Homily of Bishop Kevin at St Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society Pilgrimage to Knock
“Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call to him while he is still near.” These are the words of Isaiah today and they reminded me of something that happened recently. A few weeks ago, the President of the United States came to Ireland on a private visit and spent two nights here. Just before he left for home, he played a round of golf and you may remember that, one of the iconic moments of the visit was when he stopped to say hello to some children from a local school who had come out with their teachers, in the hope that they might see him. Call to him while he is still near!!!! Even in these democratic times, when we proclaim the equality of every person, it is amazing how many people will still stand in the street or go to the airport in the hope of seeing the Pope or the Queen or Katie Taylor, or the whole Irish Hockey team. For the children in Doonbeg, I imagine that it was beyond their wildest dreams that the President of the United States would come over and actually talk to them. I doubt if they had much interest in his politics but, for a moment, they were at the centre of things.
We have just listened to the Word of God. Week after week, we hear the Word of God proclaimed in our Churches. When the Reader says: “The Word of the Lord”, we respond “Thanks be to God”. But here is a question. Are we really aware that God is speaking to us? Do we really hear it? Does it penetrate our hearts? It is so easy for it to go in one ear and out the other. Then, it might also be worth asking whether we are really grateful for God’s Word, or whether we sometimes regard it as a burden.
The prophet Isaiah encourages us to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. Speaking in the name of God he says: my Word is like the rain that comes down from heaven, which waters the earth, “making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater”. Sometimes, perhaps, our attitude to God’s Word is like our attitude to the rain. We feel that we have already had more than enough of it.
Some years ago, Pope Benedict wrote a very powerful letter of encouragement about the Word of God called Verbum Domini. In it, he quotes the great biblical scholar St Jerome. “For me, the Gospel is the Body of Christ; for me, the holy Scriptures are his teaching. When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?”
Maybe we need to ponder the Word of God more deeply. Maybe, it is not enough to hear short sections of it read out on Sunday. Maybe, in order to really enter into the relationship with God, we need spend more time with his Word.
St. Luke tells us that Mary was a woman of contemplation. She pondered in her heart all that God was doing in her life. Pondering is an interesting word. It sounds like wandering, but it is spelt like wondering, and it has something of the same quality about it. To ponder is not to agonise over something, but it is still something much more than just day-dreaming. To me it suggests allowing something to sink in. It seems that Mary turned things over in her mind a good bit, allowing the true significance of all these strange events to sink in. That’s not the kind of thing that happens when you live life in the fast lane. People who keep things in their hearts are, by implication, people who look into their hearts from time to time.
When people said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked“, he replied “still more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it“. At first it may sound like he was making little of the role of Mary. On the contrary, however, I think he is pointing out what is really great about her, what sets her apart is her pondering and believing the Word of God. Everything else follows from that. As Pope Paul VI once wrote, “Mary received the Word of God in her womb, because she had first received the Word of God in her heart.”
Mary is presented to us in the Gospel today as “Mother of the Church”, standing at the foot of the cross, still pondering faithfully on the mystery of her Son’s life and death. She is pictured with St. John the Evangelist who himself was very close to the heart of Jesus. It is the same with us. If the Word is to be made flesh in our own lives and in our own time, then we must first of all receive the Word, not just in our ears, but in our hearts.
I am conscious today that, among out congregation here, we have members of Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society from all over Ireland, on their annual pilgrimage. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for the spiritual and practical support that you give to seminarians who are in formation for the priesthood, both here in Ireland and overseas. Like the disciples at the foot of the cross, they are few in number, at least in Ireland, but they have heard the promptings of God’s Word in their hearts. I encourage you to pray for them and for the many others whom God is calling but who, for one reason or another are not able to hear the call just at the moment, because of all the competing noises in our culture. It is our responsibility as disciples ourselves to create spaces and opportunities in our parishes where young people can hear God’s Word and be supported in responding generously to it.
The priesthood, in these times, may be a little bit like God’s Word. Some are inclined to ask “do we still need it? We are, after all, modern people in a modern world”. From the beginning of time, God has invited his people into relationship with him. He has spoken to their hearts. He has chosen to speak with a human voice, through Moses and the Prophets and eventually through his own Son, who is the Word made Flesh. Jesus chose to entrust his Word to the twelve, telling them to “go make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is an essential part of the mission of the priest; to break for the people the bread of God’s Word as well as the bread of the Eucharist.
Saturday 22nd June 2019