Homily at Mass for the Commissioning of “Partners in the Gospel”

Be United in your Convictions and United in your Love

Last December, on the first Sunday of Advent, we launched a “Year of Vocation” in the Diocese. It turned out not to be a great year for launching things but, as so often happens, even in the most challenging of circumstances, the Holy Spirit has been at work. Four years ago, each one of you “Partners in the Gospel” responded generously to God’s call and started out on the path of formation for a ministry which, although it is relatively new in our Diocese, is deeply rooted in the Church since Apostolic times. I am conscious that, while there are fifteen of you here today, there were more in the beginning. Each person had to make a personal discernment in faith and, as I would have expected, some very good people discerned that they could not make this particular commitment for all sorts of very good reasons. I want to remember them in our prayers today.

Today, however, the Church – represented by me your Bishop and by those who were responsible for your formation – confirms your own personal discernment and confers on you a mission to be Partners in the Gospel, here in the Diocese of Elphin. I want to reflect with you for a few moments on what that means for you and for the Church in this Diocese.

The name “Partners in the Gospel” is drawn from the Letter of St. Paul to the people of Philippi, the first Christian community that he had established in Europe.  Paul wrote the letter while he was in prison, probably in Rome, for his own preaching of the Gospel. He had received various reports that the Christians of Philippi had continued the work that he began and he gives thanks to God for their partnership with him in the Gospel, from the very beginning. We chose the name “Partners in the Gospel” quite deliberately, because it is more than just a job description; it describes a relationship.

As partners, you are called to work closely with one another, and with those who exercise other ministries in the Church, ordained, lay and consecrated. You will work in communion with the Bishop and with your fellow parishioners, whom you are called to accompany with the Gospel. By a strange providence, the second reading in our Mass today also comes from the Letter to the Philippians. St Paul encourages the Philippians, guided by their life in Christ and by the Spirit that they have in common: “be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind”. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you will all be the same. Each one of you will have your own personal relationship with God, your own insights, and your own particular gifts but, as Paul goes on to say: “you will have in you the same mind that was in Christ Jesus”. That will be the inspiration for your partnership, and that is why, to use the words of St. Paul, there will be no place in your mission for competition, conceit or self-promotion.  

Then, of course, you are called to be “Partners in the Gospel”. The Gospel is the foundation of your mission and the heart of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, who died and is risen. When you go out “in pairs” you will probably be bringing more with you than the first disciples who were told to bring with them, no purse, no sandals and no change of clothes. You may have your Catechism, your lap-top and a range of other resources and supports, but you must always carry the Gospel with you in your heart and you must leave something of it after you to nourish those whom you meet. You are not being commissioned so that things will remain the same as they are. You are being commissioned to be part of the Church’s mission of making disciples. I am reminded of a short conversation I had with Archbishop Dermot Ryan on the day before my ordination as a priest. He said: “Di the best you can, but din’t expect to convert the whole world in your first year”.  I hope you will not, like St. Paul, find yourselves “in chains because of the Good News”, but don’t be surprised or discouraged if you find that your message is not always well received, or if some of the things you try don’t work out as well as you hoped. The Cross is part of Cristian discipleship – there is no point in pretending otherwise – but it is through the cross that we come to the Resurrection.

The Gospel passage which we heard this afternoon is about vocation but, like the first reading, it is also about conversion. Like the two sons in the Gospel, you are being asked to “go into the vineyard” of the Lord. As the story goes, one said “Yes”, but didn’t go. The other said “no”, but then thought better of it. By your faithful participation and hard work over the past four years and by your presence her today, you have said “Yes” and I know that, for many of you, this has meant making significant sacrifices. In the Christian tradition, conversion is not just about turning away from sin; it is about turning to Christ with our whole hearts. A wonderful image for this is the sun-flower which, in the early morning, hangs its head, but which rises with the sun and follows the path of the sun until night falls. St Paul himself was a man of faith before he encountered Jesus, but he was called to conversion and his conversion was an on-going process of following Christ in his life.

Each one of us is called to grow more and more “into Christ”. As Partners in the Gospel, it will be an essential part of your life, like the first disciples, to come aside from time to time to a lonely place, on your own or together, to be nourished by your relationship with the Lord. My prayer for you is that, as you bring Christ to others in the course of you mission, you will each “come to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fulness of God”. (Eph. 3:19)

Like St Paul, I want to give thanks this afternoon, to God himself and to so many other people who have made possible what we are celebrating here. I am conscious that, for all of you who are being commissioned this afternoon, there are family members and friends who have supported you and encouraged you over these past few years. In many cases, without that support, your participation in the programme would not have been possible. I include among them the priests and deacons in our parishes, whose support for the programme was – and will continue to be – crucial. I want to say a word of thanks to all who were involved in teaching the programme, many of them from St Angela’s College and also to Sr Kathleen and her team at Star of the Sea Centre, Mullaghmore, whose warm welcome and good food were an essential part of the journey. I would very much like to have had some good food to share with you today and many more guests to mark such a significant occasion, but we are walking “in the valley of darkness” just now and the “banquet” will have to wait until we come out the other side.

I am particularly delighted to have Bishop Michael Duignan with us this afternoon. Without his insight and his energy, the Partners in the Gospel Programme might never have got beyond being a good idea on paper. Like St Paul, he has moved on from “Philippi” but he is not forgotten and we wish him every blessing in his new mission in Clonfert. Fr Michael Drumm has continued the good work and brought it to completion. I thank you Michael for the gentle encouragement and wisdom that you have brought to this final year of the programme and I know that the partners look forward to your continued guidance in the years ahead.

I have been known to say, from time to time, that faith is a free gift, but the infrastructure of faith costs money. The “Partners in the Gospel” programme required a significant investment on the part of the Diocese and, if we are to be faithful to our mission to “make disciples”, we will continue to have to make similar investments in the future. We were greatly assisted with the Partners in the Gospel, by some generous funding from the Albert Gubay Foundation. Albert Gubay was a very successful businessman, in the supermarket industry, who made a conscious decision to devote his substantial resources to supporting the mission of the Church in England and Ireland. I invite you to remember him and his mother in your prayers.

Bishop Kevin Doran, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo.

Sunday 27th September 2020.