COMMEMORATING IRISH MISSIONARIES WHO DIED OVERSEAS
HOMILY GIVEN BY
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
MOUNT ARGUS, DUBLIN
SUNDAY 31 OCTOBER 2005
I welcome you as we come together to remember Irish Missionaries who have died overseas. We do so in the context of the Mass. We remember that Jesus celebrated the First Mass at the Last Supper. There, he too was remembering – remembering the liberation of His people from slavery. In every Mass Jesus is present, offering himself totally and giving hope for the future. He is the true Paschal Lamb who sacrificed Himself once and for all on the Cross. Jesus is the One who can set us free forever.
We remember today truly generous women and men. They sacrificed their all to set people free from the darkness of unbelief to bring the light of faith and the fire of love.
We come before a God of Mercy who bends close to hear our prayers and who relieves us of the fears that make us hide ourselves from God’s sight.
We confess our sins in sorrow.
Last Sunday, the 11th Synod of Bishops ended in Rome. It ended with a Mass celebrated by the Holy Father and the delegates to the Synod. At that Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict canonised five new saints. In his homily he described a saint “as someone fascinated by the beauty of God” – the beauty of the love of God – the beauty of the truth of God.
The Synod had been discussing the Eucharist under the title Eucharist – Source and Summit of the Life of the Mission of the Church. The whole discussions will now be handed over to the Pope and, from that, he will issue a document to the whole Church. Indeed, he said, at the end, that he thought so much had already been said about the Eucharist that there was hardly anything left to say. But he said that some new things had emerged and there are a number of practical things to be said.
One thing that came out loud and clear was that a Church that is authentically eucharistic must also be a Church that is missionary; for the Eucharist is the source of mission.
The Pope gave a lunch at the end of the Synod to those taking part. I found myself sitting beside the Archbishop of Edmonton, Western Canada. His name is Thomas Christopher Collins. He told me the Collins family came from Drogheda where there is still a shop front bearing that name. He also told me that he is a cousin of the late Father Declan Collins of Termonfechin, whose name is numbered among those we celebrate here this afternoon. And, because the Church of Christ is at once a people of brothers and sisters, this marvellous communion in God, here I find myself gathered, one week later, with the other branch of the Collins family in Eucharistic fellowship and unity. What unites us is our faith in Christ and our faith in the Eucharist – the source and summit of the mission of the Church. It is, of course, a mission given to it by its founder, Jesus Christ.
All of today’s Scripture Readings talk about the position of the priest among the people of God. In that sense they follow on from much of what we have been hearing and reading over the past week. I am sure we are all deeply affected by what has happened. It is not easy to come to terms with it all. So, we are left confused, bewildered, ashamed, concerned and upset. Of course we would love to be able to put it all behind us but before we do that, let us try to figure out what is being said to us in all of this. What are the lessons that we must learn? And so we ponder those Readings again. They are the words of God – a God who can draw some good out of every situation – for those who love Him – no matter how desperate that situation may be.
We are in the presence of the Lord who accompanies us on every step of the journey of life as he accompanied the missionaries on their journeys. He is a Lord who, in his love, transforms our sufferings when we unite them to His sufferings. For those who love God, all things work together unto good.
In today’s Gospel we have the bad example of the teachers of the Law and of the Pharisees. Yes, they teach the law of God but they don’t practice what they preach. They place awful burdens on the people but they themselves don’t lift a finger to help carry them.
The Church of Christ is meant to be ONE people, a people of brothers and sisters in Christ – a family where there is ONE Lord and Father, and ONE teacher – The Christ. Christ has founded His Church on Peter and on the apostles. He has given to that Church certain powers but they are powers to be used for the service of his brothers and sisters.
At the Last Supper Christ gave four great gifts to His Church –
The gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and
The gift of the priesthood – to make sure that the Eucharist could be celebrated to the end of time.
But he accompanied those marvellous gifts with two other wonderful presents:
The new and great commandment – Love one another as I have loved you and the last gift was
The washing of the feet.
It is as if he were saying – This is the way the Eucharist and the gift of priesthood are to be welcomed and celebrated among you – for the service and the well being of the rest of the people of God.
That is why it is so despicable when people use their position as a priest, to serve their own interests and not to serve the interests of the people. Many may feel very disheartened by the events of the past week. Yet we must resist the temptation to allow ourselves to become preoccupied with our own pain.
