3 November – Feast of St Malachy – Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul, Ennis, Co Clare
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
MONDAY 3 NOVEMBER 2008
FEAST OF ST MALACHY
I know that you are beginning a Triduum here tonight. It is a privilege and joy to speak to you all on this occasion. Today in Armagh we celebrate the Feast of St. Malachy in a big way. After all, he is a native son and we usually have a Triduum which ends today with special Masses and with the blessing of the relic of St. Malachy.
We have great admiration for Malachy because he led the Church through a huge programme of change. It wasn’t easy but it was necessary. People had become slack as regards the celebration of marriage and as regards going to Confession. The story sounds familiar. The great abbeys were in the hands of private families, who held them for their own personal use. When Malachy became Abbot of Bangor he refused to accept the land and revenues but he accepted the work.
In 1124 he became Bishop of Connor and his principal problems were the shortage of priests and neglect of the sacraments. Again the story sounds familiar. Well, Malachy set about cleaning things up and was so successful that after three years he was driven out by a local chieftain on whose corns he had obviously walked!
In 1129, Malachy became Archbishop of Armagh after it had been left to him by Cellach. But Malachy was supplanted by a rival candidate who was supported by the local chieftain and by Cellach’s family. Obviously they wanted to retain the post for themselves. For three years Malachy made no attempt to assert his rights until Gilbert of Limerick, who was Papal Legate, persuaded his to overcome his reluctance.
So, while Malachy ruled part of his diocese, but not the town or the Cathedral of Armagh, an armed peace followed until Muirchertach’s death in1134. Muirchertach was the rival candidate. His successor, Niall, left Armagh to Malachy, and this long dispute only ended with Malachy’s resignation in 1137.
Malachy then returned to his own diocese of Down and set out for Rome to secure confirmation of the changes made by the reformers and to seek Pallia for the Archbishops of Armagh and Cashel.
One result of this journey was the meeting with St. Bernard which led to the foundation of Mellifont Abbey in 1142. This Cistercian Abbey became the parents of some thirty (30) abbeys in Ireland and, of course, was the forerunner of the Cistercian Abbey, I suppose, at Roscrea.
He wasn’t given the Pallia on the occasion of his first visit to Rome. Formal applications had to be made for them. This was made by the Church in Ireland in 1148. Once again Malachy was sent to obtain them but he didn’t live to see this as he died at Chairvaux in France in the company of St Bernard on his way to Rome.
I have gone on a little bit about St. Malachy there because he lived in tough times but he was a courageous man and he was a free man. He wasn’t intimidated by the powerful ones of this world just as Christ was a free man, as we see from today’s gospel, where he refused to be intimidated by the leading Pharisees who were the powerful ones in his times. In fact, in that Gospel, Jesus addressed himself to the leading Pharisees and other high-class personnel as their superior. No earthly power can intimidate him. Nothing can deter him from announcing the truth of the Kingdom. The fact that he was invited to dine with the leading Pharisees showed that he was as comfortable interacting with Palestine’s leaders as he was looking after their poor and their sick.
Christ sees the invitation to sow the seeds of the Gospels. That shows that the glitz of power, wealth and fame held no sway over his heart. That was the way of Christ then and that is the way he would have his followers to be now and I think that was the way Malachy was, as his fairly short life reveals. He was not afraid to preach the gospel courageously.
My hope is that as we attend Triduums and ceremonies like that, we too shall become more like Christ. More like St. Malachy in our following of Christ.
I have just returned from attending a Synod of Bishops in Rome. For three weeks, some 240 bishops, with some religious and lay people, gathered to discuss the topic: The Word of God and the Life and Mission of the Church. We began with Mass, not in St. Peter’s Basilica, but in St. Paul’s Basilica because this is the year dedicated to St. Paul.
At that Mass, Pope Benedict marked our cards for us, in a sense, when he said: ‘In this year dedicated to St. Paul, we will hear the urgent cry of St. Paul the apostle of the Gentiles, as follows: I should be in trouble if I fail to preach the Gospel’ or as another translation has it: ‘Woe to me if I fail to preach the Gospel’. It is – says the Holy Father – a cry which becomes, for every Christian, an insistent invitation to place oneself at the service of Christ’.
I would like you to note that this insistent invitation is extended not just to Cardinals, bishops and priests, but to every Christian. The invitation is to place oneself at the service of Christ.
Pope Benedict identifies four classes of people who are ‘in urgent need’ he says ‘of hearing the Good News about Jesus Christ and therefore do not know Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps there are no such people around Ennis but one never knows.
‘First’ he says, ‘there are many who have not yet met Christ and are waiting for the first proclamation of his Gospel. Oh yes, they may have been baptised but have they taken the message to heart?
Secondly, others though having received Christian formation, their enthusiasm has weakened and they maintain only a superficial contact with the Word of God.
Thirdly, there are others who have fallen away from the practice of their faith and are in need of a new evangelisation.
The last category, are righteous persons who are asking essential questions on the meaning of life and death – questions to which only Christ can supply and fulfilling response.
The Pope went on to say that for the next three weeks, at the Synod, we would be considering how to render, evermore effective, the proclamation of the Gospel in this our time. He says, ‘We all sense how necessary it is to place the Word of God at the centre of our lives. To welcome Christ as our only redeemer as the Kingdom of God in person and to allow His light to enlighten every aspect of humanity from the family to the school, to culture to work,; to free time to other sectors of society and of our life. The Pope advised us that only the Word of God can change the depth of the heart of man’.
As a result, the Synod came up with a proposal, it says, ‘the mission of announcing the Word of God is the task of all the disciples of Jesus Christ as a result of their baptism. And the awareness of this task should be deepened in every parish and every community and every Catholic organisation.
It was proposed that every faithful follower of Christ should have its own Bible and should use it to pray, to listen to the Word of God and to pray the Word of God.
There is one special method of praying the Word of God which involves four steps:
1. That we read the Word of God, to find out what it is saying.
2. That we read it again to find out what it is saying to us, here and now, on this date, in this place.
3. That in response we talk back to God telling him our feelings, our desires, our requests, our intentions.
4. That we consider, carefully, what the Word of God is urging us to do in relation to our family, our neighbours, and our work situation.
I think St. Malachy had some such similar experience. As a monk he would have meditated on the Word of God. Remember he came from that generation of people who carved the wonderful high crosses, depicting Gospel scenes. The Gospels were their television sets and so he would have achieved that freedom and that courage and that zeal to bring the Word of God to others. That is the challenge that we too meet today.