I am pleased to be here as you draw down the curtain on the year of celebrations to mark the Golden Jubilee of the foundation of this great College – for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland. I also look forward to the ceremony of re-dedicating your new Assembly Hall.

During the past year I am sure you often celebrated and thanked God for the privilege of belonging to a school community like that of Gormanstown Franciscan College. It is a real privilege to belong to a school community which travels together on the journey in the spirit of the Good News, brought by Jesus Christ. You do so within the tradition of the Catholic Church and specifically within the tradition of that outstanding follower of Jesus Christ, the poor man of Assisi – St Francis. I can think of no greater antidote or cure for one of the predominate ills of our society and our age – that of greed.

I did my Leaving Cert in 1957 the year the Franciscan College, Gormanstown was opened. During my time as a student in St. Pat’s in Cavan, I was vaguely aware of a place called Multi Farnham College somewhere amidst the lakes of Westmeath but that was all.

It was when I went to Maynooth in 1957 to study for the priesthood that I began to know real Franciscans. It was then I began to benefit a great deal from their wisdom and their holiness. Father Colman O Huallacháin taught us Ethics for three years and Fr Paraic O’Sulleabháin lectured in Irish. They were both men who dedicated their lives to the glory of God and, in the process they brought great honour to Ireland with their love of all things Irish and of Ireland, and honour to the Franciscan Order.

In 1960 I went to study at the Irish College in Rome to continue my studies for the priesthood. Then a new chapter in my knowledge and friendship with the Friars began. I soon learned that the Irish College had been founded by one of the greatest Irish Franciscans ever, Father Luke Waddings. He had done so soon after he had founded St. Isadores – the Irish Franciscan College in Rome. And there in St Isadores I found a group of Irish Friars whom we visited in their College for concerts and entertainment and against whom and with whom we played Gaelic football, hurling and soccer Around the corner from where I lived there was the Antonianum called after St Anthony of Padua, where hundreds of Friars lived and studied and prayed and continue to live and study and pray.

I was in Poyntzpass, Co Armagh last night, at a function. There I was reminded that the first Armagh man to lift the Sam Maguire on the Hogan stand was, in fact, Joe Lennon, formerly of the staff of this College.

That reminded me of times some thirty (30) years ago when I used to come here occasionally with football teams from St. Patrick’s College, Cavan to play challenge matches. All of that set in motion a whole train of thoughts which brought back memories of my contacts with the Franciscans and their great tradition.
It reminded me of:

v An Irish American Friar – Father Theoplan Larkin was once our Spiritual Director when I was on the Staff of the Irish College.
v Father Beniginus Millett and his phenomenal love and knowledge of Irish ecclesiastical history.

The list goes on and on: Father Edmund Dougan, Bishop Fiachra O Cealliagh

Someone may ask, what has all of that got to do with our Mass in honour of the Holy Spirit in this new academic year. Just this much. At Baptism and at Confirmation, the Holy Spirit of the Risen Christ descended on each one of us – on you and on me. That is a gift. It has happened, it cannot be undone. God is love and love is God’s first gift containing all other gifts. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The Holy Spirit introduces us to this wonderful thing called the Communion of Saints, which is not just a union of holy people but also a sharing of sacred things, like friendships and scholarship and education and religious orders. The kind of things that I have just been listing as they happened in my life.

One of those sacred things is the season of Advent. A time when we prepare for the coming of Christ. Christ was born when the Virgin Mary conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now this Advent, the Lord is coming once more. 2,000 years ago he surprised many people by being born in a stable instead of a palace. A lot of people failed to notice.

Because we are dead, or at least have been wounded, through sin, the first effect of the gift of love, brought by the Holy Spirit, is the forgiveness of our sins. John the Baptist who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, belted out that message, loud and clear. ‘Repent’ he said, ‘because the kingdom of God is at hand’.

The fire of the Holy Spirit blazed in the heart of John the Baptist and made him the forerunner of the Lord. He completed the work of preparing for the Lord. He desperately wanted to have his people ready when the Lord would come. His message was blunt but clear – repent because the kingdom of Heaven is near at hand. This message was blunt, clear and relevant. Lots of people travelled out into the wilderness to listen to him.

This Advent, the Lord is coming again – in a hidden way – in a surprising way. Unfortunately, many will miss the message. This Advent the Lord will come to those who take time to pray. Now, as then, the Lord needs precursors – forerunners – to prepare the way – to get ready for his coming. He wants you to be his forerunner because he wants to come into the hearts of everyone in this parish this Christmas. It will not happen without the help of your prayers and your example. It is as simple as that.

We are all busy preparing for Christmas – the birth of Christ – but how much thought or place do we give to the Birthday Boy himself. Could you imagine going to a birthday party, where nobody remembered to invited the guest of honour?

· How could you and I help to prepare for the Coming of Christ this Christmas?
· How did John the Baptist do it?
He said that he was simply a voice that prepared the way. He was the voice of the Holy Spirit. John was the voice of the Consoler who is coming. There are a lot of people in our world who are in need of some sort of consolation. There are a lot of lonely people and they are not elderly or living alone but young and ignored and crying out for respect. Maybe that is why they turn to cocaine and alcohol to get relief from their pain of loneliness. John the Baptist came to bear witness to the light – the light of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist came to point the way to Jesus Christ – to be a signpost. There are a lot of people who are cut off from Jesus Christ. They do not darken the door of the Church, they don’t approach Jesus to have their sins forgiven. But maybe they are searching, maybe they need signposts. Maybe what they need is an act of kindness, an act of love; an act of consideration.

The season of Advent invites us to come to Christ, to confess our sins. I regard a good confession as the single most important ingredient for a happy Christmas. It costs nothing. Well that is not exactly true. It costs the effort to prepare and we need to invest some time in preparing for a good confession.

John the Baptist gave short shift to the Pharisees when they came to see Jesus. The reason was that, in their smugness, they hadn’t slightest intention of changing or repenting. But they weren’t going to pull the wool over John’s eyes. What they were looking for was cheap grace. In other words, they wanted forgiveness without real repentance; they wanted communion without confession; and absolution without personal confession; its grace without the cross. John was having none of it. ‘If he says you are repentant’, he said, ‘produce the appropriate fruit. Any tree that fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire’.

These are strong, hard words from John the Baptist. But he was the voice of the Holy Spirit and he is still the voice of the Holy Spirit, calling us to open our hearts to the coming of the Christ, the One and Only saviour of the world.

We are the temples of the Holy Spirit:

Come Holy Spirit

It is a simple most effective prayer. It is a prayer we use as we prepare for big occasions or big decisions like examinations or when making the choice of a career. Let me recommend to you, not only on these important occasions but also when making important decisions like choosing a career or a partner for life.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I – children of God that we are – we can bear much fruit. For he who has grafted us onto the true vine, will make us bear the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It would be quite a Christmas hamper that would contain all those gifts. And yet, they are available to all of us. They are there for the asking if only we have the wisdom and the humility to do so. A happy Christmas to you all.