For our first concern must always be for the victims and those who have suffered the horror of child abuse, whether by priests or by others. Nevertheless, it is disheartening to feel that trust in priesthood has been so damaged and that the ministry to which we believe Christ has called us is in some way tainted.
I am sure the question sometimes suggested will be, “will this ever end”? It may help to remember the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane, “Father, if it be possible let this chalice pass from me” and yet the chalice did not pass. Jesus drank it to the dregs, humbling himself and becoming obedient – obedient until his death on the cross. That is why God raised him up to the glory he had with the Father when the world began. The fact is that when we are weak, then we are strong. Yes, weakness is painful, but that is where we find our real strength. When we feel helpless, we are much closer to the truth and much stronger than when we labour under the illusion that we can cope on our own, or on our own resources alone.
We are here to celebrate the memory of those missionaries who have died overseas. They came from many different counties – women and men – religious, priests and lay people. I would say that they had many things in common. They had a deep humility, which caused them to rely, not on their own powers, but on the power of Christ working in them. I would say they had a deeply Eucharistic spirituality. They too were people fascinated by Christ and by the message of Christ. From their hearing of the Word of God at Mass they had experienced an encounter with Christ. They had come to know Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist, particularly at Holy Communion.
This meeting with Christ, which each of them experienced, would have awakened in them a tremendous desire to go out and to communicate to others what they themselves had heard and lived. And so, they went to many distant parts, far away places, to lead those people to meet Christ and to experience His love. For the missionary is someone who has met Jesus Christ and has been fascinated with the beauty of that experience, so fascinated and transformed, in fact, that they become almost obsessed with the desire to tell others of their experience. They are on fire with the urge to share that experience with others so that they may lead others to Christ and arouse, in others, the desire to know and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
From their deep Eucharistic spirituality, the missionary gets the ability to make generous sacrifices for the sake of others. They get the strength to leave family and friends, home and homeland, for the sake of a greater good. They put their trust in a loving God who is over all, as Jesus put his trust in that same Father. They get the courage to announce that there is only one Saviour of the world – Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “anyone who humbles himself will be exalted”. But tp the early ears of the pagan this was a nonsense. It still is a nonsense to those who are pagans. For them humility meant something servile, abject, ignoble. But it was not so with the Jews. They knew from their faith and their experience that on their own they could nothing. They knew themselves to be weak and sinful and so they accepted trials and tribulations as a means of repenting of their sins. Their experience also told them that God rejects the prayer of the proud but stoops down to help the poor and humble of heart. So, when Jesus said, “learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart” the Jews could understand what he meant. But Jesus didn’t just say it, he lived it. He humbled himself, becoming obedient – obedient unto death – even death on a cross and therefore God, for this reason, has raised him up to glory.
These were the words and the example which inspired brave missionaries to leave all and go – go to the ends of the earth – to leave and go and meet death, sometimes alone and violently and far away from home and family. That is what we are celebrating here as we ask God to raise those who have died up in glory and to sustain those still in the mission fields in their need. But God will sustain them, have no doubt about that. For these are humble people who know themselves as they are but also know the huge potential there is in each one of them and, with the help of God, they realise that potential.
Today we give thanks for all Christian missionaries working throughout the world. At the Synod we heard of some of the immense difficulties, which they face – open persecution, misunderstanding, prejudice intimidation. I spoke to someone who told me that in Hippo in North Africa, birthplace of St. Augustine, Christians are not even allowed to open a Church.
“Everyone who humbles himself will be exalted”. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercise places the meditation on the virtue of humility immediately before the mystery of the Eucharist. He is saying to us, this is the heart of the following of Christ. Ignatius spells out what the perfect giving of ourselves to Jesus Christ involves. It involves not only the firm resolution to avoid sin at any price but also choosing freely whatever is most perfect for the service of God.
The brave missionaries whom we honour today were prepared to prefer poverty to riches; shame to honour; sickness to health, for the love of Jesus Christ. That is the high road to holiness and an example that can give us great inspiration in our present difficulties.
We give thanks to God for the splendid example of their lives and we ask God to raise up many, many more Irish men and women who will be prepared to follow their inspiring example. Like St. Patrick, they too are imbued with this burning desire to be a pilgrim for the sake of Christ. They too have become fascinated with the beauty of Christ’s love and Christ’s truth.