12 OCTOBER, 2000, 7.30PM

I am very thankful to all who have organised and celebrated this Silver Jubilee of the canonisation of St Oliver Plunkett. Happily the celebration coincides with the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Birth of Jesus. I am very pleased that the Organising Committee, along with Monsignor Donnelly, the priests of the parish and especially, Fr Paddy Rushe, have got such a wonderful response. My thanks to Tommy Burns and the Co-ordinating Committee and to the Committee who organised the book on music, launched the jubilee tours, the charity dinner and so much else.

To the schools who took part in art competitions, in the school Masses, the many competitions, I say thanks. To those involved in the ecumenical celebration for Peace and Reconciliation, I am most grateful. To those who arranged the exhibition of artefacts, to Monsignor Hanley for the anniversary lecture, which I hope will become an annual event, my sincere thanks. To the MMMs for their generous co-operation for the parish tea, St Vincent de Paul for the use of their hall and for all this, we give thanks to God. To all who gave of their time and of their talents so generously and so joyfully, may God bless you. To those who received awards, I say a heartiest congratulations. I know that you do not work for the reward which you receive of this earth and I know that you realise that you are often the representatives of a lot of other good people. Yet we rejoice with you, congratulate you on all the good you have achieved and on having your efforts recognised.

I hope people won’t mind me singling out for a special mention, the National Day of Prayer, which you have proclaimed for today, 12 October. It is of course the actual anniversary of the canonisation. This is a most welcome initiative, which has been taking place now for a number of years. In previous years Tommy Burns and the enthusiastic and energetic committee wrote to the parish priest of every single parish in Ireland. The idea was to invite them, and their people, to unite themselves in prayer on the anniversary of the canonisation. This year the Committee went one step better. They decided to telephone every single parish priest. I reckon you met quite a few answering machines in the process. The important thing is that it was done. You invited the priests, and their people, to offer special prayers at Masses and speak for a very special intention, peace and reconciliation. For all of that we are gathered here tonight to give praise and thanks to God.

Successful people generate a lot of enthusiasm and attract a lot of attention. You saw the crowds that were out to welcome Sonia Sullivan home to Cork yesterday and those who hailed the Olympics success of the British team. We cannot all be as successful as Garry Kelly or Ian Hart, cannot all be as rich as Tony O’Reilly or cannot be as intelligent as Einstein, as politically successful as successful politicians, but we can all be holy, like St Oliver Plunkett. Not only can we be holy but we are all called to be holy. We are all expected, by God, to be holy and if God expects us to be something special, and to do something special in life, God will most certainly give us the resources to become that sort of person. Think about the matter for a minute. Ask yourself. Who are the real success stories? Who have shown that they have succeeded in the really important things? Who have succeeded in winning the gold medal that really matters? The medal that lasts, not only for a year, or four years, but forever. The medal that brings happiness not just for a day or a week or a month or a year but for all eternity. We admire people who are rich, rich in money terms and property, but also rich in doing good deeds. Saints are rich in that respect. They have succeeded in resisting the temptation to take revenge and instead they are able to offer forgiveness to those who torture them. That was what Oliver Plunkett did. Oliver Plunkett was betrayed by his own. False charges were brought against him that he was planning to overcome the government of the day.

We all need to be forgiven by others, and so we ourselves should be ready to forgive. In our world there is a lot of hurt, a lot of brokenness. Broken promises, broken vows, broken dreams. There is a lot of fear and suspicion. There is a lot of hatred and division in families. Hands which should be used for welcoming and greeting have been used for harming and hurting. Feet which should be used for visiting and standing up to meet responsibilities have been used to run away from responsibilities.

I heard someone pray: “Give us this day our daily bread of encouragement and forgiveness”. For the truth is: we cannot remain a prisoner of the past forever. Individuals and indeed people need a sort of healing of memory, so that past evils will not come back again. This does not mean forgetting past events. But as Pope John Paul II has said, it means seeing past events with a new attitude. It means learning from the experience that only love can build up and restore.

Hatred produces only devastation and ruin. The death cycle of revenge must be replaced. It must be replaced by the freedom which only forgiveness can give. We all need to be forgiven by others. Because we are all sinners, we all need to be forgiven by God. That is why Jesus left us a special sacrament of forgiveness, the Sacrament of Confession. He had already spoken eloquently about the joy there is in the presence of the angels of God once one who sins repents.

Some people see Confession as a torturous procedure. Jesus meant it as a source of blessing, a means of forgiveness, forgiveness in its highest form, a free act of love.

When you, I, do wrong, we, on first impulses, want to talk to someone about it to ease the pain and to share the guilt. Until this happens we carry a heavy load. We have no peace of mind. Jesus knows human nature through and through. He knows the amount of damage and hurt and brokenness which we are all capable of inflicting on, and of suffering at the hands of, each other. If we break a leg we have it attended to.

This evening we gladly raise up St Oliver Plunkett as a model of building peace and of reconciliation. He found many situations marked by hatred and violence. He tried his best to build up a world which is reconciled and fully human. At this, yet another, critical time in the history of the peace process in Northern Ireland, we ask the help of St Oliver to look upon all people as brothers and sisters and to reach out to them without prejudice but with an attitude of trust and acceptance. May his intercession help us all to live in every situation the virtue of tolerance, understanding and respect. Our young people hold great hopes in their heart; these hopes can only be realised if they learn to live with one another in peace.

We must build bridges – not barriers. Whoever cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.

Forgiveness is at once our deepest need and our highest achievement. It was precisely because Oliver could say, “Have mercy on me God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offence”. That he could also offer forgiveness to those who have betrayed him. Forgiving from the heart can sometimes be actually heroic. Oliver was heroic. So also was Rabbi Leo Beck, a Jewish leader in Germany at the time of the holocaust. He was arrested five times. Finally sent to a concentration camp, sentenced to death. On the day planned for his execution the Russians arrived and the Germans fled. Rabbi Beck could have fled but he stayed behind to plead for mercy with the Russian soldiers on behalf of the German camp guards. The Russians handed the guards over to the inmates and Beck managed to persuade them not to take vengeance, the vengeance they had been thirsting for.

We asked God just now to help us by the prayer of St Oliver, to follow the way of reconciliation, which he showed by his example. What example are we talking about? The fact that Oliver Plunkett was arrested for his faith and that in fact in his trial he was betrayed by some of his own. And yet on the day of his execution, he was brought on a sledge to Tyburn. In his speech he refuted his accusers, point by point, but went on to forgive all of them including the judge and those who had given false evidence against him. He said, “I beg my Saviour to grant them true repentance. I do forgive them with all my heart”. And then he went on to ask forgiveness of all those whom he had ever offended by thought, word or deed. Of course in doing this Oliver was putting into practice what Christ commands all of us to do when He said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you”. He knelt down said the act of contrition and died.

Precisely because Oliver was sincerely able to say, “Have mercy on me God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offence”, that he was able to forgive his enemies. We all need to be forgiven by others. So we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is often difficult. Yet it is something which is profoundly noble and worthy of the human person. Sometimes it is the only way out of situations which have been marked by age old hatred. Let’s not cod ourselves. Forgiveness doesn’t come spontaneously or naturally. Two people, forgiving from the heart, can sometimes be very heroic.