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Homily, Bishop Crean, Cloyne Clergy Assembly

Cloyne Clergy Assembly 6th November 2018, Killarney

Homily Notes   –   Bishop William Crean

In the current issue of The Furrow Fr. Pat Hannon offers a perceptive reflection on recent Referenda, the Papal visit and their implications for the Church in Ireland and what now?  he asks:

“What I’ve wanted to say in essence is that the outcome of the Referendum need not be regarded as disaster but a Kairos, a moment of opportunity in the work of witnessing to the Gospel and its values, in which Irish Catholics are moved to look at how best now to contribute to the creation of a culture of life.  We must be careful not to misinterpret the result, and careful to search for common ground, inside and outside the Church, with people who came to a different conclusion about the Eighth Amendment.  The search will be part of a larger quest, one that reckons with the changed times, and asks what the Gospel of Jesus Christ now can bring to Irish society”.  The Furrow Nov. 2018

That question what now? has been on the minds of a lot of Catholics.  It is on our minds too.  If we are to avoid wondering aimlessly, we need some focus, we need a framework which will give direction to the ministry individually and as a diocesan presbyterate.

Gathering for Eucharist on the day of festival for All the Saints of Ireland gives us an opportunity through the Scripture Readings to find inspiration from our long history as well as find hope in a vision for the future.

The Reflections from the Book of Sirach encapsulates the collective fruits of former generations in our families and communities but also our predecessors in the ministry.  The positives are marked by some extraordinary legacies of fidelity, humanity resilience and fortitude.  The negatives are significant.

The long lens of hindsight enables us to identify the poor pastoral practice of many of our predecessors.  Though well-intentioned a narrow moralistic focus made for a distorted and dysfunctional spiritual vision/understanding of Christian living.  We live with both the riches and the baggage of our past.

It is now over 60 years since the conclusion of Vatican II – of which reading the “signs of the times” was a key objective.  It is extraordinary that the sign we failed to see and respond to was within – namely the sexual abuse of minors.  That failure has brought the wrath of God and the wrath of so many people down on our heads and rightly.

The twofold tragedy is the profound hurt and alienation it has led to – so much that many have chosen to walk away – for others it has served as a pretext for the rejection of any goodwill or action on the part of the Church.

The other element of the tragedy of this abuse has been the obliteration of the memory of the love, compassion and sacrifice of so many good women and men in religious life, priesthood and in families.

What now?  Fr. Pat Hannon asks.  Over these past 60 or so years since the Council so much has, in good faith, been invested in renewal of pastoral practice, religious education, pre-sacramental education, liturgy and spirituality.

To what effect?  Very mixed indeed.

Many bemoan the failure of religious education to convey moral values and a sense of faith.  In doing so they deny the complexity of the changed cultural environment.  It is a cliché to remind ourselves of the shift from the experience of authority to the supremacy of the authority of experience.  With new experience comes a new understanding a new language – a new way of speaking.  Listening recently to a lady who has lived to a ripe old age she reckoned that her language and experience was five generations old!  She felt a stranger in a foreign land.

As church we can easily feel that such is our plight.  Not if you listen to Pope Francis.  He appeals because he speaks a new language that is marked by simplicity and humility – it is down to earth.  Part of his challenge to those in leadership is to be close to the people, to value their experience and wisdom as they seek to live in a good, peaceful and just way.

He is suggesting to us that an effective Christian communion requires that we embrace the concept of Synodality in the everyday life of the Church.  It is both the concept and reality of journeying with people.  It is to trust in the “sensus fidei” of which Bl. J.H. Newman spoke so eloquently in the late 19th century.  Summed up in his observation of the Laity and the Church “that we would look rather foolish without them!”  Pope Francis has spoken in detail recently on the reality of Synod/Synodality – first on the 50th anniversary of the 1st Synod called by St. Pope Paul VI on 15th September 1965.  More recently he has approved of a substantial document from the International Theological Commission on Synodality in the life of the Church.

All this reflection is the distillation of how in practical terms we give expression to the Church as a Pilgrim People, the Church as a people of “Gaudium et Spes” a people of Joy and Hope, the Church as Lumen Gentium a light to peoples, to the nations.

This has been a challenge for all of us in leadership.  Because it calls for a different way of offering guidance, direction and support as spiritual guides – for that is what we seek to be spiritual guides / directors of those entrusted to our care.

Did not Jesus remonstrate the religious leaders of His day?  Woe to you blind guides … (Mt. 23:24) who miss the essential truths and focus on peripheral details.  The way Pope Francis challenges and critiques clericalism is disconcerting for us.  If we apply the critique of Jesus to ourselves, we too may well be in the fold of blind guides.

Do we recognise what Pope Francis is saying when he condemns clericalism?  Do we or can we recognise it in ourselves?  And what is it anyway?  A mindset, a mentality, that is closed and rigid in its extreme form.  It is a perspective on the world that serves as a form of darkness rather that light.  It is a kind of existential pessimism that has not embraced the Good News of God’s love and mercy.

It calls for a deep conversion of mind, heart and spirit on our part if we are to serve as facilitators and guides.  And surely that is the essence of our priesthood to serve as spiritual guides to people.

The concept of Synodality challenges us to reach out beyond our comfort zone to those beyond our circle, those who do not or may not agree with or support the parish community.  Having parish pastoral councils is a basic and essential step in this work.  As a diocese we need to broaden the dialogue and engagement.  It calls for taking risks, casting out the nets again though we have fished all night and caught nothing.  It calls for education and formation in faith which is embodied in the way we engage with people.

The vision is clear

Blessed are you who are poor

yours is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now

you shall be satisfied

Blessed are you who weep now

you shall laugh

Blessed are you when people hate you

drive you out, abuse you, denounce

your name as criminal on account

of the Son of Man

Rejoice when that day comes and

dance for joy for then your reward

will be great in heaven

This is the way they treated their

ancestors the prophets.   Lk. 6:20-23.


We ask the intercession of All the Saints of Ireland as we step forth on the road less travelled.


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