sick in the name of the Lord.
But as one inspired and assisted by the example and encouragement of St Francis you are called to that other “service of the table” referred to in the Acts of the Apostles: the care of the orphans and widows, the poor and needy, the sick and suffering (Acts 6:1-7). As a Franciscan priest, you are called to be a man of charity, service of the poor, given to the Church since Apostolic times.
You are called both to speak about Christ and to be minister of the charity of Christ. Like him, you are to have a special love for those who live, as Pope Francis says, ‘on the peripheries’–the poor, the sick, the stranger, the grieving, touching the wounds of human existence with the balm of divine love – but not a mere abstract love, rather a love expressed in deeds of mercy, a love concretised in a ministry of charity and service (cf. Message of Pope Francis for Vocations Sunday 2021). “If you close your eyes to the wounds of the world, you have no right to say “my Lord and my God” (Tomáš Halík). Your ministry will be inspired by the life and example of Francis of Assisi, the man of poverty, peace, simplicity, humility, kinship with all, who loves and takes care of creation. His disciples are privileged witness to the social teaching of the Church. As a priest your ministry is not only at the altar, but it is also in the world, sanctifying it by your life and ministry. Salvation is concrete, or nothing at all. Indeed, the same is true of the Church. A purely invisible Church banished to inwardness has betrayed the reality of redemption. So too for Pope Saint John Paul II, “if we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). The challenge is to draw others into ministries of charity, conscious of Christ’s command, “You must Love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).
I join with your own family and your Franciscan confrères, in warmly congratulating you and in doing so, I congratulate your parents, your family and all who have been involved in your formation for the way in which they have contributed to making you the person that you are, ready to go forward “so the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth, and the family of nations, made one in Christ, may become God’s one, holy people (Prayer of Consecration, Liturgy of Ordination).