Homily of Archbishop Martin at the ordination of Padraig O’ Sullivan, Robert Colclough and Joseph Mc Donald on Sunday in St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral
Like the man in the Gospel narrative, these candidates turn to Jesus recognising him as the “Good master”, recognising that Jesus possesses that goodness which alone belongs to God. These candidates have been judged to have been faithful to the Lord’s commands in their endeavours over the years of their earlier professional lives and in their period of preparation for ordination.
But like the man in the Gospel they must now recognise that even that which at first sight might seem adequate for attaining the good life is not enough. The believer in Jesus Christ is called to more. These candidates are called to recognise that outward moral achievement in life on its own is not sufficient. The believer is called to a total dedication, which is symbolised in the need to sell everything that one has and to give it to the poor.
The Church is the community of those who through recognition of the Lordship of God and through openness to the saving power of Jesus in the Eucharist and in the sacraments opens up the anticipation of those realities that endure into eternal life. Today’s Gospel seems to be telling us that the first among those enduring realities is poverty, a total detachment from the desire to fulfilment through riches or possessions or power. The priest must be poor. The Church must be poor.
Is this possible? Or is it a utopia which is so difficult to achieve that the Church ends up speaking of poverty and at the same time falling victim to the ever-present temptation either to align with power or to unconsciously slip into the consumer mentality of the day.
We live in times in which we have seen great renewal in the Church, the fruit in great part of the Second Vatican Council which has been such a grace-filled event for our times. Inspired by the Council the Church has set out on the path of renewal and adaptation, of transformed openness to the joys and hopes, the sorrows and the anguish of the men and women of our contemporary world.
The Church can and must be in dialogue with the concrete realities and aspirations of humankind at any moment. The path of discipleship of Jesus Christ will always be a path of incarnation and not one of flight from the realities which surround us.
But the Church can never simply totally identify itself with the realities of the culture of any particular time. The Church must always be otherworldly. It must also distance itself from the contemporary world; it must bring discernment to those realities and constantly purify itself as it becomes entangled in realities which are not fully those of the kingdom.
In our times, the preferential admonition of today’s Gospel towards poverty is more relevant than ever. Contemporary society is so influenced by the accumulation of wealth and power, pleasure and gratification. Indeed there are times when we have to admit that – despite the goodness of so many – much of the worldview of our times is defined by values which are not compatible with the message of Christ.
So often we find that economic growth is set as the defining factor of what progress is. Of course we thank God for the wealth that our nation has been able to attain in recent years and for the fact that so many have been able to rise up from that degrading and harsh poverty, which marked many parts of this city and this diocese for too long. But economic progress on its own does not provide for all human needs. We see that in its most obvious light when Ireland can be top in Europe in a wide range of economic indicators and yet can very much on the lower level of certain social indicators. We see it in a situation in which wealthy Ireland can have such a high rate of youth suicide. We see it in the emptiness of a culture of drugs and drink.
The Church itself has lost credibility because it has become less otherworldly and has failed to witness to the otherness of God, because it has at times failed to free itself from the bonds of power seeking. Renewal of the Church must be such that it bears credible witness in its own life to the fact that the person is worth more than what he or she possesses, that wealth and consumerism are not the answers to the search for hope and meaning.
In today’s world where success is measured so much in terms of power and possessions, the Church must turn more decisively towards God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who gives himself. He is not self-centred or closed, attached to the trappings of power and wealth. He is a God, as we read in Second Corinthians, who was rich, but shows his wealth through becoming poor for our sake, “to make us rich out of his poverty”. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who empties himself; a God who gives himself in generous love and invites us to enter into his inner life of love, through following that same path of generosity and self-giving. Our God is a generous God, a God of love.
The Christian presence in the world is one which recognises the otherness of God, a God who reveals that the only law of the universe is the law of love. The triumph of that law will only take place when we reject any trace of arrogance and power-seeking and become a reflection of the law of love.
The early Christian communities were communities where no one was left in need. These communities recognised, through their reflection on the Word of God and the experience of the breaking of the bread, that whatever we possess and whatever human genius and culture can produce are ultimately not ours, but that we live for the Lord, we live to witness to his love which is generous.
Renewal of the Church must go deeper and deeper day-by-day and must give us the ability to reject the emptiness of so many promises which do not help us to rise above and beyond what a purely human project can provide us with.
These candidates are called now to take on their ministry and to witness to the Lord who calls us to be enriched through becoming poor. It is not an easy path. It is a path which leaves much room for easy deception. But it is a path which if achieved reveals true human authenticity. And perhaps that above all is what young people look for in the Church and in its ministers.
We need priests and we need good priests who are authentic human beings and authentic ministers to the Lord. Young people turn towards the Church in their search for authenticity. Often their glance moves too quickly elsewhere. This is in part due to the lack of the authenticity of our witness, but it may also be due to the fact that these young people have not taken the time to look in depth at the message of Jesus. It may be that young people are satisfied with what the young man of the Gospel remained unsatisfied with and as a result they do not continue in their search for something deeper still.
I challenge those young men who may be thinking in terms of a possible call to the priesthood. I challenge those who may never have allowed that thought to be fully addressed in their hearts. Jesus may be calling you to take that great step of generosity which can also lead you to true authenticity in your life. Do not be afraid. Do not be overcome by the failures of priests or by scandals. Let your love of Jesus Christ open your heart to the challenge of becoming a good priest, a priest totally detached from the values of the world in order to bring true value to the world. Irish society, the more it prides itself in being post-Christian the more it needs the message of Christ, the more its needs authentic witnesses to Christ.
Robert, Joseph and Padraig: You now prepare yourselves to answer the call of the Lord and to receive from him the power of acting in his name, in persona Christi. You are called to become identified with Christ through an exemplary life, so that you can be his ministers in renewing his life-giving sacrifice, through the ministry of reconciliation of people from their sinful ways and through bringing the message of God’s love into people’s lives changing them into being loving people. May the Lord be with you in this ministry.