28 September – Priesthood Sunday – Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Ballapousta

PRIESTHOOD SUNDAY
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
CHURCH OF ST CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA, BALLAPOUSTA
SUNDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 2008

As you may know this year has been designated, here in Ireland, as the Year of Vocation by the Catholic Church.  It is a year in which we concentrate a lot on putting across this message:

Through our baptism we all have a vocation.

In other words, we have all been called, by God, to bear witness to God’s presence in our lives and in the world.  We are all called to love God and love our neighbour. 

We are called to serve God and to serve our neighbours – especially those weaker and poorer than we are.  How we answer that call will decide how we will be in the world to come.

It so happens that today’s Readings fit nicely with the topic of conversation.

We believe that we are all being called, by God, to share His life for ever in Heaven.  God is offering that gift to each one of us.  But what do we have to do – if anything – to receive that gift?  Some people live their lives in the belief – apparently – that it does not matter what we do or how we live our lives – we are going to be all right on the day.  Nothing could be further from the truth!
Today’s Readings tell us, loud and clear, that we are all personally responsible for our own salvation.  We have a part to play.  Sure it is on the one hand a free gift of God to us – but on the other hand – and this is the message being hammered home today, our salvation is also the fruit of our co-operation and the result of us exercising our own free will.

St Augustine put it well when he said:  ‘The God who created you without you willing it – will not save you without you willing it’

In today’s Reading we have two sons – both being called, invited or commanded, by their father, to go and work in his vineyard.  The first, who obviously does not believe in having arguments with people, says ‘yes’ but obviously had not the slightest intention of going.  The second says ‘no’ initially but then thought better of it and actually went.  All are agreed that he is the one who did the will of his father. 

We have a third story of a son who did the will of His Father  – Jesus Christ was sent into the world, by his Father to do the will of the One who sent him.  He humbled himself to the point of dying the death of a criminal on the cross.   Sure – but God raised him up in glory. 

The fact is that God has sent each one of us into this world to do some good.  If we do not do that good it will remain undone.  Jesus said: “It is not the One who says Lord, Lord who enters the Kingdom of Heaven but the one who does the Will of the Lord”.  It is not enough to have pious sentiments and good intentions.  We need to set out to produce deeds and actions in order to fulfil the Will of the Lord.

The Year of Vocation Committee has designated today as Priesthood Sunday.  They have done so in the belief that God is calling men to become priests –and if that is so – it is important that they be helped to hear that call and to answer it and by so doing, play the part that is required for them to enter eternal life. 

This Year of Vocations Committee is headed up by Father Paddy Rushe.  Father Rushe is a native of Coalisland in Co Tyrone, a priest of the diocese of Armagh, formerly a Curate in Drogheda, now a Curate in Dundalk.  He is also National Director of Vocations.

Priesthood Sunday has two purposes:

1.    To give an opportunity to promote priesthood as a positive option today, and secondly,
2.    To support and encourage priests to be the best possible priests they can be.

This can be done by praying for them and acknowledging their presence on the ground in our parishes.

To celebrate Priesthood Sunday we are here in St. Catherine’s Church, Ballapousta.  You may ask why Ballapousta?  Last week the bishops met in Maynooth and, would you believe that some of them were asking a more basic question – Where is Ballapousta?

Of course we are here because of the late great Olivia Mary Taafe – Foundress of St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society.  She was born near Tuam, Co Galway in 1832 – three years after Catholic Emancipation.  Her maiden name was Blake and the Blakes were one of the fourteen Tribes of Galway.  Olivia married John Joseph Taafe in 1867.  After her marriage she and her husband settled at Smarmore Castle in this area. She lived here for 27 years.

St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society is a lay organisation, approved by the Irish Hierarchy.  Its purpose is to extend the Kingdom of God by promoting the Vocations of the Priesthood and to help its members to understand their own vocations as people of God.

So, I think it is quite fitting that we gather here to celebrate Priesthood Sunday. 

When we try to encourage people to become priests or to enter religious life you often hear the words of Jesus – “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers to his harvest”. 

We are here in Ballapousta – in the parish of Ardee.  It is an area that is famous for its rich harvests.  Today I want to pay tribute to the farmers who, year in and year out, go out to plough the fields in the cold of winter and to sow the seed in the frost of spring and finally, struggle against bad summers, in order to save the harvest. 

I heard a lovely programme on BBC Radio Four last Sunday telling how the people used to turn out to sing Harvest Home – Harvest Home when the last loads of grain were bring brought to the granaries. 

Today the work of those who labour in the fields is much lonelier and far less appreciated one.  People don’t really appreciate all the work that has to go into producing the loaf of bread or the pound of butter.  Perhaps if we had a greater appreciation of, and a respect for, the work of those who produce our food, well then we might have a greater respect for, and appreciation of, those who dedicate their lives to making sure that we also have the Bread of Life – the bread of eternal life – namely those who have become priests and to whom God has given the power to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. 
Every priest is, first and foremost, a teacher of the Word of God.  I doubt if teachers today get the credit they deserve for their help in preparing children for life.  I can think of lots of others who get far more praise and attention than teachers do and who do a lot less hard work.

