Homily of Bishop Kevin at the Advent Retreat of Youth 2000

Homily of Bishop Kevin at the Advent Retreat of Youth 2000
Saturday 12th December 2014, Newbridge College

It is really good to be with you here to celebrate your Advent retreat. In both of our Scripture readings, we meet the prophet Elijah. As we will see, he was very closely associated in the minds of the Jewish people with the coming of the saviour.

If you were listening to the first reading, which is a poem in praise of Elijah, you will have heard that “his words flared like a torch”, that he stopped the rain for weeks on end and, three times, called down fire on the earth. So you say to yourself, “I’ve never done any of those things, I’d better take ‘prophet’ off my careers list”.

It might surprise you, then, if I say that I think Elijah had much in common with many young people I know.

Elijah lived about 800 years before Christ. He was what you might call a “rough diamond”. Like many young people, he liked to tell it as he saw it and he had no time for hypocrisy. He told the people of Israel that, if they wanted to be the people of the Lord, then they needed to stop flirting with false gods.

Like many young people, Elijah also had a passion for justice and a heart that was open to people in need. The First Book of Kings tells us of his care for a widow whose only son had died, and of how he challenged King Ahab, who had bullied a man called Naboth and perverted the cause of justice, just to get his greedy paws on Naboth’s vineyard.

There was one other way in which Elijah was quite like many young people I know. He wanted to be uncompromising in his commitment to justice and truth, but he didn’t like to stand out from the crowd. He would have liked to be a popular prophet. The First Book of Kings tells the story of Elijah’s crisis of confidence, or perhaps it was a crisis of faith, when he fled into the wilderness and just wanted to die. But God had other plans and Elijah was nourished in the wilderness with water from a little stream and bread brought by a raven, until his strength was restored and he could set out again on a journey of encounter with God.

Eight hundred years later, at a difficult time in their history, a time of occupation and oppression, while the people of Israel tried to keep alive their hope for the coming of the saviour, it was a common idea that Elijah would come again to prepare the way. Jesus makes reference to that in today’s Gospel and clearly suggests that John the Baptist was the new Elijah.

What I want to suggest to you is that we are challenged to prepare constantly for the Lord who comes to us in the circumstances of every day. Today, in our society, we need people who are filled with the spirit and the power of Elijah, to speak the truth, to show compassion and to do the work of justice. If not you, then who?

Like Elijah, you might struggle with the consequences of speaking the truth. Our contemorary culture tends to suggest that there is a conflict between compassion and truth. “They” (whoever “they” are) say that we must at all costs avoid making judgements in case other people might be offended. It is certainly true that combining compassion and truth often involves an inner struggle, but that is the struggle with our own human frailty. Compassion and truth are not incompatible.

As Christians, we must always have the courage to speak the truth. As Elijah learned in the wilderness, of course, we must first make space to listen to the truth from sources that we can trust and, above all, to reflect on the Word of God. We must judge between true and false, good and evil, but it is for God alone to judge the human heart. In public debate therefore, whether it is about homelessness, water charges or proposals to redefine marriage, we can and must speak the truth and arrive at our own conclusions without “writing off” or condemning anyone. If you stick to that principle, you have every right to bear witness in the public space to what you believe.

Speaking at the World Youth Day in Rome, Pope John Paul II said: “it is Jesus who puts in your heart the desire to do something great with your life”. He has a plan for each of you. So, as we celebrate this season of advent, I invite each of you to welcome the Lord as he comes in your own life.

I feel quite sure that, here in this gathering, there are some who are called to priesthood and religious life. It is not the vocation of the majority, but neither should you assume that it is more likely to be someone else who is called.

In our diocese of Elphin, there are ten priests over the age of 75 who are still in active ministry. With typical generosity, they continue to serve because they don’t want to let people down. They are waiting for young men like some of you here to take their places. Please do not be afraid of the challenge.

What I ask each of you to do is to trust God, as Mary did. Be sure that he won’t mess with your heart and then simply pray daily for the wisdom to know what he is asking of you in your life. Try to pray without “footnotes”. Don’t pray: “thy will – provided it does not include any of the following – be done”. He will speak to your heart.

I want to finish by passing on to you the best wishes of Bishop Denis Nulty. He was sorry he couldn’t be with you today (but then it gave me the chance to come instead). I also want to pray God’s blessing on those among you who will be making important vocational commitments this coming year; those who will be married, professed as religious, ordained as deacons or priest. Perhaps there may even be some among you who will become parents. May God bless you and strengthen you to follow where he leads you.