Monday, August 22, 2022

The Call of the Lord – Homily of Archbishop Francis Duffy at Knock Novena

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This afternoon, under the banner A Journey of Hope, I invite you to reflect with me on the call of the Lord.  I would like to look at three parts of the call of the Lord to us as believers.  I base my reflections to some extent on what is found in the recently published synthesis of the consultation that took place in preparation for the 2023 universal synod in Rome, and which was formally published here in Knock on Tuesday last during this year’s Novena.  The three reflections are firstly: the call to bring healing to those who are hurt by Church; secondly, the call to serve the Lord and his people in parish communities; and thirdly, the call of the Lord to follow him in our personal lives and circumstances.

The call of the Lord to bring healing to those hurt by Church

The darkest place in our Catholic story is clerical and institutional abuse.  It is addressed in the synodal report clearly, directly and very movingly. It is referred to as an ‘open wound’ that was concealed by the Church for so long.  Those who participated in the synodal preparations identified a sense of loss, anger, betrayal, estrangement, in addition to the deeply personal and living sense of hurt.  There is also a clear desire for healing.

I quote two submissions that put it so well and so clearly.  One person said: ‘We need to learn from the past.  There is recognition that we are a Church in need of healing at every level and, as a survivor of abuse who engaged in the process remarked, we need to find a forum in which we can all heal together’.  The second quotation reads: ‘We must pledge ourselves to journey with survivors, to meet with them, preferably in small groups where dialogue is possible and opens us to the presence of the Spirit’. Healing is needed by so many people and also by the Church.  The call of the Lord is to continue and to create environments where that healing can take place.

Significantly, the synthesis links abuse to other aspects of life where healing is needed, ‘our understanding of sexuality and of power; the absence of women in decision making roles; transparency and accountability in governance; clericalism’.   The synthesis invites the Church to examine how its own structures and way of operating contributed to this situation. 

That healing that is so necessary extends to those who suffered abuse, clerical and institutional.  It also extends to others who felt and continue to feel marginalised, stigmatised and judged by society and by Church because of sexual orientation, perceived position in society and being judged and found wanting.  The Lord’s call is to bring healing to those who suffer. 

The call of the Lord to serve in the parish community

The context in which the listening process took place over the last year is one of a Church with a falling practice rate and falling vocations to priesthood and religious life.  The absence of so many people from our churches and the dramatic and continuing fall in the number of clergy and religious is leading to significant change in contemporary Irish Catholicism.  This has begun to result in what is described as a ‘shortage of clergy’ and an ongoing increase in the number of parishes without a resident priest.  No parish exists on its own, it is part of a diocese, and dioceses and parishes are addressing this steadily worsening situation.  I have been in churches and parishes where there is no longer a resident priest, a neighbouring priest or a team of priests look after several parishes.  I have seen the parish thriving, parishioners energies are turned, as is right, to making their place, their church, their parish, a welcoming, celebrating, and supportive community of faith.  That is as it should be. 

The call of the Lord is to make your parish faith community the very best it can be in terms of pastoral care, liturgy, sacraments, youth, catechesis, adult faith formation, local church heritage and identity – all with a single purpose: to help each person hear and respond to what Vatican II described as the ‘Universal Call to Holiness’.  There are diocesan services and other initiatives that will help you develop and engage your energies and your faith.  The pastoral care and pastoral leadership will continue to be provided by a priest, albeit a priest shared with other parishes and not necessarily resident. 

There is a rich history of Catholicism in every parish, but, there is no point in looking only to the past, only to past structures, practices and timetables, instead we learn from the past, look at the present and we plan for the future.  Past practices or the way things ‘always’ were, cannot hold us back or curtail us.  We allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, and to animate initiatives in the service of the Lord and his people.

This is the best of times to be involved in your parish, by being present, by participating, and for some, by being directly involved in making sure your parish can flourish, regardless of whether you have a resident priest.  Remember if you already have such a priest now, resident or not, he will be looking after another parish or two or be part of a team, so please, look after him as well and look out for him and support him. 

The call of the Lord to follow him

This is the key and central call of being a Christian.  We are all part of our culture and particular social contexts and part of the wider world, and it is a great world: “God saw all he had made and it was good” (Gen. 1:31).  Think of so many technological, communications and medical advances and think also of all the good people do.  These and so many more advances, and the generosity of spirit underpinning them are not universal, they are not everywhere and they are fragile, but there is a growing awareness of the need to care for people. There is also a growing awareness of the threat to our beautiful planet, ‘our common home.’ This is a vital awareness that will lead to its protection for future generations.  It is in that context of beauty side by side with flaws, that the Lord continues to call people to follow him as individuals who relate to and live among others.  Daily life is where we find the Lord at work, in its ordinariness and extra-ordinariness, in its routines and in its surprises, in the love and affection and excitement of relationships, in looking forward and being hopeful, in coping with stress and disappointments and failure and successes, in sickness and in health, until death brings us face to face with God.  We encounter the Lord through others, we encounter him in the sacraments, in prayer and most especially in the Mass.

There is a particular call of the Lord to priesthood and religious life; it’s a call that continues to ring out but is not answered as before.  It is a good time to be a priest in a parish, it is a good time to be a religious sister or brother or priest in one of great congregations or the new arrivals.  It is great time to serve God and his people at this extraordinary time in Irish history.  We are all called to be followers of the Lord in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, as single people, spouses, partners, in our family, with our friends, and in the community. 

A key part of being followers of the Lord is to be people of hope.  The call of the Lord is essentially to be an agent of hope.  It is not so much an optimism or wishful thinking but a hope that is firmly based in the good news of Jesus Christ.

When he was with us at the World Meeting of Families in the summer of 2018, Pope Francis said it is ‘the Spirit of God, who constantly breathes new life into our world, into our hearts, into our families, into our homes and parishes.’ He said that ‘each new day in the life of our families, and each new generation, brings the promise of a new Pentecost, a domestic Pentecost, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, the Paraclete, whom Jesus sends as our Advocate, our Consoler and indeed our Encourager.’ The promise of the Holy Spirit remains with us today.  It is the Holy Spirit who will guide us along the synodal pathway which the Holy Father has identified as the way forward for the Church in the twenty-first century.  Let us remember and never forget that we are at the beginning of a new and exciting journey together.

I see hope in survivors telling their story and in the desire to have healing and peace.  I see hope in the parish communities of faith who are prepared to walk together, building on the past but preparing for new ways.  I see hope in the need for God and for his love and mercy for us as individuals and as a Church.  The Lord calls us to follow him, to believe in him and to have hope in him.