What would you like to search for?

Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Launch of Diocesan Synod - 7 December 2014 - St. John's Cathedral


Today we are launching the Limerick Diocesan Synod and commissioning Delegates to the Synod. It is a significant day in the life of the Diocese. Our liturgy seems just tailor-made for the occasion.

The Gospel we’ve just heard is from the very beginning of the Gospel according to Mark. Read in the light of the other readings today, its message is clear: God has a plan for our world and he wants us to be part of the unfolding of that plan.

We can start therefore today by asking: what is God’s plan? He has designed our world to be the place where righteousness will be at home. In other words, the place where we will share in God’s own life and share that life with one another through our love for one another, promoting peace and justice, mercy and holiness. We can’t say that God is parochial in his outlook! He thinks big and cares for everyone. He wants all to be saved – his plan is to make our world a family where all are sisters and brothers.

God doesn’t simply give us the plan and then leave it to us to get going with it! No. He himself is active; he carries out his promises; our patient Lord is at work to bring that plan about. Moreover, he can surprise us because with the Lord “a day” can mean a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. Things can happen much faster than we might think.

We can indeed rejoice because it is good news – we are not on our own. Let’s re-read the beautiful image of the First Reading: “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother eves”.

As I mentioned, God does not intend to do all this without us. The Gospel presents the story of John the Baptist to us right at the beginning of the Gospel to remind us that while God has a plan and is at work to make it happen, God wants us to prepare the way. This is the great lesson of love that God teaches – he makes himself dependent on us; he makes himself need our help. God is the expert of doing things not on his own but “together” with others. At the time of John the Baptist, there was a sense of spiritual wilderness creeping into the people of Israel. It was something they had experienced before and were now witnessing again.  Precisely at that time John the Baptist was chosen to be the instrument in the hands of God to prepare the way of Jesus and the way of the disciples of Jesus who desire to follow his Way. God made himself “need” John the Baptist to prepare for his coming.

I think we can say that something similar applies to us. God needs the contribution of each one of us too for his Son Jesus Christ to be seen, heard and encountered again in our world, in our country, and in our diocese. We too are living in a spiritual wilderness of sorts – we’ve been through difficult and confusing times in the Church; there have been many cultural and social changes in recent years; young people often don’t find what they are looking for among us; the shape of our Church’s structures are in transition. We clearly need to turn away from sin and allow Jesus come in a new way as he promised he would do when he said, “I will be with you always.”

Our diocesan Synod, both in its preparation and in the actual gathering, should be a warm open invitation on the part of all of us to Jesus who wants to come among us in a new way. He wants to be among us especially in our relationships with one another and in our relationships with those around us who are in situations of marginalisation, poverty and spiritual homelessness. The Synod, therefore, is to be a time when we clearly commit ourselves again to do our part to let this happen at all levels of Church and indeed in society. All of us together, clergy and lay, are being offered this opportunity to regenerate and build up the Church of the future in our diocese. Let’s not miss this appointment with history.

We can recall the words spoken at a gathering of the Delegates to the Synod a few weeks ago by the American Dominican theologian, Fr. Paul Philibert. He reminded us that we “are being invited to move beyond lethargy, beyond apathy; to let go of anger and frustration; to risk going beyond pain and fear.” As he put it, we are being asked “to become less self-centred, self-concerned, and see ourselves and everything else in a new way… ready to respond from the depths of our heart with generosity and creativity.”

Sisters and brothers gathered here in St. John’s Cathedral today, especially those of you are being commissioned as Delegates to the Synod, let’s learn from the figure of John the Baptist. He didn’t focus on himself; he was humble; he was full of hope in Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit.

He didn’t focus on himself. He wanted to help others turn around and put God in the first place in their lives. You too will now go out to help one another and others to prepare the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. There will be many paths to be made straight – paths of wounded hearts; paths of confused minds; paths of disappointed spirits, paths of rejected outreach. Through listening with hearts full of mercy and patience, you can transform crooked pathways into opportunities to show something new is happening; Jesus is coming in a new way to heal wounds, bring light and clarity, sow seeds of hope and mercy.

John the Baptist was humble. Undoing the straps of someone’s sandals was considered the most menial of jobs fit only for slaves at the time of John the Baptist. He didn’t even see himself fit to undo the strap of Jesus’ sandals. This reveals something of the humility of his soul that mattered most – to be humble is to consider others as greater than ourselves, as St. Paul tells us. John the Baptist lived this out in his relationship with Jesus. But each of us can consider others greater than ourselves in the sense that in each neighbour we meet it we are encountering Jesus in that neighbour. As St. Vincent de Paul put it, we should consider others our Masters and we are their servants.

John the Baptist was a man of hope, believing in a better future and in the work of the Holy Spirit. He pointed out that Jesus would baptise us with the Holy Spirit. The Jesus who is coming brings the Holy Spirit in abundance so there’s no need to be afraid or downhearted about the future. As Pope Francis puts it, let’s not say our times are harder than previous times; they are just different.


At this point we can now move on to the Commissioning Rite of the Delegates to the Synod. We are about to set off on a journey and the Delegates will declare publically before us all, their intention to live their Baptismal vocation with renewed faith, hope and love. Above all, they will promise to love one another as Our Lord has taught us in giving us the New Commandment: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another… By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:34-35). Let’s make this commitment as form of pact that binds us together in a new way. It will bring a new quality to our lives.

As the Delegates express their commitment, let’s remember again what we were told in the First Reading. Our Lord is like a shepherd who feeds his flock. In other words, he provides food for the journey. He is the bread from heaven, the Eucharist, that builds the Church. Let’s nourish ourselves regularly on the Eucharist and always remember that in the silence of every church and chapel Jesus in the Eucharist, heartbeat of the world, is always there waiting for us when we feel tired and overburdened to speak words of peace and consolation, encouragement and new hope along the way. His help is always near.