Canon Jim Finan – Golden Jubilee

‘You did not choose me, no, I chose you;

And I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last…’

This reading is taken from the long discourse delivered by Jesus in St John’s Gospel at the Last Supper in the upper room with his closest friends, each of whom he had himself chosen. It was just before he was arrested, condemned and executed. It is therefore very much his last will and testament, as St John saw it. Jesus’ heart is entirely open, laid bare before those whom he loves to the point of literally laying down his life.

What a beautiful passage for his people to choose for their priest! A priest, like those gathered with him at the Last Supper, is also chosen by Jesus. That you have chosen this passage I find deeply moving, as you give thanks for Fr Jim…and for his ministry here amongst you these last 23 years. It is a passage full of love, and of Jesus’ deep desire that those he has chosen would know joy in the experience of being his dear friends.  What better  prayer could we offer for you, Fr Jim, tonight, or wish for you!

Jesus’ Last Supper with his friends was what we see now as the First Mass. Like this Mass this evening with Fr Jim, it too was a moment of fond farewell…but a moment that has remained, very much alive to this very day in every mass that is celebrated. May this moment too be a memory that will remain alive, sustaining and giving life to this parish and to each of us here long after this particular night is.

I thank you for choosing this Gospel. It is such a powerful reminder to us all of what our Catholic faith is all about fundamentally: Yes, it is about things we believe in our heads and give assent to: doctrines, teachings, moral positions, what is right and what is wrong; it is about commandments and laws, it is about how we should conduct ourselves; it is also about being kind and it about forgiving too; it is about sharing and giving. But beneath and above all that, to be a follower of Jesus is to a person who loves and who ‘lays down his life’ as Jesus did from his very conception, for his friends. And Jesus’ friends are no small or limited group of people, but a circle as wide as all who have ever lived or will live –as far as he is concerned.

And to be a priest is to be like that too : to walk with the people as Jesus walked, not in front, not behind but with, shoulder to shoulder…in good times and bad, the ups and the downs, the births, the marriages, the deaths, times of joy and times of sorrow. From the crib of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary, Jesus walked with us, identified with us, gave his life for us, bridging the gap between us and God. He continues to do so in those he calls to be priests: Binding force, breaking down the barriers, healing the divisions. Reconciliation and healing, belonging and communion – the business entrusted to the priest, the call he has received.

Look at this gathering tonight around the priest Fr Jim Finan: this communion , men and women, young and old, united, together.

I don’t have to spell out for anybody here the need for such ministers, as great if not greater today than at any time in history. Men who will walk with people as Jesus walked because they are prepared to identify with Jesus, to follow him intently and to choose him as friend. That he is calling men to this intimacy and friendship with him is as certain today as at any time…and let us pray fervently tonight that young men will listen, be inspired to hear and take up the mantle of priesthood, for the sake and the service of God’s people.

That’s what Jim Finan did in 1956 at the end of his secondary schooling…and aren’t we glad he did? Us fellow priests here on the altar with you tonight. We are glad, we thank God. You the people of Keash and other places where Fr Jim served, and other friends, aren’t you glad he listened to that still small idealistic voice that called him to an unlimited generosity with his life and talents in priesthood…so you and all of us would not be without those who would imitate for us all that Jesus did, all that he was. St Paul tells the younger man Timothy in the second reading today : ‘You have in you a spiritual gift which was given to you when the prophets spoke and when the body of elders laid their hands on you: do not let it lie unused’. 

Canon Jim, Fr Jim, you did not let the gift and the call of God lie unused. That’s why we have all gathered around you tonight for this Last Supper in Keash, this Mass of thanksgiving. And our prayer, now that the time has come for a less active ministry, is that you will continue by the grace of Him who chose you in the beginning, to bear even greater fruit as you relax more into the love of the one who longs for you to be ever more deeply his friend.

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Finally, as it happens, we are celebrating this mass on the feast day of the great St Vincent de Paul, that 17th century Frenchman who gave his life to the service of the poor and the education of priests. What matters in the end for us who are priests is that our poverty and priesthood must rhyme in our lives and in the service we render. ‘The poor are our masters’ St Vincent de Paul said, and again, ’the poor are our teachers and our patrons’.

The great gift of long life is that we grow, unavoidably, into being ever more poor, and therefore ever more capable of being the blessed of God; and because of that, mysteriously, ever more effectively his ministers.

It’s a good day then to celebrate your growth, Jim, to this ‘blessed’ state, by the grace of the Lord whom you have sought, with all your gifts and all your limits, to serve for 50 years already. And our prayer is that peace and joy be yours as you continue to serve God and his people for many years to come. Ad multos annos!