St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh Sunday 21 April, 2013 Good Shepherd Sunday and 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations
St Augustine once spoke of the baptised as ‘new’ people, people ‘who have learned a new song!’ Today, with great joy, the diocese of Armagh gathers with you, Monsignor Eamon, in the words of your chosen motto, to “Sing a new song’ to the Lord”. We come to offer you our support, friendship, and prayers as you answer the call to come, among us and for us, as our Bishop.
This call has its origins in Baptism. In Baptism, at the request of your parents, you were given new birth by water and the Holy Spirit. We thank God for the faith and generosity they nurtured in you. Today, I thank your mother, Catherine and your late father John James for bringing you to the waters of Baptism, the fountain of life, from which your vocation as a priest, and now as a Bishop, had its source.
We also thank and congratulate your brothers and sisters, your family and friends and the clergy and people of Derry Diocese. They too played a part shaping, perhaps even sometimes testing and challenging that baptismal faith. We thank them for, in your own words, ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’. We all need friends who challenge us to become more like Christ, and to practise the high ideals of the Gospel we proclaim.
Today that Gospel sets before us the example of Christ, the good and gentle shepherd who makes the fantastic promise – “I will give them eternal life. They will never be lost”.
The words of Monsignor Eamon’s motto evoke the memory of another shepherd. King David was the young shepherd, called by God, to become the leader of his people through some of the most difficult spiritual, economic and political times in Israel’s history. Like you, Eamon, King David had a great love for music. In several of the psalms he invites the people to join him in singing a new song to the Lord.
King David was one of the greatest leaders in the history of Israel and yet he was regularly confronted by his own weakness and sinfulness. He was often tempted to be self-centred and to forget that we are here to serve, not to be served. One of his greatest qualities, however, was the ability to honestly say,
‘Be merciful to me, O God.
Because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy
Wipe away my sins’ (Ps 51, 1-2)
As Pope Francis reminded us recently, ‘authentic power is service’ a service which has its ‘radiant culmination on the Cross’. For a heart that is touched by the Cross of Christ, is a heart that is always drawn to service of others. It is the heart of the Good Shepherd who desires that not even one of those, entrusted to his care, should be lost. It is a heart that embraces, with tender affection everyone, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.
Eamon, in your role as a teacher, then as Principal of St Columb’s College in Derry, in your work as Executive Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference, and most recently in your role as Vicar General and Administrator of the Derry Diocese you have gained invaluable experience for the task ahead. In each of these roles you have generously and tirelessly placed your great gifts of leadership and administration at the service of the Gospel and the people to whom you were sent. You have fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel of life, promoted peace, safeguarded the weak and the abused, the unborn and the vulnerable, and upheld the cause of Catholic education.
Today the Lord calls you to a new place and different pasture. Today the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred upon you. Today you are being called to take the place of Christ himself – teacher, shepherd and priest, in a leading and visible manner and to act as his representative. That is not, and never has been, an easy task. If it were going to be easy why, right at the beginning, did Jesus feel it necessary to tell his disciples: The world will make you suffer but be brave. I have overcome the world.
If it were going to be easy, why was everything Paul said contradicted at Antioch and why were he and Barnabas expelled from that territory. Yet, against all the odds, and despite all the opposition, the Word of God spread through the whole country and the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit (Acts 13: 45, 50).
The Word of God spread simply because things were going according to plan – God’s plan. Yes, that plan involved the death of Jesus – but more importantly, it involved the resurrection of Jesus and the revelation of His glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In all that lies ahead I can assure you of the outstanding faith, generosity, support and loyalty of the clergy, lay faithful, religious men and women and seminarians of this, the See of Patrick. I want to assure you of my own personal closeness and support.
The Episcopal ordination of Bishop Gerard Clifford took place on this day twenty-two (22) years ago today. I want to thank him especially for those twenty-two years of devoted and generous service and to wish him a speedy recovery to total good health.
Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. It has, as it theme: Vocations as a Sign of Hope founded in Faith. The greatest sign of hope is the loving power of God the Father and of His Son, Jesus – present and active in our lives. No matter what happens – however disastrous, no-one can ever snatch his followers away from Jesus. Christ has risen. He has overcome every adversity. Moreover, he knows us. In the eyes of Jesus, in the love of his heart, no-one is without a name. But it is necessary to follow, to listen to his voice and to be numbered among his flock.
My hope is that someone listening to me here today or watching on the internet will be inspired to become a herald of hope to the world – by giving themselves unconditionally in the service of love as a priest, religious sister or brother.
The symbol on Monsignor Eamon’s crest is the Lamb, standing in front of the Cross in the glory in Heaven. In his first homily as Pope, Pope Francis urged his listeners to seek that glory with all their might. In the Book of Revelations we are told that the Lamb will be the shepherd of all and will lead them to living springs of water. God will wipe away all tears on that day. Please God, on that day also, we too will bow down before the Lamb, and join the elders with harps and we too will ‘sing a new song to the Lord’.