ST PATRICK’S CHURCH, DUNDALK
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
MONDAY 5 JANUARY 2009
We are here to pay our last respects to the late Monsignor Peter Shields. We are here to pray for his eternal rest. The opening hymn invited us to be still; to be still in the presence of the Lord, for the Holy One is here.
I am sure that Peter Shields was introduced to the presence of the Lord very early in life in many different ways as he grew up in his home in Portadown and in his native parish. I am sure his late parents, Margaret and Jack, whom we are also remembering in this Mass, knew very well the meaning of living through love in the presence of Christ. For the love which they gave to their son, Peter, and to their daughters Chris and Moira, surely revealed to their children, the true face of God as a God of love. Margaret and Jack knew instinctively that they – because of their Baptism – were called to give not only physical life to their children – but the Life of Faith as well.
This they did, not only by their words, but above all, by their actions; for the example of prayer in the home, as well as worship in the parish, provided the spiritual foundation for their life of loving service to their children and to their neighbours.
In 1939 – almost 70 years ago – Peter was drawing near to the end of his time as a student in St. Patrick’s College, Armagh. As a young 17 year old, he must have detected the presence of God manifesting itself in his life in some new way. It was 1939 – a year of massive decisions for many in Europe, but also a year when Peter Shields made his own big decision which was to determine the course of the rest of his life. He felt himself called to be a priest – to be a diocesan priest in this diocese – and so he presented himself to Cardinal MacRory who accepted him to become a student in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth where he would spend the next seven years preparing for ordination.
When he went to Maynooth he would have met the President – Mons John D’Alton. Their paths would have crossed later on in this diocese. In Maynooth, Peter Shields, the seminarian, certainly developed his love of beauty – especially the beauty of good music such as Gregorian chant and of Classical music. He also developed a love of good liturgy which laid the inspiration for his foundation of a special choir here in this parish. He was taught Moral Theology and Canon Law by the then Dr William Conway with whom he would work later on here in St. Patrick’s Dundalk from 1958 until 1963 and, of course, here in the diocese until 1977.
After his ordination in 1946, Father Shields went on loan to the Diocese of Down and Connor. There he worked for three years in the County Down part of that diocese. In 1949, he returned to his native diocese of Armagh. For one year he served as Curate in Stonebridge, outside of Portadown in the Parish of Kilmore. In 1950 he came here as Curate to St. Patrick’s, Dundalk where he would spend the next 28 years of his life as Curate and Administrator.
Every priest tries to place all his talents and his abilities at the service of the Church – to build up God’s kingdom for the glory of God’s name. If he has the talent and enthusiasm to take on and carry out big projects, inspired by great ideals, so much the better. Father Peter Shields had that sort of enthusiasm in abundance and so it was not surprising that he was given responsibility of organising the Annual Armagh Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. To understand what that involved you have to know what happened in Lourdes on 2 March 1858.
That day, there was huge excitement in Lourdes. The first visitors to the Grotto got there about midnight. When Bernadette arrived at seven o’clock there were some 1650 people present. With the best will in the world, Bernadette was barely allowed to carry out her usual exercises of kneeling on the ground, kissing the earth and drinking from the fountain.
Our Lady appeared to Bernadette for the third time on that day. Once the apparition was over she was surrounded by other pilgrims who wanted to know what the Lady said. And Bernadette told them:
Go and tell the priests that they were to come there in procession and build a chapel
Monsignor Peter Shields was one man who certainly took that invitation to heart. He devoted a lot of energy into building the Armagh Pilgrimage into an outstanding manifestation of loving devotion to Mary, the Mother of God in accordance with her wishes, revealed to Bernadette. He had the ability to enlist the help and the loyalty of a very devoted group of co-workers who gave of themselves and of their time very generously and very faithfully. The sick and their welfare was his first priority. In fact wherever sick pilgrims and their welfare, while on pilgrimage was at stake, only the best was good enough.
I had the privilege and joy of sharing a table with him in the Hotel Solitude during the Annual Pilgrimage last May. Monsignor was thrilled to be there recalling by-gone days, meeting old friends and savouring the happiness of the occasion. It was to be is last visit and it was memorable. It was the Jubilee year in Lourdes and it is fitting that Monsignor should be born to eternal life in the Jubilee Year of Mary’s Shrine, which he loved so well.
