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Texts, speeches, homilies

Church risks becoming 'a comfort zone for the like-minded' if our diminishing number of priests closes ranks, says Dublin's Archbishop Martin
05 June 2014

In his homily to celebrate the ordination of a priest in his diocese the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, reflected on Pope Francis' call for priests to be among their flock, and warned that this could be difficult at times. He called on the Church to go out into the world and not close ranks. 

The full address is below:

We gather on the Feast of Saint Kevin, Principal Patron of the Archdiocese of Dublin, to invoke the Holy Spirit on this Deacon, Seamus McEntee who, through the prayer of the Church and the Laying on of Hands, will be ordained to priestly ministry. 

This is a day of rejoicing for the entire presbyterate of the Archdiocese, represented here by the Metropolitan Chapter and by many priests. It is a day of rejoicing for Seamus’ family and friends, for Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth and for all those who guided the formation of Seamus. I greet also those from the Parishes of the Clondalkin grouping of Parishes where Seamus has exercised his ministry as a deacon for the past year.

Seamus: today is the culmination of many years of preparation in prayer, in theological formation and in pastoral experience. The entire diocese rejoices with you and surrounds you with our prayers for today and for the priestly ministry that opens out for you in the years to come.

Today is an occasion for all of us to reflect on the significance of priestly ministry and on the joy and fulfilment that fruitful priestly ministry brings with it. This morning, Seamus, with the priests gathered here, who represent the entire presbyterate, you will join in concelebrating the Eucharist for the first time. The Eucharist will be the central focus of your entire ministry. You will celebrate the Eucharist for the good of God’s people and you will day-by-day allow your life to be conformed to the Eucharist, to Jesus who came to give his life in sacrifice, that we might have life.

We need more priests. I could look at statistics of all kinds which indicate how great the need for priests is in this Archdiocese today. I could speculate and reflect on the seriousness of the fall in the number of priests. It is part of my responsibility to look at hard facts and see how we can respond best to the pastoral needs of the diocese in the light of the current challenges.

But while that is necessary, it is not enough and indeed it could lead all of us off in a wrong direction. The most important thing for us to do in this situation is to reflect on how important, how beautiful, and how fulfilling priestly ministry is. As a presbyterate we need to restore confidence in what priesthood means. We need to show forth the joy and fulfilment which priesthood means to each of us. 

Those of us who are tempted to feel tired and frustrated and anxious about the future need to recover the original sense of enthusiasm which we felt at the time of our own ordination.  We should never allow any sense of cynicism to berate the enthusiasm of our youth; we should never concede victory to mediocrity, but regain a sense of our ability to respond fully and worthily to the call that we have received.

Being a priest today is not easy. It never was easy to be a priest. The meaning of priesthood is, however, to be found not in personal satisfaction, but in personal holiness. Priesthood needs to be rooted in our personal bond of friendship with the Lord. Our second reading reminded us that: “we are stewards of the mysteries of God” and therefore we have to strive to understand those mysteries and to live them ourselves every day.

I am very struck by the words of Cardinal Bergoglio just four days before being elected Pope, when, on the final day of the meeting of the Cardinals, he spoke about what he expected of the new Pope. They are just a few lines:

“Thinking of the next Pope: He must be a man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries”

What he said about the Pope applies to each of us as a priest. Seamus: the heart of your priesthood will come from your contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ and it is this that then leads to the challenge of evangelisation, that of bringing the message of Jesus Christ to the men and women of today not as an abstract message, not as a code or moral do's and don’ts, but through living personal witness to the joy of knowing Jesus. 

It is only through personal witness that we will reach out to those who do not know Jesus and to those whose knowledge of Jesus has not brought them the joy they seek in their lives.

The Gospel reading chosen for this morning is the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. Your calling, Seamus, is to reflect in your life Jesus the Good Shepherd. But the Gospel is also a complex one. It is not the sweet image and the bleached white sheep of holy pictures. When Pope Francis spoke of the priest as shepherd he spoke about the priest smelling of the sheep. Sheep are dirty; they are oily, they are muddled and messy and disorganised in their movements. 

