Homily of Bishop Kevin for Garland Sunday 2019
We often read in the Gospels how Jesus went out into the wilderness to pray and large crowds of people followed him. Today we come out, not exactly into the wilderness, but to a quiet place to pray. This Holy Well is made Sacred because, for centuries people have gathered here in Jesus name, originally for Baptism, then for the Eucharist, especially in times of persecution. And, of course, people come here all the time in twos and threes to pray. As we know, where two or three are gathered in Jesus name, he is always present. So let us be aware of his presence among us today in this gathering of his people.
I think it may be helpful to ask ourselves what we are actually doing when we pray, and our Scripture readings today have something to say to us about that. In the first reading, Abraham seems to be negotiating with God, trying to wear him down until he eventually gives in. It’s almost as if God has to be convinced to do the right thing. But Jesus simply asks us to call God “Father”. A good Father may not always do what his child wants, but a good father will always do what is best for his child. So when we pray, Jesus asks us to approach God as a loving father or mother.
One if the interesting things about the Our Father is the very first word. “Our”. It actually appears three times in the prayer, Our Father, Our daily bread and Our Trespasses. It reminds us that we are not just individuals, we are the family of God. Our prayer is sometimes for our own particular needs, but more often than not it is for the needs of the whole family.
So what are we supposed to do, when we pray? I think the first thing is the attitude that we bring to prayer and indeed to everything we do, an attitude of reverence and trust, acknowledging God as our creator and our Father as someone who is fundamentally good and true. I think that is what Jesus means when he asks us to pray “may your name be held Holy” (or “hallowed be thy name”). It is about developing in ourselves and attitude of reverence.
We don’t have much experience of Kingdoms, but I would suggest that when we pray “your kingdom come”, it is about asking God to be the Lord of our lives. It is about saying that we want to be guided by his wisdom. This is almost the same as saying “your will be done”. It is easily said, of course, but not so easily done. The temptation constantly arises to do things our own way and, if we are not careful, that can undermine our relationships with one another and our relationship with God. Saint John Paul II once wrote that, when we follow our conscience, we are not deciding for ourselves what is good, we are discovering what is good.
One of the interesting things about praying “thy will be done” is that we ask for it to be done, not just in heaven, but also here on earth. The kingdom of God is not just about the future. We are not called to just sit around and hope that the Kingdom will come. When we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”, we commit ourselves to being part of making that happen, beginning right now, in our own lives and in our own society.
Because we trust in the goodness of God, we ask him to give us our daily bread. It is said that, when Marie Antoinette was told that the people of Paris had no bread, she said “then let them eat cake”. With the kind of upbringing she had, she had no real understanding of poverty. But bread is a fairly basic food and I suppose it symbolises all that we need. It is not about everything that we want. Part of praying for “our daily bread” is developing the attitude of gratitude for what we have, rather than always looking for more. It is about recognising that, if some of us have more than we really need, then there will be others who have less than they need.
As we come towards the end of the prayer, we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. There are two prayers in one. We confidently call on the mercy of God, just as Abraham does in the first reading, because we know that God is good. But we also ask for the attitude of mercy for ourselves, so that we can reflect the mercy of God in our relationships with one another. We can have confidence, as St Paul reminds us, because – through the cross of Christ – our sins are forgiven.
We pray, finally, to be protected from temptation and from the power of evil. I want you to think a little bit about this. You know there are lots of people who toss their heads and deny the reality of evil. But Jesus spoke often about the spirit of evil whose destructive influence is at work in the world. I don’t think you need me to spell it out for you. You have seen it for yourselves in the growing levels of violence and aggression, in the destruction of young lives by drug pushers to mention just two of the more obvious things. Do we need to pray for protection from the evil one? Yes, we most certainly do, for ourselves and especially for those who are vulnerable.
I want to finish by returning to something which I spoke about here on Garland Sunday five years ago. In previous centuries people risked their lives for the Eucharist and for the Word of God, coming to places like this in the early hours of the morning, whenever a priest might be in the area. In those days the persecution came from outside, but today there is a kind of apathy on the inside. I am speaking to you partly because your presence here at this hour of the morning is some indication of your commitment. As you know from your own experience, many of our priests are getting on in years. We are increasingly dependent on the generosity of missionaries from Africa and Asia who, for the most part are only allowed to stay in Ireland for three or four years.
We have two men in formation for the priesthood at present, thank God, but it will be three or four years before we can hope to have an ordination. Of course we are blessed to have many very committed women and me in all of our parishes and we have or volunteer catechists who have completed three years of their formation, but we still need priests, even if we don’t need as many as we had in the past. But who? Who will celebrate the Eucharist in the future? Who will preach the good news of the Kingdom of God? Who will lead God’s people in prayer? Who will forgive sins in Jesus name? It can’t always be someone else’s son or someone else’s brother.
Priesthood is not for everybody and I can assure you that I have no interest in pushing anyone into the seminary who is not called to priesthood. But I believe that there are some who are called and possibly even some in this congregation. What I am asking you, please, is that when you pray the prayer Jesus taught us, please think about this and pray “thy kingdom come; they will be done” in my life and in my family and among my friends and let your heart. Be open to the working of God’s Spirit.