For everything there is a season
and a time for every matter under Heaven,
a time to be born and a time to die.
Monsignor Shields was happy in Lourdes because he knew that there, above all, people live through love in the presence of Christ. They live through love and service of the little ones, the sick, the poor, the lame and the blind – the people to whom Christ came to announce the Gospel and among whom he found his most attentive audience.
There is one other event which, in my opinion, stands out in the life of Monsignor Peter Shields. When it was required, he donated one of his kidneys to his sister – Chris. It was the mark of a good and generous brother – an occasion in which he lived through that exceptional love in the presence of Jesus Christ who gave his life for us.
On the inside back cover of your funeral booklet, you will find a prayer. It was composed by Monsignor Shields in 1975 for the canonisation of St Oliver Plunkett.
Glorious Martyr, Oliver, who willingly
Gave your life for your faith,
Help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you
to the See of Peter.
By your intercession and example
may all hatred and bitterness
be banished from the hearts
of Irish men and women.
May the peace of Christ reign
in our hearts,
as it did in your heart,
even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland. AMEN
About 1970 Cardinal Conway held a meeting to renew interest and promote the cause of the Canonization. It was decided that the long-standing League of Prayer should become the Crusade of Prayer. This change would require the promotion of a new prayer to promote the cause. All were set to work at the meeting to compose a new prayer. The composition of Father Peter Shields was adjudged the best and was promoted widely thereafter.
Cardinal Conway expressed the hope that the canonisation could be achieved within ten years. In fact, with the help of this new prayer, it was achieved in about half that time.
In more recent times the group which adopted St. Oliver as Patron for Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland, has distributed over a quarter of a million prayer cards at home and abroad. Indeed, many people now recite daily this same prayer for the intention of peace and reconciliation in our country. We can now thank God for the huge progress made in that direction in recent years. And I want to recommend to you that you recite that prayer for peace in the Holy Land at this time.
At our Baptism and Confirmation – the Spirit of the Risen Christ comes upon each one of us. We too have been anointed with sacred oil to indicate our sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. We are to bring Good News to the poor – the Good News of God’s compassionate and healing love for each one of us.
At his priestly ordination, Mons Shields was anointed once again to carry out publicly, in the Church, a priestly ministry in the name of Christ on behalf of humankind. For 62 years he served Christ – the Teacher, Priest and Shepherd here in Dundalk but also from 1978 to 1997 as Parish Priest of Ardee. His job was to preach the Gospel, sustain God’s people and celebrate the liturgy and above all, the Lord’s sacrifice. Monsignor Shields did this faithfully – celebrating public Masses in the Redeemer Parish as recently as ten days ago.
I spoke to Monsignor Shields in the days before Christmas. He sounded good and alert and in fine form. Today we thank God for al of that and for all the graces and favours which people received through his work and prayers. Today we thank God for all of that and for all the graces and favours which people received through his work and through his prayer.
He has died in the middle of the Year of Vocation. It is a year in which we all take on board more clearly the fact that by Baptism – we are called to play our part in announcing the Good News. But we also recognise that God does call people to be ordained priests and we recommend that intention of Prayer for Vocations to you very specially on this occasion. Today the world hungers to hear the Word of God. Today the world is thirsting to know Jesus Christ and to experience His healing love. Pray the Lord to send labourers into the Harvest.
Monsignor Peter Shields will always be associated with Lourdes and with pilgrimages to Lourdes. Well, the Great Pilgrim has now come to the end of his earthy pilgrimage. Often here on Earth he heard the words of the famous hymn:
An angel of mercy led Bernadette’s feet
Where flows the deep torrent Our Lady to greet
She prayed to our Mother that God’s will be done
She prayed for His glory that his kingdom come.
In Heaven the blessed your glory proclaim
On Earth now your children invoke your fair name.
May Mary greet Him now as His earthly pilgrimage draws to its close. May the Angel of Mercy lead him safely into Paradise. In Heaven may he join the blessed angels and saints in proclaiming the glory of God in that great unending chorus for ever and ever.