Bishop Brendan returned to his native diocese of Galway on Sunday July 16th to ordain the diocese’s newest priest, Fr Declan Lohan. Declan who trained in law and had been called to The Bar, responded to God’s call to serve His people as a priest. This is the text of Bishop Brendan’s homily. Our own diocese wishes Fr Declan every blessing for his future ministry among God’s people in the Diocese of Galway.
The biographical note published by Father Diarmuid for your ordination today tells us that you ‘give much credit for your vocation to the witness and example of many significant people in your life.’
The words ‘witness’ and ‘example’ leaped off the page when I read this. I’d like us then to reflect today on the importance of witness and example. Particularly when it comes to our task in the Church today, so emphasised by Pope Francis and all recent Popes, of spreading the word, planting the good seed. The day is gone in Europe, and particularly in Ireland, when the dominant culture will do that for us.
It’s now 42 years since Pope Paul the Sixth (now Blessed Paul VI) made the following oft-quoted remark in his powerful exhortation on the proclamation of the gospel, Evangelii Nuntiandi :
‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses’. Example is the great teacher, for good or ill. Children will do what I do, not what I say. Faith is caught, not taught, and caught best when the life I live is in sync with the words I speak. But in a particular way in these times when all institutions and traditional sources of authority and wisdom are doubted and under severe scrutiny, witness and example in the matter of faith become far more significant. This is true for all followers of Jesus Christ, but especially for those of us called to the service of priesthood. Such witness will expose us to opposition, even ridicule and possibly danger. Never forget what Saint Paul says today: The spirit comes to help us in our weakness.
You go on to say Declan, that the significant people whose example and witness led you to this day were your family, your teachers, your neighbours and your friends. These people are here today. You yourselves know who you are.
And what you are describing, Declan, is the community of faith out of which your call from God emerged and within which it could be discerned. Clearly this community of faith in Oranmore feels affirmed by your ordination: the sense of celebration and joy is palpable here today and rightly so.
As a priest, the witness of your life will be everything. The rituals you perform, the clothes you will wear have their significance, but what people will see above all is the life you live, the way you relate. And as a priest, your work will be the work of building community, community after the heart of God who is love, as revealed by Jesus Christ. That is the community of faith that is the church. That community always stands in need of being built and re-built (as our family homes do, and indeed our families themselves), for the community is made up of people, all of us, priests and people, imperfect and unfinished by definition – and we sin. [Isn’t that why the owner therefore in today’s Gospel cautions his over-eager servants or ministers against their plans for purification now.] The harvest is rich as Jesus said, and in need of labourers. You have responded to Jesus’ appeal. The heart of the God who is Holy Trinity longs for his children to love one another, and that’s what building the community that in his church is all about.
Pope Paul went on to say ‘It is ..primarily by her conduct and life that the church will evangelize (bring the Good News to) the world, in other words by her living witness to the Lord Jesus, the living witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in face of the powers of this world…’
The implements that will do the building of the community of Jesus Christ are poverty and detachment, and freedom in face of the powers of the world. These are the implements of the priestly trade. These were Jesus’ implements, the tools of his trade, for which at the age of thirty he laid aside the tools of his training in the carpenter’s shed at Nazareth.
You too have laid aside the trade in which you were trained, to follow Jesus as a priest, with and for the people of God in the Diocese of Galway. Your priesthood and shepherding will be enhanced by your first training, just as the experience of being wood-worker was never lost on Jesus. On behalf of the diocese I thank you, and thank God for inspiring you, for the quiet persistence with which he planted that good seed of your vocation and gathered you into a community in which you could hear his call.
Talking of poverty and detachment, Pope Francis, speaking to priests, religious and seminarians in Havana in September of 2015, told them ‘to love poverty like a mother’. That’s not the message the world gives, nor any of us want to hear maybe. And then, when you think a mother gives life and unconditional love. Isn’t the Pope saying that it is out of our poverty and detachment that we become life-givers?
He went on then to invite them to ask themselves the question ‘How is my spirit of poverty doing?’ And ‘How is my spirit of interior detachment?’ Good questions for all of us priests as we ponder ordination today and if we are to be renewed joyfully in the call to priesthood now coming to its first fruition in Declan. Can it be that my greatest gift or talent in this particular calling lies in the areas in which I need you and you and you who have the gifts and talents I don’t have? The first Beatitude of Jesus – and the one that matters most – is ‘Blessed are the poor’ as Saint Luke’s version has it, indicating something visible and ‘Blessed are the Poor in Spirit’ in Saint Matthew’s better-known version, indicating an interior reality as well. But never forget Saint Paul in today’s second reading: ‘The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness’. What I lack, my poverty, leaves room for the Holy Spirit. If I think I have it all, or should have it all, the Holy Spirit cannot get in.
And last year Pope Francis in his prayer for the Year of Mercy gave us another powerful reason to give thanks for our poverty: ‘Lord, you willed that your ministers would be clothed in weakness, in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error. Let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved and forgiven by God’. Declan my brother, do not ever be afraid, when you doubt yourself, feel unable or incapable, feel lost or famished. These things are God’s gift so you can be the man of compassion like Jesus, with a heart always for the misery people experience.
The enemy of today’s parable continues to scatter his seed when the planter of the good seed is sleeping. The field in which you will now prosper, please God, has its share of darnel, weed, in it. Growing strong, loud at times, assertive and threatening to swallow up and smother the good wheat. In the face of all that, you must keep your eyes on the master and owner of the field and your ears especially open to his word, above all other words and promptings. And when that word seems dry and lifeless, remember again Paul’s words today: ‘when we cannot pray properly, the Spirit Himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words…’ Servants in the field of the Lord can panic in our day too at the seeming strength and proliferation of the darnel. ‘Do you want us to weed it out?’ Let’s clean things up now! The owner’s concern and passion is for the good wheat: rooting out weed at this point will do damage, destroy the good wheat too. Leave the judgment to the owner. ‘No’, he is definite and clear. The voice of Wisdom herself, who tells us in today’s first reading that our relationship with our fellow-men, all of them, must be governed by kindness.
The Gospel story today brings home to us – thank God – that God is patient above all else with this world he has made and all of us who are in it. Love is patient always in the first place, because the God who is Love is patient above all. Jesus addressed this God always as ‘Father’, as you will be Declan from today. Patient with all things and with everybody. Including yourself.
We’re not priests in order to fix the world, or anybody in it. So we can relax on that score. We are priests however because God has called us, and like him we believe for all, we hope for all, hope against hope often, and we love each one more than they do themselves, and to love too God’s field, the Church and the common home in which the God of life has planted all people, for their thriving.