A number of my parishioners said some kind things about my homily this morning and said it encouraged them. It's somewhat more 'personal' in tone than most of my homilies, but it seemed like an appropriate time to speak very personally about some of the challenges of priesthood these days.
It has been a tough week and a half to be a priest in Ireland. There is a storm raging around us at the moment, and it’s not always easy to know what to make of it. Because, some of what is happening these days is JUSTICE – hidden things being brought to light – evil, wrongdoing, incompetence, carelessness and neglect being dragged into the light of day. Sunlight is the best detergent – this kind of purification, even when it is painful, is something that we must accept, and even welcome.
Some of what is happening these days is INJUSTICE – some things have been said which are unfair. Hurtful and hate-filled things have been said. So much of the good work done by laity and clergy has been written off and ignored. Anger about Cloyne is justifiable. However, this same anger has blinded some people and led us to the day I never thought I’d never see – the day when the political leaders of our own country would be mounting an assault, trying to crack open the seal of confession. Priests have been willing to die for the sake of that seal.
Some of the criticism the Church has received has been justified. Some of it has not. But, I don’t think that a homily is the right time for me to work through in detail the rights and wrongs of the whole horrid situation. Good and sincere Catholics disagree about where these rights and wrongs and this is not the time for me address that particular controversy.
Because, I very much appreciate that all of you who have gathered here this morning have made your choice to come to Mass. Many of your friends and family, I am sure, take a different decision. Those of you who have come here have probably had a difficult week and a half as well. Some of you probably dread turning on the radio or looking at the newspaper.
Some of you have come to Mass with serious doubts about the Church, or about the clergy. Maybe your faith is battered and bruised. That is understandable. Some of you are here feeling that the Church is getting an unfair whipping and you’re angry with politicians or the media. Maybe you feel like digging in your heels in spite of them. That’s understandable as well. Some of you are probably somewhere between those two positions or don’t really know what to think. That’s understandable as well.
Whatever you feel about being here at Mass this morning, about being part of the Church, can I reassure you of one thing? The real reason that you are here this morning is because God wants you to be here. St Paul in our second reading assures us of this – God has a plan for us, and has chosen us to be the brothers and sisters of his Son. He wants to be at work in us so that we resemble ever more closely Jesus Christ. We must never lose sight of that. God has called us and continues to call us to know His mercy and his love; He invites us to know his friendship and His consolation and the healing power of Christ.
And I am upset at the fact that this pain and damage and all the aftermath from it – both inside and outside the Church – is cutting people off from the healing power of Christ and His Gospel. Lord knows, we need that healing and that Gospel these days. As a priest, it’s the fact that Christ’s own healing and power is being blocked in so many ways that frustrates me.
I have been in this parish for the past X years and have been a priest for the past Y – I can’t really complain of ever being badly treated in any real way because I am a Catholic priest. I haven’t had to deal with people hassling me or insulting me because of my priesthood. I don’t feel threatened or put upon in the slightest in that way. Quite the opposite, in fact. People have been so good and supportive to me in my priesthood and have been keeping me in their prayers, so I don’t at all get the sense that people want to treat me badly. And I want to make it clear that I am as happy today to be a priest as I was the day I was ordained.
No, the thing that concerns me about the priesthood in the present day and about the future is that because of all the evil things that have happened in the past and because of the way we’re dealing with them today, it’s going to be more and more difficult to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people – and in a time when there is so much pain and confusion, that’s truly disheartening. There is so much out there blocking the Gospel and making it harder to hear the voice of Jesus Christ in our country. That, as I said, is truly disheartening.
Because, I genuinely believe in the ‘pearl of great price’. I believe in the Kingdom of God, I believe that knowing Jesus Christ and trying to do God’s will is worth more than anything else in the world. I believe that there is a greater beauty, a greater power, a greater healing, a greater wisdom and a greater consolation in the Gospel of Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father, than in all other philosophies.
I believe that NOTHING compares with the fact that the Son of God has come among us as a man, has suffered for us, and invites us to be part of His family, the Church. I believe that there is nothing greater than knowing that we are His brothers and sisters. There is nothing more life-giving than to know Him in Word and Sacrament.
The fact that you too have gathered here in this church for Mass this morning shows that you too know the attraction and power and healing of Christ – and you will understand me when I say that the only healthy and sure way out of our current morass is in turning to Christ with courage and trust asking Him to give us the words and the understanding and the healing that He alone can bring. We won’t find it in our upset, or our anger or our frustration or our disquiet, unless He alone shows it to us. But if He grants it to us, we will find Him despite the darkness we have to face.
Solomon, in our first reading, prospered because he discerned well. He knew what he needed from God in order to rule justly and he asked for it. God heard him, God granted His desire and gave him even more than He asked for because He asked wisely.
We need the spirit of Solomon today – in our weakness, we need to turn to the Lord and ask him to guide us, to give us his wisdom. We need a spirit of prayer. We need a spirit of discernment. We need a spirit of understanding and right judgement to make sense of difficult times. Above all, we need a faith that binds us ever more closely to Christ. In this faith, we need to find a deep compassion for all who are called to be Christ’s brothers and sisters and to be our brothers and sisters as well. The Lord alone can grant that, and the Lord alone can cause his will to be done, even in times of confusion and chaos.
St Paul points us in the right direction – he reassures us, “by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him.” We see that most clearly of all in the Cross – when Christ brought salvation out of unadulterated evil. All that Christ has to give us comes out of that darkness. We ask Him to do the same for our Church, for our people in Ireland today – to bring His salvation and light out of the darkness and confusion of these days.