St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh

Feast of Our Lady of  the Rosary
Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Homily given by Archbishop Eamon

Click here to see some photos from the Celebration

On Friday last Pope Francis described a parish or a diocese as a ‘family of families’. What a beautiful image! I can think of no better description for our gathering this evening – a ‘family of families’. Thank you for being here and for your prayers and support.

I welcome my mother and members of my immediate and extended family and my close friends who have been so good to me down the years. I am here at the Cathedral Chair surrounded by my new family – the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese and some of my brother bishops. We are ‘family’ in a special way through the sacrament of Holy Orders, and I look forward to working closely with you, and of course with my sisters and brothers in consecrated life who live in the Archdiocese of Armagh.

As Parish Priest I greet the Cathedral parish family, including Tullysaran, Knockaconey and St Malachy’s, and of course the families of the mensal parishes in Dundalk. And I welcome members of other parish families from all over the diocese: from Louth, Derry, Tyrone and Armagh. I know that from time to time we can be fierce rivals on the football field! Still, we are united as members of this great Archdiocese under the patronage of Patrick, Malachy, Brigid, Oliver Plunkett.

And there are many other ‘families’ represented here from various schools, groups and associations. Yes, Pope Francis, puts it well – we are a ‘family of families’, the People of God in the Archdiocese of Armagh.

But what does it mean to think of our parish or diocese as a family of families? Firstly; it means that, like any family, we have a special bond that links us – across 4 counties, 61 parishes, 24 religious congregations and nearly 200 Catholic schools – a bond that inspires loyalty and encourages us to look out for one another. That bond is our unity within God’s family as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ – If one member of the family is celebrating – we share their joy; if someone is hurting, we reach out to their sorrow.

Secondly; to see ourselves as ‘family’ means recognising that there will be ‘ups and downs’ in our relationships – good days and bad days. We all know there is no such thing as the ‘perfect family’, and, like any family, from time to time we may have our misunderstandings or breakdowns in communication. But we are a Eucharistic community, and what marks us out as Christ’s disciples is our communion with Christ and with one another – our willingness to show mercy, to forgive, and our openness to be reconciled with one another.

Thirdly; there will always be a special place in our ‘family of families’ for our children and young people. They are not only the future of our Church family; they are our life-giving present. They give us hope! So let us make a special effort always to protect and cherish our youth, handing on to them the precious gift of faith and friendship with Jesus. In our homes, schools and parishes let us nourish that ‘flame of faith’ in their hearts. Our young people deserve a mature understanding of faith; one that will shelter them from the dark clouds of despair, and arm them to confront harmful influences, and the ‘fierce wolves’ who would steal away their childhood or youth and rob them of hope and life.

Fourthly; as family, our parishes and diocese must always reach out to those who have drifted away from us. We all know that people can sometimes become separated from family; some may even lose contact altogether and carry with them a hurt or trauma of the past that makes it difficult to see any way back. It is the same with the family that is the Church of Jesus Christ. But Pope Francis is encouraging us to reach out with truth and compassion to those who have drifted away, especially those who feel excluded; he wants us to go out to the peripheries and find our lost or brothers and sisters where they are at, to accompany them with love and gently invite them home.

Finally; it is important for any family to meet; families need to make time for each other, and get together from time to time for a meal or a ‘sing-song’, to share stories and memories, or simply to be with one another in love. Likewise it is important for the Church, the family of God, to gather, to remember, to sing God’s praise, to be nurtured by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of our Lord. This evening’s First Reading from Acts tells that after Jesus had ascended into heaven the apostles instinctively gathered in the Upper Room to be together and to pray. Every time we gather to pray as parish or diocesan communities, and especially when we celebrate the Eucharist, the Lord is truly present among us. It is there, as the psalm says, that we ‘sing a new song of the Lord, his praise in the assembly of the faithful’. When our worship is Spirit-filled and welcoming, it gives life and energy to our ‘family of families’.

That is why I am grateful that so many of you have made the effort to be here for this celebration. I am blessed by your presence and honoured that God has called me to be shepherd of his family in the Archdiocese of Armagh.

Last year when I went to Rome with the other new bishops to meet Pope Francis, the Holy Father told us that a bishop must always try to imitate Christ the Good Shepherd. He said that sometimes a bishop will have to go ahead of his sheep, leading them, having a vision for the way ahead and bringing them with him. I look forward to mapping out with you a vision and pathway for our way ahead as a diocese. I am grateful to all of you who are already helping me to scope out key objectives for our Pastoral Plan through the Diocesan Pastoral Council and Commissions, our Pastoral Area Resource Teams and our Council of Priests.

Pope Francis also told us in Rome that there will be other times when the shepherd has to go behind the flock and gently coax them forward, or maybe have to go after some sheep or little lamb that has left the family and run away or got lost – mind you, so far it has been mostly me who has got lost on the hills and byways of the diocese- but thank God, I’m getting a little better at finding my way around!

Most of the time, Pope Francis said, a bishop will have to be in the middle of his sheep, like a good shepherd getting to know ‘the smell of his sheep’, being with them, listening to their concerns and troubles, mindful of the words of Jesus: ‘I know my sheep and they know me’. My dear brothers and sisters, there is still is so much about you that I do not know, but I promise to do my best, and, with the help of God, to be a good father and shepherd to you. Please pray for me, and, be patient with me, for no doubt I will make many mistakes. I pray for wisdom and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide me.

On this Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary I also turn to Mary, my heavenly mother. There have already been times in my life when I have felt her gentle presence intervening to keep me on the right path. Like Mary, I will have to renew my ‘Yes’ to God many times in the joyful and sorrowful moments of life. I was blessed growing up with the family rosary, although I have to confess I didn’t always appreciate the rosary interrupting my favourite game or TV programme.

My father, God rest him, had a great devotion to the Rosary; in his later years he might even nudge my mother in the middle of the night and ask: Kitty, did we say the rosary? A prayer he always led in the ‘trimmings’ of the rosary was: ‘Almighty God bless our family; grant that we may have the honour of giving to your Church sons and daughters to serve God in the priesthood and the religious life’. I pray that prayer tonight, that more of our young people will answer God’s call to serve as priests or religious; I also pray that every baptised person will discover the particular service that God is calling them to make to their Church and community.

I’d like to ask a favour of you, my ‘family of families’. Promise to say the rosary often, every day if possible and even better, to pray it with your family. Pray it for your family’s intentions, for the needs of your own loved ones wherever they are, and for the needs of God’s family throughout the world – especially the sick and the suffering. And please spare a ‘bead or two’ for the Archdiocese of Armagh, our ‘family of families’, and for me your bishop – that I may be a faithful, gentle and good leader of the flock that God has been entrusted to me.

God bless you always.