Knocknacarra Novena

Bishop Brendan was invited to speak at a Novena held in Knocknacarra Parish (Galway) on Saturday May 30th.  The text of his homily is printed below.

“Hope in a time of Recession” 


‘When Pentecost day came round, the apostles had all met in one room….’

The banks, those bastions of trustworthiness, were shaking; even beginning to crumble it seemed before our eyes. Along with them and their shares peoples’ money was disappearing like dust. Jobs were becoming insecure and many people found themselves unemployed. Houses were being re-possessed, building sites went silent, and the future was beginning to look very bleak for our young people. The traditional safety valve of emigration was closed, for this recession is worldwide, and the same things are happening to peoples’ lives in the USA, England, Australia and all over Europe.

We were all being plunged into a new vulnerability over which we seemed to have no control. The very foundations of all our prosperity were disappearing, and we had no preparation…

Now that the day has finally come and I am here, – and glad to be here and to be back home in Galway…I stand before you not just under the long lingering shadow of the Recession, but more immediately under the great dark cloud of the Ryan Report. As people of faith, we find ourselves caught in another sort of recession as it were: disillusion, questions, anger, another sure ground creaking and cracking under our feet.

As a Catholic and a follower of Jesus, as well as an Irishman, not to mention as a priest and a bishop, (go bhfóire Dia orainn), I am mortified, and I am groping for words….and would prefer to escape and not to have to face this appalling revelation. Not for the first time in the past almost 20 years now, there’s a wish the ground might open up and swallow me, especially since we are far from being finished yet.

What can one say?  Facts, truths spoken, written down in black and white, speak for themselves. The naked reality of what went on under the watch of a church so sure of itself, at the pinnacle of its triumph, along with the State, after centuries of persecution. We had become proud as church and nation, it now seems… we all know what the proverb says. ‘After pride comes…fall’

We are on our knees and much of our presumed glorious history of the years following liberation is in tatters, and must be re-written.

What we cannot do now, though, is allow the ground swallow us up. We have to say ‘Yes’. This is a terrible truth. And we are sorry. And our hearts are broken. And if you are amongst those unseen, unheard, stifled, broken children, we are so sorry. And we want to listen, we want to hear, to support and to cherish you. Even at this late stage.

Moreover, if you are amongst those many many others who were not in institutions, but who knew terrible abuse as a child, and for whom there is no public forum and no redress, we will listen to you too, and that’s a promise, and we will do all we can to bring healing, for we cherish you too.

The economic recession brings a terrible vulnerability for many families and individuals at one level. But now this Report brings an even deeper vulnerability, and shame.

We have come together this evening to celebrate the Mass. The Holy Eucharist. The Breaking of Bread. The Breaking of the Body of Christ. The pouring out of His Blood. The redemption wrought, we believe, by that forced nakedness and cruel exposure, bleeding and bloodied, on the cross of ridicule from which there was no escape, for he was nailed to it. Totally defenceless, entirely vulnerable.

We have come together as we do at every mass to remember and to celebrate this appalling event, because he asked us to do it, he obliged us. “Do this in memory of me” Jesus said, his last admonition to us.

Never allow yourselves forget: the vulnerability of Jesus, the defenselessness of your God. Your capacity to crucify the most innocent one.

‘Do this in memory of me’ not, then, for my sake but for your own, because you will need to do it. You will need to do it over and over, century after century. Sunday after Sunday 

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ Jesus said too. But do we really believe it? Did we really believe it? Did we even have a clue what it meant?

Maybe now that humility, that humiliation of soul and heart that Jesus said was blessed, maybe now we feel it, in all its pain….

For we thought we were doing great…we never had it so good! Never more money in our pockets ! The scourge of emigration solved and left behind! And earlier before that as Catholics, never so many vocations, missionaries, a truly Golden age.

Now we acknowledge it was not all golden and the economic boom was not all boom.

‘Do this in memory of me’ Jesus said, lest you forget….and we did, forget.

Lest you grow proud, and we did grow proud..

So where are we and what can we do?

Well, here we are, gathered together.

To do this in memory of him. This Eucharistic prayer. Prayer –now there’s a word!

Prayer is something that rises from the heart. Often the broken heart. Never a mere obligation, a law imposed from without. We are here because we want to be. Like Peter ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’.

Prayer is a cry of our own hearts. In face of pain, and the unknown future, and the poor fragility that is so much part of our human reality.

A cry to the God who is Father of Jesus and our father.

And always at such a gathering the Holy Spirit comes. For he cannot come into pride or power.

‘When Pentecost Day came round, the Apostles had all met in one room…’ as we do tonight. They were still reeling from disappointment and the disaster of Jesus’ death.

If we really do meet and do come together, without judgement or blame, but acknowledging our humanity , our need of each other and of God, hearts crying out together in prayer…then hope is born

The truth for us now in time of recession surely, is, at so many levels, where go if not to each other, and together to God?

The old structures, from the outside so strong they looked: Cut stone, banks, schools, asylums, they were all so strong and impregnable it seemed

But already for many tears so many elegant bank buildings have been sold off, all the great mental and other asylums, where are they? And the great schools and houses of religious groups

All changing hands, disappearing from view.

It is a new time, a new beginning. A Pentecost moment in the deepest sense.

A time not to be afraid of letting the trappings, the accretions go and all they represent. The Apostles had to let go of so many of their assumptions and presumptions. So must we.

That’s why we confess at the beginning of every mass. We always begin with repentance with sorrow. Not because the law says so, but because we have to and there is no other place from which we can authentically pray

And we can do this, and we must.

and that’s Hope, in the deepest and best sense.

Born of letting go. No more self-justification. Born of trusting God anew and always.

Born to the poor in Spirit who know their own limitations and sin, and who have no choice but to rely on God’s love and mercy.

And on that love and mercy reflected in our brothers and sisters gathered with us.

So there is a future and we can trust the future, and not fear it,

not because we can secure it,  but because God will, and we

are people of repentance.

We repent for the past

And we are not afraid of the cost.

When the Advocate comes whom I will send from the Father…

he will lead you to the complete truth…

And he will tell you the things to come.

The Holy Spirit of God is working and is with us…

For we are a people of repentance and we pray –


And the Holy Spirit in us, binding us, is our Hope.