26 January – St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
MONDAY 26 JANUARY 2009
But, whether you go on pilgrimage to Rome – or stay at home – every pupil of St. Paul’s – and every teacher in St Paul’s – should know as much as they possibly c an about Paul.
We are all called to go on a journey of discovering who this character is called Paul.
• Why is he so important as to have a school named after him?
• Why is he so important that we have to have a special year devoted to him?
• Why are his writings so special that we have to hear a bit of them almost every Sunday of the year?
The short answer – Saul was chosen by God to do a special job. Just as each one of you has been chosen by God, to become a saint – because God loves you.
The first thing to remember is that Saul – later called Paul – was not always a saint. When St. Stephen was stoned to death, by the Jews, for his belief in Jesus Christ – Saul was there urging his murderers on. Saul stood there watching their coats in case the pick-pockets would rob them.
Saul was so arrogant – so sure that he was always right – that he became a leading persecutor of the followers of Christ. He spied on them, had both men and women Christians arrested and put in prison.
Then the Lord intervened rather decisively. Saul was literally knocked off his high horse as he sped to Damascus. He was brought to the ground and to his senses. He was struck blind for a time. Suddenly the fellow who knew it all who felt he could work out his own salvation on his own through his obedience of the law – had to be led by the hand.
“Saul – Saul – why are you persecuting me”?
“Who are you Lord”
“I am Jesus Christ whom you are persecuting”.
A healthy reminder to all of us! Whatever you do – whether it is good or bad – to another – you do so to Jesus himself.
Saul discovered that despite all his rotten, proud past, God has chosen Him. God has chosen Saul for three things:
1. To know his Will
2. To see the just one – Jesus, and
3. To hear his voice speaking
Then when he had taken all of that on board, Saul is to be a witness. He is to be a witness before all mankind for Jesus Christ, bearing testimony to what you have seen and heard.
I was a witness once in a law court. It was before the Dublin Circuit Court and the Dublin High Court. I had to put my hand on the Bible and say: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and not but the truth, so help me God”.
I was being asked to tell, truthfully, what I knew, what I had seen and heard about a certain business transaction which was being disputed. In fact it was about a pilgrimage to Rome away back in 1975.
In the opening part of this Mass we prayed each one of us might follow Paul in bearing witness to God’s truth. What is that all about? The truth of it is that we have all been called to know Jesus Christ – not just to know a few facts about him such as where and when he was born but to actually know him as a person. The fact is that we have plenty of opportunities to do so – in class in Religious Education studies – in school assemblies – in a parish – especially at Sunday Mass and in our homes at times of prayer.
Because you have been baptised – this is your birthright. We live in an era when everyone is well aware of their rights. Every pupil here has a right to get to know Jesus. If that happens – you will not be content just with knowing him – you will want to love him because Jesus is totally good and perfect and then you will want to live your life as Jesus lived his life – in obedience to his Father in Heaven and that is the way you will bear witness to the truth.
Now of course there are lots of people who don’t see it that way. They are OK as they are. They don’t see much need for Jesus in their lives. That is exactly as Saul was – riding along on his high horse. He would live his life his way – do it his way. But he was brought to his senses.
Teachers – I am glad to be here at the beginning of Catholic Schools Week. It has, as it s theme: Catholic Schools – A Vision for Life. I know the good work you do in schools to promote the Christian vision of life. It is a vision that respects and honours the dignity of every human individual at every moment of its existence – irrespective of brains, beauty or brawn. Jesus said: “Make disciples of al nations”. I say: “Make every pupil a disciple first – to be a disciple is to be one who follows after Jesus.
To follow Jesus we must know him and see the attractive side of him – appreciate the loving Christ. Jesus came to tell us that we all have, in fact, been chosen by God for great things. For God loves us – loves each one of us in a special way. This is why we ar called to live up to who we are.
I had the privilege of celebrating a lot of weddings in Rome – indeed some eminent people ion this school celebrated their wedding in Rome and took part in weddings in Rome.
Very often the Reading was that Reading we heard just now from the Letter to the Colossians – you should be clothed in compassion, kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. St Paul know that for important occasions you have to buy lots of beautiful cloth – dresses, suits, ties, shoes, hats, coats etc. If you are really serious about following Christ, you should be clothed in the kind of clothes that Christ wore.
Compassion, for example, Jesus had great pity on all those who were suffering or in need.
Kindness and humility – Jesus said: “Learn from me because I am meek and humble of heart”.
But the overcoat is love. That is the one that holds the outfit together and completes it- that is love.
Catholic Schools – A Vision for Life – Without a Vision the people perish
The vision of Catholic Schools is based on the belief that the greatest glory of God is the human person, fully alive. It is built on the belief that when we develop all our talents – not just our physical abilities for example, by doing sport, nor our intellectual ability by studying many subjects and passing examinations, but our spiritual potential for prayer and praise: our potential for kindness and forgiveness and thankfulness. It is then that we are at our greatest.
In Rome I am sure you will visit the Basilica of St. Paul – it is outside the Walls of Rome – near the banks of the Tiber. That Basilica was built where it is built to honour the tomb of St. Paul – which is under the High Altar. We were there last October on two occasions to celebrate the opening of the Synod of Bishops and secondly to hear a concert given by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. On that occasion they showed us the latest excavations which confirm that St. Paul was buried under the High Altar.
I hope you also visit Treo Fontane. Treo Fontane means three fountains. The story is that when Paul was beheaded in Rome, at this place, his head jumped three times on the ground landing on a different place each time and that a spray of water gushed up miraculously. A little church was built on each of the spots.
Paul was executed in 65 AD – under the emperorship of Nero. Nero was quite ruthless. He became Emperor through his mother, Agrippina but later he had her, and many of his rivals, murdered. Then there was a fire that ruined half of Rome and when suspicions were cast on Nero for starting the fire – and that he was reciting his own poems while it was raging, he turned on the Christians and executed many of them. Hence you have the statement that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
Those who go to Rome may see a lot of paintings of St. Paul. He is usually seen with a long face, long beard and a bald head. He has a sword and a book in his hand “The Word of God is alive and active. It cuts more finely than any two edged sword.” I hope the Word of God is alive and active in the life of each one of us.
I wish you a great continuation of the year.