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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

1 January 2014 - World Day of Prayer for Peace - Mass in Holy Rosary Church

Last night Limerick officially celebrated its designation as the National City of Culture. I attended an event at which many of the speakers mentioned their gratitude for this gift but also how they recognised it is a task that has been given to us as the first national city of culture. It is indeed an honour and a responsibility. On this first day as the city of culture, the Catholic Church honours Mary, the Mother of God and dedicates its prayers throughout our diocese and worldwide to the theme of peace. It is good also for us in Limerick to have this theme as we launch out into this special year for us.

Pope Francis has written a beautiful and powerful message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace that I recommend to your reading. It’s entitled: “FRATERNITY, THE FOUNDATION AND PATHWAY TO PEACE” and it is available on line.

The theme is fraternity and the Pope develops many points in his reflection. This morning I want to take just a few of those points.

Firstly, the Pope mentions something disarmingly simple but very profound. He explains how contemporary ethical systems remain incapable of producing authentic bonds of fraternity. The reason is that often our efforts at building a more enduring fraternal world fail to recognise we have a common Father as the ultimate foundation. As he puts it, ‘True brotherhood and sisterhood among people presupposes and demands a transcendent Fatherhood. Based on the recognition of this fatherhood, human fraternity is consolidated: each person becomes a “neighbour” who cares for others.’ As our Second Reading today reminds us, the Son of God came on earth precisely to bring us into this relationship with God the Father and discover we are all brothers and sisters. So we can take away this one simple but profound idea as a resolution for the New Year and also for us here in Limerick as we take up our responsibility as bearers of the title: City of Culture: look to the one God, Father of us all, and so see everyone as your brother or sister. What a revolution of fraternity, love, peace this would make!

The second point Francis makes has to do with poverty. Worldwide we are seeing a reduction in absolute poverty. But, he points out, on the other hand there is a serious rise in relative poverty, “that is, instances of inequality between people and groups who live together in particular regions or in a determined historical-cultural context.” In other words, some are becoming much richer but the divide between rich and poor is growing dramatically. The Pope invites us to work at promoting the principle of fraternity also in the sense of “securing for people – who are equal in dignity and in fundamental rights – access to capital, services, educational resources, healthcare and technology so that every person has the opportunity to express and realize his or her life project and can develop fully as a person.”

Each of us is challenged by Pope Francis’s message to examine our conscience and see around us how we might promote this culture of fraternity that fosters the full realisation of all human beings. He himself has given great witness to this in his many inspiring gestures such as his embrace a few weeks ago of a severely disfigured man suffering from a rare disease that causes painful tumours to grow throughout the body. Afterwards, the man commented: “the thing that struck me most is that he didn’t think twice about whether or not to hug me... I'm not contagious, but he didn’t know that. He just did it: he caressed me all over my face, and as he did I felt only love.”

The Gospel today presents us with Mary, the model both of the true peace that brings fulfilment and model of how to bring about peace into our world. Therefore, on this day dedicated to Mary, I would like to conclude with a prayer composed by Pope John Paul who will be canonised this year and who visited Limerick in 1979:

O Virgin Mary, full of courage,
may your spiritual strength
and trust in God inspire us,
so that we might know
how to overcome all the obstacles
that we encounter
in accomplishing our mission.
Teach us to treat the affairs of the world
with a real sense of Christian responsibility
and a joyful hope
of the coming of God's Kingdom, and
of a "new heaven and a new earth".

You who were gathered in prayer
with the Apostles in the Cenacle,
awaiting the coming
of the Spirit at Pentecost,
implore his renewed outpouring
on all the faithful, men and women alike,
so that they might more fully respond
to their vocation and mission,
as branches engrafted to the true vine,
called to bear much fruit
for the life of the world.

(John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 64)