Mass for Deceased Priests

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Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin

Pro-Cathedral, 10 November 2018


“The Church is fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting that in each of the great Creeds of our Christian faith, the reference to the Church comes in the section of the Creed not on Jesus Christ but in the section on the Holy Spirit.   The Church is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guides the Church.

The Spirit first came on the Apostles after the resurrection as they gathered with Mary waiting in hope.  The Spirit changed the Apostles and gave them the courage to go out and speak about the Jesus they had known. The Spirit gave them the ability to touch the hearts of men and women of all languages and cultures who were gathered in Jerusalem for the great feast.

The coming of the Spirit came almost as an eruption of new power into the realities of human life.  Our Gospel reading reminds us of how the Spirit “breathed” on the Apostles.  It reminds us of how in the biblical accounts of the creation of humankind, we are told that God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the newly created humankind.  The work of the Holy Spirit is placed on the same level then as that original breath of life of creation.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginnings of the Church new life erupts with force into all of creation.

The Spirit never abandons his Church.  This morning we remember those priests of this Archdiocese of Dublin, or who ministered in this diocese, who died over the past twelve months.  We remember particularly Father Ray Malony who died during this week.   Together these priests represent over 1000 years of priestly ministry over a period that spanned beyond seventy years.

They represent men who lives were marked by deep personal bonds with the person of Jesus Christ.  It was in his name they ministered; it was the name of Jesus Christ to which they witnessed day after day in a world that was undergoing great change.

We are remembering men who became priests within the culture of their times and who journeyed in faith as the overall culture of Ireland and the overall culture of ministry changed radically.  This radical change required radical commitment to the unchanging love of Jesus for his Church.

The priest today is called to minister in a culture radically different to that in which he began his ministry.  This can be challenging and a times even demoralising.  We have always to remember that the Spirit is present with his Church even in changing times and he guides us through the change.

A few weeks ago, I celebrated Mass for the final time in the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas West.  There were over 3000 people present in a moving witness of faith.  Most of those present were of a certain age and my thoughts went back to the priests who were ministering in that parish over fifty years ago when the building was opened. Their ministry was such that they transmitted a real and lasting sense of affection for both the Church building and for what the Church is really about.

It was quite striking when as the Blessed Sacrament was brought down the main isle of the Church for the final time, the entire assembly spontaneously stood up and broke into moving applause.

It was a sign of real sensus fidelium, of that sense of the believing people of God in what is essential in the life of the church and that remains essential even in changed times, even in difficult times, even in times when ministry was betrayed.  The Church is the fruit of the Spirit.  The Spirit remains with his Church even when we fail.

We priests are frail human beings entrusted by the Lord to represent the strength that he brings into the world in which we live.  We can only keep going in our frailty when we recognise that the Spirit is with his Church and that we are called to be ministers to a God who is full of mercy.   We witness to that mercy in our frailty.  When we begin to feel that we bring certainty to ministry just by ourselves, we may well have overlooked the fact that we are all sinners and that our ministry is effective only to the extent that we allow the mercy of God to heal us and allow then the Spirit to work through us to heal others.

In times of change, it is easy to become demoralised and disillusioned.  In times of change, it is understandable that priests can become demoralised and disillusioned.  It is only human.  The answer to that demoralisation is however not to be found in purely human terms.  It is through a realisation that the Spirit is with his Church today, that the Spirit speaks to the Church today and that discerning what the Spirit is saying requires not giving in to pessimism.  The Spirit is never a Spirit of pessimism or cynicism.  The Spirit is the Spirit that frees us to understanding what Jesus is calling us to be.

At the first Pentecost, the Spirit changed the Apostles and gave them the courage to go out and speak about the Jesus they had known.  The Church must reach out.  We have new methods at our disposal. Social media are powerful instruments yet paradoxically they can sadly become a trap for fruitless and at times even nasty internal Church polemics. The Spirit is calling us today to be a community of mercy and healing, not of condemnation and repression, not of demoralisation but of reaching out in hope.

The Spirit is with his Church.  Where human frailty wounds the Church, the cry of the Spirit is one that recalls all of us, clergy and laity, to focus on what is essential and to that holiness that can only be attained by going beyond self.

We recall over one thousand years of dedication, of prayerfulness, of faith and of service.  We commend them, as we heard in the reading from the Apocalypse, to the purifying action of the Lamb.  May the lives of these priests give renewed hope and courage to us priests who face the new challenges tomorrow. We pray for vocations to the priesthood knowing that the call to be minister in a spirit-filled Church is a demanding one, but one which is life- giving as we realise in humility just how much the Spirit can work through our frailty.

I thank the relatives and friends and former parishioners who have wished to be with us here for this Mass this morning.  I thank you for the special care and affection you have for those called to be your priests.  The faith we share strengthens us to witness together to Jesus Christ in our changing world.” ENDS