1. Sirach: “Let us now praise famous men and our fathers in their generations”. In the words of Yeats to the poets of Ireland: “Cast your minds on other days that we in coming days may be still the indomitable Irishry”. Our indomitable fathers.
2. Contrast mandate with Gospel: Disciples gathered fearfully.
Absurd, fragile safety of little room in maelstrom of hostile world.
And here we are. This room is grander; we became used to some comfort.
The fear, however, is original and familiar.
3. Today, here, you might be forgiven for fear. No easy time
to lead. In spiritual terms, certainly in religious terms, a lunar
landscape. A world which listens less and less to anything, least of
all a Church so terribly weakened by its own betrayals. Broken hearts
and dreams. Broken faith.
4. But, was faith ever so impervious to danger? Was there ever
an easy time to follow Jesus Christ? Is that the stock we were bred
from? The historical crucible in which we were formed? Isn’t the
Burren, to develop the metaphor, an example of how life can root and
flourish in the hardest landscapes? Our communal faith history was
never for the faint-hearted.
5. Can a whole faith community over time develop shared skills
and even a common genius? I say it can. I believe we are a people with
a genius for the spiritual. A people drenched in the Logos, the
creative word. I believe that even as our country has become less and
less religious the disproportionate number of writers and poets proves
my point. We were not mastered by our hard, stony little fields.
Neither will we be robbed of our thirst for life, our suspicion of
something more to be had, our divine unease, by a smooth-talking, facile
society which dresses up in pretty words and smug, confident phrases a
reality of futureless despair.
6. The late Professor Patrick Corish: best description of 19th
century Irish peasantry (from whom most of us are descended) was given
in book title by Walter Macken: The Silent People. They said nothing. A
few, mostly anonymous poets; a handful of haunting songs and airs.
Their lives, loves, suffering marked by little more than the rough blank
stone grave – markers which pock-mark the older country cemeteries.
7. Knock (in diocese we share). A living iconostasis. Using
no words. Yet perfect communication. Silent love before the silent
suffering . Almost like answer given by parishioner to Saint John
Vianny: “I look at him and he looks back at me”. Public, communal,
historic prayer. A divine conversation at the gable of a church.
8. And now, well over a hundred years later, the Church is
tired. The end of something huge. The exhaustion of a new beginning.
After two centuries of resurgence, growth and abundance the land, so to
speak, is exhausted. How does faith respond to a challenge like this?
9. Yeats in ‘Sailing to Byzantium”. “An aged man is but a
paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands
and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress…”
10. We must go back to Christ, who makes all things new, and start
again. Let him breathe on us. Let the Holy Spirit renew our courage
and our failing strength.
11. Because it comes back to this. It will always come back to
this. The question is one of faith. The battle between despair and
faith. Do we still believe? Do we believe in this world, that it is real
and true and fundamentally good? That the core of that reality is a
God who knows and loves us? That, in the words, of Julian of Norwich,
all shall be well?
12. Our faith is not simply a matter of identity, but of urgent,
life-giving, essential truth. It may not make you always feel you
belong. You, a poor man or woman who own shares in a cosmic future.
Quite the opposite of belonging, sometimes.
13. If priests and bishops have a central challenge and opportunity
before them now it is to be, in Yeats’ words elsewhere, “singing
masters of my soul”. You must lead us back to Christ. We need personal
experience of God, not endless talk about him. Faith seeking
understanding, not alleged understanding blathering on about faith.
Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, says that it is
better to experience contrition than to be able to define it. We are
like somebody who has had a terrible accident or a stroke. The simplest
things must be relearned. We have to learn all over again, in a new
world, how to pray, to teach, to preach and to live this faith.
14. But have courage. The diocese you will lead is littered with
the physical remains of faith beginning, growing, endlessly reforming. A
cycle of birth, death and birth again. Killaloe, Iniscaltra, Birr.
Terryglass, a centre of the great reform of the Ceili De, Lorrha, and
the great mediaeval foundations of Ennis and Quin, o name only a few.
It’s not as if we haven’t been here before.
15. And now you will become ‘Comharb’ of Flannan, in a direct line
of succession, and lead the believers on this new, long stage of the
journey. You are to join “our fathers in their generations”. You are
to be our souls’ newest “singing master”. What is to be said?
16. I say this, in the presence of God, the bishops and clergy and
the faithful whom we serve. I say it as a priest and as a descendant,
like yourself, like so many here today, of the forgotten ones, those of
unremarked lives and unmarked graves who nevertheless managed to pass on
to us physical life and the secret of life eternal. The eloquently
Silent People. This people will not be led by soft, easy words and
passable example. Again, to paraphrase Yeats, we are no small people.
We are of the spiritual stock of Patrick, Flannan, Jarlath and
Columbanus and we will not be led by small men. We will not be ruled by
a careful, calculating, mediocre spirit. To enter into this journey,
this faith, in the words of Eliot, “…costing not less than everything…”
we must be led by those who know the price of such leadership and are
willing to pay. If you want us to follow you must lead from the front.
We will follow that. We will follow a saint.
17. Saint Bernard once said that the Church had lots of channels
for grace, but a channel merely transports and exhausts itself. The
Church, he said, needed reservoirs. A man needs to be very holy for
life in a hard land, as you will need water not only for yourself but
for others also. I wouldn’t talk like this to you, in front of everyone
here, if I didn’t know, after some twenty years of friendship, that you
can do this, that you are well on your way, that you will keep faith
with us who follow on.
18. The Mandate has been read. The time has come. Remember, as
you are about to be irrevocably changed, the people from whom you come.
Those people of faith unconquered by despair. “Cast your mind on other
days, that we, in coming days, may be still the indomitable Irishry”.
· Canon Brendan Kilcoyne Vicar Forane, is Parish Priest of Athenry, County Galway, in the Archdiocese of Tuam.