Good Morning! Thank you for coming here today, I very much appreciate your warm welcome.
After His Excellency, Archbishop Okolo, broke the news to me that the Holy Father would like me to become the next Bishop of Clonfert to say I was shocked, would be an understatement. Leaving the Nunciature on the Navan Road to return to Sligo, I found myself on the M50 at the airport exit having driven miles in the opposite direction to where I was supposed to go. As you will appreciate turning around on a Motorway is not easy and it took me some time to redirect myself back over the toll bridge towards the M4 and the road west.
The incident brought to mind the story told of the Apostle Peter who, when things were getting tough for the early Christian community in Rome under the emperor Nero, decided to pack it all in and return to his former life as a fisherman in Galilee. (Apocryphal Acts of Peter) Making his way out of the city, Peter is said to have met Jesus travelling in the opposite direction back towards Rome. He stops and asks: “Domine Quo Vadis” – “Lord where are you going?” Jesus replies “To Rome to be Crucified Again”. At that Peter comes to the realisation that his place is with the Christian community in the city. He returns to be with them in their hour of need and ultimately takes up his own cross and like many of his fellow Christians dies a martyr’s death. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen to me. Certainly, I can understand Peter’s panicked desire to run away – while at the same time feeling called to stay and do the Lord’s work.
Challenged to find God’s hand in it all
I am reminded also of the original encounter between Jesus and Peter as told in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus intervenes to right a bad days fishing. Peter sensing something divine at work falls to his knees and says – “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man”. (Lk 5:8) When faced with the task put before me today, I can identify with Peter. I am conscious of my own sinfulness, of my own flaws and weaknesses, my particular ways and shortcomings, my need to ever listen and to continuously learn. Like Peter, I find myself personally challenged to find God’s hand in it all. With trust tested, I pray for the grace – as the words of that great hymn Be still my soul so beautifully puts it – “to leave to my God to order and provide”. (Katherine von Schlegel)
The Home of Brendan
Today a new chapter opens up in my journey of life. So too a new chapter opens up in the journey of the people of God here in Clonfert. Although, I have lived in Sligo for many years, I come from just outside Athlone not far from Taughmaconnell on the borders between the dioceses of Elphin and Clonfert. I am very conscious that I have come to a diocese with a rich spiritual tradition – the place of St Brendan, Brendan the Navigator, or to quote JRR Tolkien to “where the knell of Cluain-ferta’s bell tolls in the green Galway.” (The Death of St Brendan). I take heart from Brendan’s zeal for the Gospel. With immense courage, he set out in faith on the great sea of life with an abiding sense that no matter what the future might bring God would be in it all.
Navigators of a new and ever deeper evangelisation
As a people of faith, the waters we are called to traverse today are very different from those of the past. They are ever changing and difficult to negotiate in sometimes old and leaky boats. They voyage of the years ahead will require all of us – priests, religious and laity to become, each in our own way, navigators of a new and ever deeper evangelisation. It will require us to work together, shoulder to shoulder, to renew our own hearts in the faith. With hearts renewed, perhaps our greatest challenge will be to show forth in deed and word the value of knowing Christ and the life-changing potential of the Gospel, especially to those who lie hurt and broken, feeling rejected, on the edges of church and society.
Life is better not worse with Christ
Let us rejoice in the realisation that life is better not worse with Christ. To quote Pope Emeritus Benedict – “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.” (Benedict XVI, April 2005) In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Christ is Alive (2019) which is addressed in a special way to young people, Pope Francis echoes these words when he speaks of how the Holy Spirit “takes nothing away from you, but instead helps you to find all that you need, and in the best possible way” (131).
Days like today involve a lot of letting go. I am conscious of and want to pay tribute to the wonderful people I have worked with in my home Diocese of Elphin, Bishop Kevin, the late Bishop Christopher my brother priests, deacons and laity, religious of the Diocese of Elphin, the staff and students of Summerhill College, Sligo and the staff of the diocesan office. In particular, I want to applaud the generations of gifted and generous young people whom I have encountered over the years at St Angela’s College, Sligo - along with the College staff. I also thank God for my family and friends and for their continued love and support into the future.
A word of thanks
I would like to thank His Holiness Pope Francis for placing this trust in me. Thank you to also to his representative in Ireland, Archbishop Okolo, for his gentle encouragement, patience and support over the last while.
A debt of gratitude
By coincidence Bishop Kirby, is not a stranger to me. We come from the same home parish in Athlone and he was present at my ordination as a priest 25 years ago tomorrow. Since news of my appointment, he has been most welcoming and helpful to me on both a personal and practical level. Thank you Bishop John. I do not think we should let a day like today go by without recording the debt of gratitude the Clonfert Diocese owes to you for your over thirty years of faithful ministry. I would also like to acknowledge your contribution at a national level with Trócaire and the Episcopal Conference. Retirement will not fully come for a little while yet, but when it does finally come, Bishop John, you deserve it. I hope you will forgive me if I interrupt now and again for a bit of advice. I wish you all God’s blessings for a healthy and happy future
I would like to thank all who were involved in preparing for today, those here in the Cathedral especially Monsignor Cathal Geraghty, the choir who enhanced the liturgy this morning and the staff in the Diocesan Office.
“Let us pray”
The Diocese of Clonfert has an ancient and rich spiritual tradition that has always nurtured places of prayer. I hope in the next few days to visit two such places to ask for prayers as we begin this new chapter on the great pilgrimage of life.
First of all, I hope to visit the Carmelite sisters here in Loughrea – I am conscious that today is a special day for them – the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Secondly, I will travel to the village of Clonfert itself to the Emmanuel House of Providence.
In conclusion, will you please pray with me for a few moments in silence. Let us pray for the Diocese of Clonfert, its people, priests, religious and all those men and women of good will who call its environs their home. Pray for me, that in spite of my weakness, God may strengthen me for the task ahead. Pray that we may make good companions on the journey and that our future will be blessed because we, together with Christ, have travelled on the Way.
Pause for Silent Prayer
Spreagtha ag mana an Easpaig Kirby –“Criost Linn” ba mhaith liom críochnú le piósa ó Lúireach Phádraig:
Críost liom, Críost romham,
Críost i mo dhiaidh, Críost istigh ionam,
Críost fúm, Críost os mo chionn,
Críost ar mo lámh dheis, Críost ar mo lámh chlé,
Críost i mo luí dom, Críost i mo sheasamh dom,
Críost i gcroí gach duine atá ag cuimhneamh orm,
Críost i mbéal gach duine a labhraíonn liom,
Críost i ngach súil a fhéachann orm,
Críost i ngach cluas a éisteann liom.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Pray for us
Our Lady of Clonfert, Pray for us.
Saint Brendan, Pray for us
Go raibh maith agat.Thank you.