St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
Wednesday, 28th March 2018
The rugby pundit Matt Williams wrote a column a few years ago that really was not about rugby at all. He entitled it “Let’s hear for the Uncle Brian’s of this world”.
“In the midst of the glamour, drama and glory that is the Six Nations Championship, 10,000 kilometers away in Sydney, an old man died in his sleep and the world did not notice. He had never walked with presidents, captains of industry or prime ministers. He did not have the ear of the great. He held no media presence. He did not stride the world stage in any shape or form. He had never sought fame or fortune. Most of his days were spent with the humblest of society.
His life had none of what society would describe as success. Materially, he was poor. He owned no property and had little use of money. He was reliant on charity for more that 50 years. In that time nothing he did was measurable in terms of business productivity.
His actions never produced outcomes that accounts could label as profitable. Yet for six decades he was an agent of good in the lives of a countless number of people. The media laud the famous sporting personalities as heroes. The rich and the physically beautiful are placed on pedestals as examples of what to strive for. All too often the real heroes live anonymously amongst us. The one whose lives have been lived for the good of others, they are the real heroes. Brian lived such a life.
He was a Catholic priest but I am not writing about religion. He was my uncle, my mother’s brother, but I am not writing about family.
Today, I am writing as if in a fog of ignorance. I am trying to comprehend what would bring a man to give away the material world and give his life to an ideal of service of others in need. I knew my uncle well, but until now I never contemplated his life choice.
Since his death I have been contemplating the enormity of his sacrifice. To give your life so totally to the service of the weak and the poor is a commitment of indescribable proportions. His life was lived to the beat of a drum that is so radically different from what today’s society considers admirable that I had never fully comprehended the enormity of his commitment.
Hemingway said: “We are all broken by life, but some of us are stronger in the places where we were broken”. Brian tried to heal the broken. Many of those he helped were stronger because of him. Our world could do with a lot more like Brian, but I fear his like are a dying breed. I am neither brave enough nor selfless enough to fill his shoes.
The planet is a much lesser place for his leaving, but humanity is far richer because of his commitment to it”. Such is nature of the priesthood and religious life to which many of us have been called – the commitment to which we renew to-night.
Tonight we also bless the oils that will be used in sacramental celebrations through the Diocese over this coming year. These celebrations will be lifegiving and healing – of minds and bodies that are fragile, indeed broken. The unique symbol that belongs to tomorrow evening’s celebrations is the washing of feet. The gift of the Eucharist – Christ’s body given for us comes with the call to service of our sisters and brothers who are in need. It is an extraordinary vision for living a wholesome life. It is in giving that we receive and dying we are born to eternity.
In a world that thirsts and hungers for meaning and purpose this is the pearl of great price. This vision and sense of purpose is not the privilege of the ordained or professed rather it is the privilege of the baptised. It enables the disciples of our day to give and not count the cost – to live with generosity of spirit toward others and a sense of creation as God’s gift.
The call and gift of the priesthood is extraordinary in its low key and immeasurable enrichment of our parish communities. Despite our challenges and difficulties, I am encouraged by the observation of a retired bishop who believes that this time of testing may well be our finest hour if we could realise it.
Fidelity and perseverance are the great hallmarks of a deep loving commitment to those in our care. Moved always by the heart of Jesus, our hearts, despite our age, are beating by the fire of his love. In that sense the priesthood and religious life are not a rejection of the world and family rather the two are the living embrace of the wider human family.
While it is easy to wax lyrical about such a vision we are not naïve about its demands. Tonight puts fresh heart into one another, to go forward in joy and hope in our ministry – always resolute in building the kingdom of God. Fear not! I have overcome the world.
+ Bishop William Crean