Homily for Centenary Mass of the Knights of St Columbanus

Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran for Knights of St Columbanus 
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo 
Sunday 22nd March 2015

If anyone tries to save his life he will lose it. But if anyone willingly lays down his life, he will surely save it.

Follow the Leader

I’m sure that many brave soldiers on the eve of a battle have wondered what cause is likely to be served by their death. If they have listened to inspiring speeches from Presidents and Prime-Ministers, they may well wonder where those great leaders are now as the battle begins.

But the words we have heard today were not spoken by a president or a prime minister. They are the words of Jesus. And what sets Jesus apart is that didn’t ask his disciples to do anything which he wasn’t prepared to do himself.

These words were spoken in the context of Jesus reflecting on his own death. He didn’t want to die any more than the rest of us. But he was prepared to die in order to remain faithful to the mission which had been entrusted to him by the father.

This is what St. Paul means when he said that Jesus became obedient through suffering. The essence of obedience is being ready to let go of your own agenda, and to invest in something that is bigger than yourself. It was not that Jesus needed to learn this lesson. What St. Paul means is that Jesus’ readiness to put the Father’s agenda before his own is expressed in his suffering and death.

I saw a poster once, which seemed to capture the attitude of Jesus very well. It said “Jesus died on Friday, knowing that his Father would raise him from the dead on Sunday. And He did!

Our own Leadership will involve Sacrifices:

In the letter to the Romans St. Paul says: “for a really good man, one might be prepared to die, but the proof that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we are still sinners.

Jesus is in a strong position to ask us to be willing to lay down our lives, because he laid down his for us. In certain circumstances this “laying down” our lives might involve an actual physical death. But mostly the issue is our willingness to let go of our own agenda, and to live according to God’s agenda, as Jesus did. Sometimes living for God may even seem more difficult than dying for him, because we have to renew the commitment each day. There are sacrifices to be made. What are you being asked to let go of, so that you can follow Christ more closely, and live more fully as God intended you to live.

It is easy to identify the sacrifices other people should make. It’s a mistake we all make at times: priests, politicians, parents, teachers, employers. But remember the lesson we have learnt from Jesus; never to ask others to make sacrifices we wouldn’t be prepared to make ourselves.

St. Columbanus

Today, in the millennium year of St. Columbanus, we celebrate the mission of our local Council CK25 of the Knights of St. Columbanus. Born early in the seventh century AD, Columbanus was a holy man, a poet, and a fearless defender of faith and morals. In his forties, he set out from Ireland with 12 monks to bring the good news of the Gospel to a continent which was in turmoil. He had no hesitation in challenging bishops, kings and even popes and his unwillingness to compromise meant that he made many enemies. This courage and fearlessness in challenging authority meant that he was twice expelled from different countries. But he simply moved on, founding other monasteries in present-day Germany, Switzerland and Italy. He died after completing the building of his last great monastery in Bobbio, Italy. Today, almost fifteen centuries after his death, it is astonishing to discover that devotion to Columbanus is still so alive in these European countries. An inscription on a statue in Luxeuil pays tribute to “the apostle with a soul of fire; tireless traveller, saviour of civilization”. Robert Schumann, founding father of what became the European Union, called Columbanus “the patron saint of all who now seek to build a united Europe.” He was probably a “hard man” to follow, but nobody could ever accuse him of leading from behind.

The Knights of St. Columbanus

The second Vatican Council tells us that the lay faithful, by virtue of their Baptism, are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. They can also be called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. (Lumen Gentium 33). Long before the Vatican Council, the Knights of St. Columbanus were living this vision. The order was established in 1915 and the Sligo Council was formed in 1924, just across the road in the Gillooly Hall. Since then the Knights have been exercising Christian leadership through service in a wide variety of ways. They have established and overseen various faith development programmes and courses in the diocese over the years. They were responsible for the installation of the radio system which allows the sick and housebound to participate in the Eucharist even when they cannot be physically present in the Cathedral. They have published Prayer books for all the children confirmed in the Diocese of Elphin in recent years, and also a Prayer book for the sick, distributed to hospitals and nursing homes, which has been an important support to people in times of crisis. The Knights were also responsible for the fitting out of the Oratory in the newly built Summerhill College and the installation of the Mysteries of the Rosary on stone tablets at Tobernalt Holy Well. None of these things have been achieved with personal sacrifice, both on the part of the Knoghts themselves and on the part of those who have responded to their leadership. The work of the Knights of St. Columbanus is carried out discretely and without any desire for recognition, but it is appropriate, at least once in a hundred years, to give thanks to God for their mission in the Church and to encourage others to follow their lead.

Joining our spiritual sacrifices with the sacrifice of Christ:

I want to finish by just linking what I have been saying with our celebration of the Mass. The mass, as you know is the memorial of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. In the Mass, he doesn’t die over and over again, but he does continue to give himself for us. It may sometimes seem to you that the daily efforts and sacrifices that you make are of little value. They are only a drop in the ocean when compared with what the world needs in order to be transformed. But remember that when you come to Mass on Sunday, you bring with you the struggles and sacrifices of your week, and you offer them with the gifts on the altar. In that way, your sacrifices are joined with the sacrifice of Christ. It is not unlike the story of the boy with the loaves and the fishes, which seemed so little for five thousand people. Yet he handed them over to Jesus with a remarkable confidence that the Lord would be able to make something of them.