|Carlow Cathedral before its re-ordering|
A line from the first psalm of Morning Prayer this morning reads: “O send forth your light and your truth; let these be my guide. Let them bring me to your holy mountain to the place where you dwell”. I am honoured, privileged and humbled to be chosen by Pope Francis to be bishop for and with the people and priests of this superb Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
I come from Slane, where the story of faith on Irish soil began [em, Saul, Co. Down?] when Saint Patrick lit the fire and used the shamrock to teach us about God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This diocese too has its own strong symbol of our faith in the Saint Brigid’s Cross.
I was ordained for the Diocese of Meath, and Bishop Michael Smith who stands beside me today, opened many doors of ministry to me in the Diocese. For that and much more, I am eternally grateful to him. I have enjoyed my time immensely in Meath and there is a sense of sadness in leaving colleagues and friends, even if it’s only down the road. While there is an excitement around new beginnings there is also a nervousness around the challenges that lie ahead. I have been understandably anxious in recent days since my meeting with Archbishop Charles Brown – an anxiety that has been eased by grace – the gentle grace of acceptance; the grace of responding to that call; the grace of the prayers of our friends in Heaven; the grace of trusting in the judgement of others – a judgement that suggests I have a capability greater than I feel myself to have.
This morning I have travelled from the mouth of the Boyne at Drogheda where she eases herself into the Irish Sea, to the Diocese where that winding ribbon finds its source in the spring at Carbury in County Kildare! Rivers were an essential part of the story of the early Church for life and communications in travel – the Barrow is to Kildare and Leighlin what the Boyne is to Meath. In this Year of Faith the Boyne and the Barrow remind us of the life-giving water of baptism. They also remind us that today so many people are thirsting for the water of new life and hope – those living in negative equity in the commuter belt; those coping with the stress of the daily treadmill; those out of work searching for a deeper appreciation of their self-worth and dignity; farmers coping with the fodder crisis and late spring, how much that life is needed – may each find solace and support in this hour. I am equally conscious this morning of those who have been wounded by the Church and the terrible sins of individuals who should have brought life, but instead inflicted pain and destruction on too many.
Water speaks of life and life is precious and dear to us at all levels and particularly in our times, human life – its giftedness and sacredness. And what a message last Saturday’s National Prayer Vigil offered at Knock: Cherish them Both – Mother and Child. Monsignor Byrne’s statement in the lead up to the Vigil very eloquently reminded us: “a life is a life. Whatever happens, the need to respect that life should never be reduced to a ‘choice’ or an arbitrary timeline”. Mothers deserve nothing less than the best medical and psychiatric care available, especially during pregnancy when the lives of two persons – the life of the unborn and the life of the mother – are at stake. As the Bishops’ preliminary response to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 last Friday reminded us: “The Gospel of life is at the heart of the message of Jesus: the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong”.
I come today to the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin as a Priest who has been immersed in parish life since Ordination. My first ten years were in the Cathedral Parish in Mullingar. For the past fifteen years I have been Parish Priest of Saint Mary’s Parish, Drogheda. They have been a very rewarding and enriching twenty-five years, during which I have been taught so much about being a Priest among People in the struggles and the joys of ordinary life. From the Church of the Assumption at Saint Mary’s in Drogheda I find myself today at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow.
I am a priest who works earnestly, who loves the priesthood and loves working with priests and people. But I am a priest who needs to learn a great deal about the story of this diocese, its geography, its people, its priests, its traditions and its history – be patient with me as I embark on a journey that will take me to every parish in this Diocese, to listen to the Spirit speaking through the faith and example of committed priests and parishioners. I know there is dedicated involvement of laity at many layers of Church life. I come to support this engagement. I come to listen to the conversation of faith in the Diocese. I come to care for priests, to encourage seminarians and to support the faith growth of the young, who may feel at times isolated or on the fringe. For many priests these are difficult days as they see their number grow perhaps older and fewer and the demands heavier – let us work together to encourage vocations and to develop collaborative ministry.
It only remains for me to thank all of you for being here today, and to invite you to do what Pope Francis did as he made his first appearance on the balcony at Saint Peter’s; to ask you to implore a blessing on me … and together let us pray the Prayer of Saint Francis:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life”
Saint Brigid, pray for us …
Saint Conleth, pray for us …
Saint Laserian, pray for us …
Our Lady of the Assumption, pray for us …
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