Homily given in Cathedral of The Annunciation and St Nathy, Ballaghderreen, by Bishop Brendan Kelly on the Feast of The Baptism of The Lord and in light of the news that Syrian Refugees are to be re-located to Ballaghaderreen.
‘The truth I have now come to realise’ St Peter says in the house of the Gentile Cornelius, ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’.
I find these words from the second reading today very striking in the light of the news that refugees from Syria will be housed amongst us, and that that will be happening soon.
Many people were interviewed by media here on Friday, and it was so good to hear over and over that we will welcome these people whose terrible suffering we have witnessed for years now on our television screens. This deep compassion for the people who will come was, as one paper put it, mixed with a sense of exasperation that there had been no consultation with the people locally.
One person who was interviewed described Syria very appropriately as ‘St Paul’s country’. Yes, sometimes the sacred scripture becomes alive and real and very close to us. Our own history of famine and emigration comes alive and close too at moments like this. People were saying that too in the reports from Ballaghaderreen.
I am struck too by the fact that we celebrated the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem on the very day this surprise announcement was made: We know that as soon as the Wise men had left them, Mary and Joseph had to gather up whatever they could and take flight with their infant, Jesus, becoming refugees in Egypt. After the Wise Men had left ‘the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt…for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him”’ (Mt 2:13).
Just as Jesus identified with the most impoverished and rejected people in being born in a shed, and with the condemned and criminals in dying on the cross, so he identifies with all refugees, and all endangered, innocent and helpless people. It is our faith that Jesus comes to us in them. And so must we reach out to help in whatever way we can … It’s a big challenge, but we are up for it, please God.
Today, this first Sunday of the Year, is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Every one of us too is baptised. In baptism we identify with Jesus. ‘This is my son, my daughter’ the voice of the Father declares of each person who is baptised, as He did of Jesus. We are each of us beloved of the Father, sharing that relationship with Jesus by adoption as it were. Today is a day for us to remember this fact, and to look again at all that Baptism is, and what our identity now as brother, sister of Jesus means for our lives and attitudes.
And this has implications for how we see all other people…and particularly those who are different and who are victims of the hatred, inhumanity and terror so widespread in our times. For us as for Jesus, all people are fundamentally children of God, his beloved sons or daughters…whether they know it or not, whether they accept it or not. This is how we see them and treat them. Each one a gift of God to us, to the world…each one having the capability of being gift.
We have had a long tradition of men and women going out to faraway places to serve people who are very different to ourselves…missionaries of the Love of God, wanting to serve them in whatever way they could.
More and more that call is at home. ‘My neighbour is all mankind, even those who injure me or differ from me in religion’, many of us learned in the old catechism years ago. God does not have favourites, as St Peter tells us today. May that same God, present as Father Son and Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Jesus and at all our baptisms, enable us now and always to be good neighbours…and particularly to people who are new amongst us.