Diocese of Ferns

Homily by Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns at the Easter Vigil, St Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, 22 March 2008

Some years ago a religious magazine in the States ran a competition entitled ‘The best Christian I know’.

One of the replies came from a young boy, it read, ‘’The best Christian I know is our bishop because he says ‘hello’ and other helpful things.’’ Needless to say the boy’s reply caused a few smiles in the editorial office. We somehow expect bishops to do a little better than say ‘hello’. Yet the young lad’s comments on the value of what he had heard his bishop say are absolutely correct.

When Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday He was freed from the limitations of human nature which He had accepted during His lifetime.

He could have revealed himself in all His glory. This would have swept away all doubts and belief would have been easy. Instead He simply chose to do ordinary things with ordinary people. In the words of a Christian writer ‘the news that He was raised from the tomb was entrusted to people who still had tears on their faces’.

The Risen Christ continued to do what He had taught and shown His disciples during His lifetime. He walked, talked, and ate with them. He built a small fire and cooked for them. He confronted them in their bewilderment and renewed their faith by approaching each one individually.

He used the same means as before, words, kindness, going on a journey, always setting His pace to theirs. He showed them His love in all the ways they could understand. This is how He knew they would be able to learn about His love and pass on His Good News.

Even in His risen glory He still showed His care, recognising each one. He was patient with them in their difficulties and offered each one His friendship and support.

Take the scene on the road to Emmaus, one of the lost roads of history. A number of places in the Holy Land claim to be Emmaus, but it’s not so much the place but the road that matters.

Emmaus is not about geography, it’s about our fears and hopes, its about our story. It’s about the lost hopes and expectations that once defined us. It’s about leaving the place where everything went horribly wrong, it’s about being hurt and disappointed …….. ‘he was a prophet……and we hoped more than a prophet’.

But it’s also about the possibility of being healed and renewed.

This touches the present day church in many ways. When Jesus died the disciples’ hopes and expectations died with Him. This happens today too, for many people, for many reasons, God has died.

It’s not always a dramatic death, like a crucifixion, it may take longer to happen but the result is just the same. Jesus does not matter in the way He used to, He has gone out of our lives.

We end up on our own road to Emmaus, we are ex-disciples of a dead prophet.

The words of Mary Magdalen are apt…. ‘they have taken the Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him….’

Jesus then ministers to their hurt and disappointment, He touches their hearts. In the process they find a language to speak about their pain.

The American priest, John O’Shea in a wonderful phrase calls Jesus ‘the arsonist of the heart’, He sets hearts on fire and that is what He did for the two disciples.

In the beginning they could not wait to get out of Jerusalem, the place where their hopes had died, now they are ready to go back! What has changed? Before they were disciples of a dead prophet, now they are followers of the Risen Lord!

All of us have our own Jerusalem, the place where we have been hurt and betrayed, the place where hope has died, the place we want to get away from.

We here in Ferns have experienced our own Calvary – most especially those who have suffered abuse by some of our priests – and the whole country is aware of it. At this most solemn time, the time when we commemorate the sufferings of Jesus, once again, I apologise to all who have been hurt in our diocese. Easter understands pain but it also promises resurrection, we continue to work towards resurrection for our people and our diocese.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we have a choice. We can continue going away from our Jerusalem or we can, with the help of God, acknowledge it.

Like the disciples we can find a language to speak about our pain and the grace to understand and make sense of it.

Our shared prayer tonight is that what understanding we have gained here in Ferns may continue to grow and inform us all as we go forward.

This is the eternal message of Easter. This is the glory of the Resurrection.

It is the Risen Lord, walking with us, talking with us, saying ‘hello’ and other helpful things, just as He did with His disciples on the road to Emmaus.

My wish for all of us this Eastertime is that we will hear His voice, and feel His presence, as we travel the road that is our life.