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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Mass for Families of Religious and Priests - 9 June 2018 - Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Millford

Mass for Families of Religious and Priests

in Honour of the World Meeting of Families 2018,

Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Millford, 9 June 2018

Homily Notes of Bishop Brendan Leahy

The day I entered the seminary, my father and mother drove me in. It was a poignant moment. I was confident and young and eager for what was ahead. But my father, Lord rest his soul, said to me: – “now remember, you always have the key of the house!” To which he got the self-assured reply: “there’ll be no going back!”.

But, of course, my father was great to say what he said. I was young and innocent with a journey ahead of me. But he assured me my family was always my family and they’d be there for me no matter what.

Each member of a religious order or a priest here today will have their own personal story to tell but in each case, I’m sure we all will say, our family has been important. And so I am delighted we have the opportunity to be here and express gratitude for the families of religious and priests.  Perhaps we don’t always get the occasion to say “thanks” or show it enough.

Every religious sister or brother or priest, religious or diocesan comes from a family.  It is significant that when the Son of God, like a divine Migrant, came on earth to communicate the life of his homeland, heaven, the life of the Triune God, he did so through a family.

Each of us received our first formation in the family. It’s where we got our basic training in so many ways – how to mix with others, how to take the rough and tumble of life, how to live and let live, how to know brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers… All of this becomes important for future people who dedicate their lives to serving God and the spreading of his Kingdom on earth. I like when Pope Francis says that the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached has a family feeling to it.

Of course, we might all say – our family wasn’t that perfect. I like to recall Pope Francis’ words that I often quote for parents at Confirmation ceremonies. No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed. Each family is on a journey (see Amoris Laetitia, n. 325). The Bible story tells us that God managed to communicate the Good News precisely in and through the imperfections and weaknesses, sin and failures of our world’s human family.

Isn’t it wonderful to know, therefore to know that God didn’t simply call Joe or Mary, your sister or brother or relation… God, we can say, looked on your family to be a family that allowed him invite your sister, brother, uncle, aunt… God has drawn near your family also in this mysterious calling of a vocation.

Yes, each person called, has to leave the family. And that has its own painful moments. The hand is put to the plough and we must move forward as disciples of Jesus Christ. In leaving the family to follow the Lord, those called to a particular form of the mission, live for a universal family; they build up the family of God, generating spiritual children, sisters and brothers of the one Father.

But each person called also remains rooted in his or her own family of origin. That family lives on in each of us and is part of our personality, character and history that God can use to communicate his message. Each family of origin journeys with the religious or priest. When I was ordained a deacon in Rome, we went to the General Audience in St. Peter’s and the Pope John Paul II passed by – there were big crowds pushing to touch him – and he looked at my father and then at me and said, “he is your father”. He saw the physical resemblance but it’s not just physical. We all carry our families in our lives.

Families accompany priests and religious, keeping in contact and often at the end of their days, a priest can get great support from family members. I want to acknowledge all that. I like to say it at a priest’s funeral. The family has given a gift to the Church.

But there is also one final point. Perhaps in the past there was a certain glory attached to having a priest or nun or brother in the family. And many still today admire that. But, we can’t deny the adversity or indifference of which the First Reading today speaks is also in the air. It’s not always easy to keep the faith as St. Paul puts it. And with the criticism of the Church, often aimed at religious orders or clergy, the family members of religious and priests can suffer. Perhaps it’s a suffering borne silently, but it is real. And I want to thank you for carrying that cross. In a mysterious way, you are linked with a public suffering the Church today is going through. It’s not easy but on behalf of the Church, I want, on the one hand, to say “sorry” to you for the times you may have felt let down by the Church of which your relation is an “official” as it were representative. But I also way “thanks” for living that suffering well, supporting, being there, offering a home when times can be tough.

So, I conclude by calling to me those who are not here physically with us today, those already gone to God. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, relations. They’ve done their part on earth. I’ve no doubt they are still dying their part from the next life. The bonds that united us on earth, do not unravel with death. We can indeed be grateful to them, now offering the Mass for the repose of their souls knowing that before God they are most probably proudly talking about their great son, daughter, sister, brother who followed a vocation to religious life or priesthood. And God is smiling on them – in thanksgiving.