“Here at the tomb of Saint Peter, let us pray in a special way to strengthen our brother priests in Ireland. Their ministry and well-being is dear to all of us. We are aware that their smaller numbers, increased workload and ever more
challenging pastoral situations has taken its toll on them. We thank God today for their resilience dedication, and generosity, and for the kindness and support offered to them, and us, by our people and religious” – Archbishop Eamon Martin
Today the Bishops of Ireland begin their ten-day Ad Limina visit to meet with Pope Francis and senior officials of the Holy See. Ahead of their meetings, the bishops will concelebrate Mass this morning at the tomb of Saint Peter in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome. The Principal Celebrant for this Mass is Archbishop Eamon Martin and please see his homily below:
My dear brother bishops we have arrived at the goal of our pilgrimage “ad limina apostolorum”. Here at the tomb of Saint Peter and surrounded by the tombs of the successors of Peter, there is no better place to enter into a prayer of communion with the one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We gather as bishops, conscious that with all the bishops of the Church, and with the Pope at our head, we form a single “college” which succeeds in every generation the “college” of the Twelve Apostles, with Peter at their head, which Christ instituted as the foundation for the Church. We pray therefore in a special way at this moment for Pope Francis, thanking God for the powerful witness and challenge the Holy Father continues to present us.
We gather as priests to celebrate Eucharist – the ultimate expression and source of our communion with Christ and with one another.
We gather as shepherds, bringing to this place the needs and intentions of our people, religious and priests.
We are conscious of the pressures and struggles which beset our people, the internal struggles that can disrupt harmony, the wolves which sometimes attack the flock, and the weighty responsibility for their care that has been laid on our shoulders.
If it were left to us, of course, we know in our hearts that we would inevitably fail as shepherds – the flock would be scattered, communion shattered.
But it is not left to us. Here at the tomb of Saint Peter there is consolation in the knowledge that the Lord chose Peter – one who could profess his love and faith so powerfully – yet, when the pressure was on, thrice deny the Lord so miserably.
One of the most moving lines in the Gospels for me is in the Gospel of Luke when the Lord predicts Peter’s denial, but assures him: “Peter, I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned back, strengthen my brothers.”
Every year at the Chrism Mass, when we gather with our priests to renew our priestly commitment, there comes a point when we turn to our people and ask them to pray for us, their “priests and bishops, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon us and keep us faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest.”
As we gather here this morning we know that many of our people, priests and religious back at home are praying for us during thisad limina visit. Their prayer today, and every day, strengthens us, and in turn God pours out on us the graces that we need to strengthen them, our brothers and sisters.
Here at the tomb of Saint Peter, let us pray in a special way to strengthen our brother priests in Ireland. Their ministry and well-being is dear to all of us. We are aware that their smaller numbers, increased workload and ever more challenging pastoral situations has taken its toll on them. We thank God today for their resilience, dedication and generosity, and for the kindness and support offered to them, and us, by our people and religious.
Celebrating here the mystery of the Eucharist we gather all our prayers in communion with the prayers and praise of all humanity in every time and place of history; for we are united here with Christ the High Priest who is really present in the sacrifice at this altar.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once explained to his priests in Rome the significance of the Letter to the Hebrews from which our First Reading is taken these days. He referred to that beautiful prayer in the Roman canon which draws out the links between the high priesthood and sacrifice of Christ and our Eucharist which is offered in a great communion with that of Abel, the first martyr, with his lamb; with Abraham and the lamb sent by God to replace his son Isaac; and, with Melchizedek, High Priest of God Most High with his bread and wine.
This place and moment is therefore truly a place and moment of communion – with Peter and the other successors of the apostles right up to Pope Francis; with each other and with our fellow bishops around the world; with the prayers and needs of our people, religious and priests; but, above all, this is a place and moment of communion with Christ – the “priest for ever”, the “priest like Melchizedek of old”, the “Son who learnt to obey through suffering”, but who is “the source of our salvation”. Amen.