In a few moments, the priests who are present will be renewing their priestly promises. In doing so, they will recall their ordination day. In the past year I have enjoyed discovering on various occasions aspects of the life and ministry of the priests of this diocese. It has been like a game of placing tiles in a mosaic as I realise such and such a priest was in this or that parish years ago, or had established such and such an initiative, or has had this or that story in common with others. It has brought home to me again how each priest’s life is a world that would be difficult to capture in all its variety and depth of experience.
It is touching to see the affection people have for priests. How often I have been told (warned?) that I am not to move Fr…. “You’re going to be leaving him here with us, won’t you…?”! It is indeed a tribute to the priests of the diocese that there is such affection. I have been very impressed by how close people feel to them. Any public event I attend I meet people who very easily talk to me of priests they know and esteem.
Priests live as people “sent” by the Lord, as the First Reading and the Gospel put it. They have brought good news to the poor, they have bound up hearts that are broken. They have proclaimed the message of liberty. How many who are mourning have been comforted by priests! How much new sight has been communicated through Jesus’ teachings proclaimed week in, week out around the diocese! I want to express my profound gratitude to the priests of the diocese of Limerick.
This evening, in the context of renewing our priestly promises, let’s take it as an occasion to savour those moments in our life and ministry when we felt a particular closeness to God, those moments when the zeal of mission was especially alive for us. Spiritual teachers recommend that we re-visit those moments in order to rekindle the fire in our hearts.
But the renewal of promises is also about starting out again with renewed vigour and zeal. In doing so, let’s heed the words of Pope Francis in his letter, The Joy of the Gospel when he says, ‘Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel’. For each of us, it’s a question and a stimulus – what are the peripheries to which I can reach out more?
Because we are called to be instruments of joy in the world. So many of our contemporaries are searching for happiness and joy and don’t know where to find it. I was at a youth gathering some weeks ago when someone quoted John Lennon: ‘When I was five years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy” and they told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life.’
Yes, people want happiness. And Pope Francis invites us to hear again the Gospel of Joy in our own lives and to communicate it generously. As he puts it, we have joy the more we stop trying to be in charge of ourselves and let ourselves be taken into the adventure of leaving security on the shore and becoming excited by the mission of communicating life and joy to others.
No one can deny that in the rapidly changing circumstances of today’s world, priests can find themselves buffeted by the various storms that arise in their ministry. We know only too well of how many innocent people have suffered terrible darkness because of clerical abuse. As I said on the day of my ordination and since then, at Masses celebrated for them, I want to make their pain my own and seek forgiveness seventy times seven. It is a deep wound for all of us.
And yet, despite the storms, research shows that most priests are profoundly fulfilled in their ministry. It’s a message we need to shout from the rooftops. Every life has its challenges but there is a joy that persists in following God also along the road of priesthood.
Our priestly vocation is, yes, to be without a specific family, but it is to be builders together of the bigger family of God and in that there is deep satisfaction and happiness. We need to let others know that in offering our humanity as a gift to the Risen Christ, he has extended our heart to a new fatherhood, a new spiritual paternity, a new universal love that the Second Reading points to. And that’s why we need not be afraid to appeal to young men who may feel this calling, to follow the vocation to be a priest. It is an adventure of life that can bring deep joy, a joy the world does not know.
So this evening, as we renew our priestly promises, let’s give witness to the hope that is within us. We have been called and anointed with a mission. Jesus Christ “loves us and washes away our sins” as the Second Reading tells us. It is in the Crucified, pierced Christ that we find our deepest inspiration. He reached all the peripheries of existence and from there generated the Church.
The Risen Christ, the Alpha and Omega of history, invites us too in this moment of history to renew the gift of our humanity to him so that today too he may reach the peripheries through our reaching out and our closeness to others as well as our compassion and perseverance.
Let’s be thankful for our vocation, and in a spirit of gratitude, renew our priestly promises, knowing that we have a mother, Mary, who will pray that our promises may be ratified in heaven.