Homily for the 70th Anniversary Celebrations of the Pioneer Centre at Kiltoom

Homily for the 70th Anniversary Celebrations of the Pioneer Centre at Kiltoom
Bishop Kevin Doran
Friday 14th November 2014

I am delighted to be with you this evening to celebrate this 70th Anniversary of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in the parish of Kiltoom and Cam. It is providential that we celebrate the anniversary on the Feast of St Laurence O’Toole, who was himself a pioneer in the original sense of the word. A pioneer is someone who has the courage to move beyond his or her comfort zone and to lay his or her life on the line in order to achieve something worthwhile. St Laurence, who had spent much of his life as a monk, became Archbishop of Dublin at a time of great upheaval and poverty and, literally wore himself out caring for the poor and trying to bring peace to the city.

You are pioneers in a different sense but, motivated by the love of God and by care for those who struggle with alcohol and its effects, you have also committed yourselves to be “different”, to stand out from the crowd. As I was preparing for this evening’s celebration, I was aware of two things that are particularly important in the Pioneer spirituality.

The first is self-control. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and it will be familiar to the boys and girls who have recently celebrated their Confirmation. While it comes from the Holy Spirit, it depends on us to use it and to develop it. Many of us struggle with self-control in one way or another and one of the things that can help us greatly is what, traditionally, we would call self-denial or sacrifice. Giving up something which is good in itself, helps us to develop the capacity for self-control. It’s just like the athlete or the footballer who trains regularly to keep fit and to develop his or her skills. If you don’t train, you won’t be able to perform well under the testing conditions of the cross-country race or the club championship. Staying sober is important for our own well-being and the well-being of those with whom we live and with whom we share the roads. But being a Pioneer is not just about staying sober, it is about developing the virtue of temperance, which helps us to be moderate and to avoid excess in every aspect of our lives. To use the words of St. Paul in our second reading this evening, God gives us “the grace for our hidden selves to grow strong”.

Another element of the pioneer spirituality is the the element of “witness” or what we might call giving good example. It is not that Pioneers are automatically better than anyone else, but you do support and encourage others, by the example of your own lives. As Christians, we are not lone-Rangers. We are called, as members of a community of faith, to support and encourage one-another. Part of the “heroic offering” of pioneers must surely be that, through the sacrifice that you make in you own life, you contribute to the development of a community which is less dependent on alcohol, and you help others who may be struggling with alcohol to recognise that it is possible to live full and fruitful lives without alcohol.

I am conscious that we have some former altar servers here who are marking three years of commitment and who have now moved on to serve in other ways in the parish. To be an altar server these days is also to be a kind of “pioneer”. It takes a certain amount of courage to get up in public and to bear witness to your faith. Through your altar serving and your reading, you also bear witness. The fact that you are not alone, means that you encourage one another in your faith and that is also very important. we are stronger together than when we are on our own.

The symbol of the Pioneer Association is the Sacred Heart, the symbol of the love of God. One last thing that I would say both to the pioneers and to the “retiring” altar servers this evening is this: as Christians, our sacrifice and our service is not something negative. It is motivated by the love of God. Once again, I am reminded of the words of St. Paul in our second reading, who prayed that “planted in love and built on love” we will come to be “filled with the utter fullness of God” We experience the love of God in our own lives and then we are drawn to do something to love him in return. Remember always, and especially in moments of struggle and difficulty that God loves you. If you keep that awareness in your hearts, it will be a power in your lives and it will spill over to touch the lives of others.