The priest is also a teacher.  His subject is an important one.  It does not get points for entry into the University or the Institutes but for entry into something far more important and permanent, namely, everlasting happiness.  I have always seen preaching and teaching as a hugely important part of my life as a priest and as a bishop.  It means that I have to keep on learning myself in order to keep my sermons fresh with many examples. 

I once heard a debate about whether there was any resemblance between the work of a lawyer and that of a priest.  The lawyer pointed out that she worked to build a more just and truthful world and that she pleaded at the Bar of Justice – in the law courts and Tribunals.  The priest replied that he also pleaded for justice – the difference was that he pleaded at the Supreme Court of Heaven and Earth and before the Supreme Judge – the one who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  There was this difference – that if he pleaded with faith and confidence he was absolutely certain to always get a hearing and a result.
Somebody once said to me – the priest is a wanted man. 
•    Wanted for: baptisms and burials;
•    for weddings and funerals;
•    for sick calls and anointings;
•    for times of tragedy and of triumphs.

I am often asked:  Why did you become a priest?  I have thought about the answer long and hard.  I now think that it was because the priest in the parish of Laragh, when I grew up, was always wanted.  He was wanted to pray for people, in times of sickness and of death.  I saw how the people loved their priest and, above al, I saw the efforts they made to attend Sunday Mass – walking miles in hail, rain or snow.  I decided that the one who celebrates the Mass is loved and respected and early wanted by them.

We read in the Gospels that Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.  We still do the teaching and the preaching but what about the curing and the healings? I think priests who hear confessions would tell you that their work involves a lot of healing of anguished hearts and minds and of restoring peace of mind to troubled people.  So then the priest is, in a sense, a teacher, a lawyer and a doctor all rolled into one.

Jesus said:  “I am the Good Shepherd”.  The shepherd has to travel with his flock from one pasture to another and to find water.  The shepherd leads the flock to shelter in times of storms and protects them and keeps them safe against the wolves and lions and the sheep-stealers.  In the same way a Parish Priest is described as the Pastor or shepherd of the parish.  He too has to travel the journey of life with his people, sharing their sorrows and their joys and what an enriching experience that is!
Today I want to thank God for St. Joseph’s Young Priests Society.  I want to praise God for their prayers and sacrifice and for the generous support which they have given, and continue to give, to the formation of priests here in Ireland.  It all comes, I believe, from your deep faith in, and love for, the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  It is a love that matters – a love for Jesus present in the Eucharist and present among his people.

Today I gladly take up the invitation to pay tribute to the priests I have known.  We priests are not angels – we are human and we are sinners.  We need to go to confessions to confess our sins and to get pardon, as everybody else has to do.  But I want to pay tributes to the priests of this diocese – whom I have known for the past thirteen years.

When we were ordained – the Church looked for a number of qualities – good health, sufficient brains to follow the courses, appropriate lifestyle and right intentions. We knew that none of us has a right to receive this office for himself.  We offered ourselves because we felt called by God and we asked the Church to consider our offer and if it was so decided, to call us to be ordained.  We knew well that it was a gift that we had not merited by our actions.

It was when Jesus saw his followers harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd that he felt sorry for them.  He said to his disciples:  “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers to his harvest”.

I grew up on a farm in an era when there was a huge variety of harvests to be saved – hay – oats – barley –wheat – potatoes – turnips.  There was quite a lot of heavy, monotonous work involved.  But there was a huge sense of satisfaction when the last load entered the haggard and the last sack of grain went out to the granary.

Mickey Harte hid the letters T.I.N.E stitched into every jersey of every Tyrone player for last Sunday’s match.  They stood for Two is not enough.  It seems to have worked and worked brilliantly.  But lo and behold – what do we now find – that neither is three enough because they are already talking about another title – next year and so on.

The Latin word for enough is Satis.  It is the basis of the word ‘satisfy’ and this begs the question – What does really satisfy the hunger of the human heart?  St Augustine recognised the question and he said: 

You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

I have never seen young men to be found wanting when they were confronted with a harvest that needed saving.  Yes the harvest is rich – millions of people hungry to hear about Jesus Christ, worshipping so many other gods and still finding their hearts empty and thirsting for true worship. Multitudes frantically searching for reasons to hope and being led astray into deserts of despair and a wilderness of false hopes and delusions.

May St. Joseph – Protector of the Holy Family – protect all families and inspire all fathers to face up to their responsibilities in rearing their children.

May Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church and Seat of Wisdom, help in this Year of Vocation.  May she inspire all parents to discuss, with their children, what God may be calling them to do in life.  May all those who feel that they may be called, by God, to become a priest, get the help and the support and the encouragement they need to answer that call.

Today I remember with great love and gratitude all those who helped me to answer that call.

AMEN

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