The Good Shepherd is called to be with those men and women of our times, whose original faith has become murky and who live in our confused world where it is so easy to loose the right sense of direction. The priest as good shepherd is not there to speak in the abstract about Jesus Christ, but to be a sure guide journeying alongside those are confused and unsure, reminding them that Jesus knows each one of us; he cares for us; he wishes to be the direction of our lives.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is an unorthodox shepherd. He is the one who is prepared to leave the 99 to reach out and find the one who is lost, no matter what the cause of that being lost is.  Again let me quote Pope Francis. He said: “Rather than being a Church which welcomes and which receives, we have to try to be a Church which goes out beyond itself towards those men and women who do not come to Church, who no longer know the Church, those who have left the Church and those who have become indifferent”.

If we put aside as unrealistic Jesus’ model of going to any end to reach out to the one or the many who are lost, then we will end up with a Church which is simply a comfort zone for the like-minded. 

The Church in Dublin has had its difficulties. Priests have experienced those difficulties in ways which perhaps no other group has. Now is however not the time to close ranks and become entrenched in our problems.  This is time to go out to those who are anguished and angry with the Church and to show that the Church is a community of those who care for all those on the frontiers of society either the frontiers of abandonment and poverty, but also to those who are searching to understand the meaning of their existence.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is an unorthodox shepherd. He is not just the shepherd who chases the wolf away and keeps the sheep safe.  In fact - and this is the most striking dimension of the story of the Good Shepherd – Jesus as in all parables goes way sets out an image of a good shepherd which goes beyond our way of thinking and way beyond what could be considered reasonable and appropriate. Jesus is the one “who lays down his own life for his sheep”. Jesus’ dedication and love are without boundaries.

Seamus: priestly ministry can never be half-hearted. It can never be one where we constantly say that we will be with the sheep, but when the crunch comes we settle for compromise and opt to keep our hands clean and our own life safe. Faith involves risk. It involves challenge. It involves a following of Jesus which is absolute.

Each of us knows in our hearts that the greatest satisfaction of being a priest comes when our relationship with the Lord is one which enables us to be free to follow him absolutely, with all our life. We know that our frustrations become greater when we compromise in our commitment and when we set out our own conditions for following Jesus.  Total dedication to Jesus in priestly life is what frees us to be true shepherds. The more we compromise and become half-hearted and just go through the motions or settle with a minimum of real commitment, the more our satisfaction as a priest becomes undermined.

Our second reading reminds us that it makes not the slightest difference whether “any human tribunal” finds us worthy. What is important is that “we are found worthy of the trust of Jesus”.  The criterion of fruitful priestly ministry is not outward popularity, but how we manifest our own “contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ” as the way for those to whom we minister.

Ministry is however not a one-way street. We learn also from the “contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ” of those to whom we minister. We are called to bring the message of Jesus to those who live on the fringes of society: but we also find Jesus there on the fringes: in the lives of the poor and the rejected, in the lives of the sinners and the confused. The Christian faith is not a faith of the elite; it is a faith of the humble and of the poor. It is often on the fringes that we hear – to use the words of the first reading - “what the Spirit is saying to the Churches”.

The priest is called to be a man who has the sensitivity to hear what the Spirit is saying even when the Spirit speaks from what our secular and religious culture might consider unlikely sources. There is no clerical monopoly of holiness. Clericalism misses the point of what holiness is and indeed what priesthood is about.

I find it striking that when a candidate is presented for ordination and the question is asked about his worthiness that the first source of that evaluation is not seminary formation, but “inquiry among the people of Christ”, reflecting that innate sense of faith that belongs to the people of God.

Seamus: we invoke the Spirit on your priestly ministry which begins today. Our prayer is that your ministry will be of enrichment for God’s people, but also that you will receive enrichment and support and affection from those who are here today to celebrate with you and of those whose paths of life will cross yours in the course of your ministry.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin was speaking at St Mary's Pro Cathedral in Dublin on 3 June 2014



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