Ordination to the priesthood of Rev. Ricky O’ Connor at Our Lady’s Island Church, Wexford on Sunday 16th June 2019 by Bishop Denis Brennan.
Sermon of Bishop Denis Brennan.
Eight years ago a young man walked into this church and asked to be baptised. Today that young man has walked in again, on this occasion he is asking to be ordained a priest.
That by any standards is a remarkable story! It’s like something out of the early church. Eight years ago Ricky O’Connor was searching, searching for something that would give meaning and purpose to his life.
That search led him into the Catholic Church and then on to a desire to serve the church as a priest.
Two people were very influential in his life at that time and I would like to acknowledge their contribution into the direction Ricky’s life has taken subsequently, Fr Brendan Nolan, Parish Priest here at the time and Canon Lorenzo Cleary who became Ricky’s Godfather.
Ricky has spent the last six years in preparation for priesthood, years of prayer, study and reflection. Years when he endorsed his decision to become a catholic and said ‘ yes ‘ to his vocation again and again.
Now the moment has come to move from preparing for priesthood to living it out.
When I was studying for priesthood I remember reading a little book by a man called Alvin Toffler, the book was called ‘Future Shock.’ I don’t remember too many books I read in seminary but I have always remembered this one.
One of the Chapters was called ‘’ The Death of Permanence’’ and remember this was back in the 1960’s. Toffler said that we would be shocked in the future because that future would be characterised by ‘’ transience, disposability, novelty and mobility.’
Predicting the future is a hazardous business but in this case Toffler got it exactly right! The very air we breath today is charged with these qualities, transience, disposability, novelty and mobility.
Future shock has become present reality. As an American priest put it ‘’ we have to learn to cope with uncertainty on an on-going basis.’’
Times and cultures may change but the job of the priest remains fundamentally the same—–to bridge the gap between God and humankind.
Henri Nouwen describes it in the form of a story, the story of a sculptor at work creating a new work of art.
A little boy passing by saw nothing but pieces of stone falling away left and right. He came back a few weeks later and saw a big powerful lion sitting where the slab of marble had stood.
He ran to the sculptor and said ‘’ how did you know there was a lion in the marble?’’ The boy’s question is crucial, how did the sculptor know there was a lion in the marble? This question goes to the heart of our life and ministry as priests.
Is there a lion in the marble? Is there a God in the world? Everything we say, do, and are, as priests, is an affirmation of this. It is saying ‘’ yes, there is a lion in the marble, yes, there is a God in the world.’’
The job of the priest, like that of the sculptor, is to reveal the face of God in, and to, a sceptical world.
Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. At Pentecost we talk about the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit—–the things that the Holy Spirit gave to the disciples.
It is important to remember also what the Holy Spirit took from them in that Upper Room——He took away completely their fear and anxiety about the future.
In these Pentecost days we need to cast off our fears and anxieties too! We are not the first generation of Christians to worry and wonder about the future, and I suspect we won’t be the last.
Despite all the contra indications religion has an amazing ability to persist. In a recent piece for the Irish Times Fr Brendan Hoban put it like this; ‘’ the religious instinct is so deeply ingrained in human nature it is never likely to disappear, even when it’s derided and suppressed. And particularly so in societies such as Ireland, steeped for centuries in religious vocabulary, emblems and iconography, what the writer John McGahern memorably described as ‘ part of the very weather of our lives.’
An article on Religion in Ireland in a recent edition of the Economist concurs with this when it concludes that despite everything that has happened in Ireland in recent times Irish people still have a ‘’ feeling that life’s biggest moments should have a sacred dimension, however it might be expressed.’’
John McGahern’s phrase describing religion as ‘ part of the very weather of our lives ‘ needs to be qualified by adding that in present day Ireland the weather is very changeable.
Ricky, this changing weather pattern will be the backdrop to your life as a priest. A rapidly changing Ireland where faith is cherished and challenged in equal measure.
This is very understandable because in recent years we as church have given people many reasons to leave, we must now work to give people reasons to stay.
Pope Francis has urged the priests of today to be ‘’ priests who will accompany God’s scattered people……missionaries witnessing to the joy of the Gospel.’’
At times you will find this challenging. I hope you are prepared for that! At other times you will find it stimulating and rewarding—–relish those moments!
I finish with a few lines from a homily given by the late Fr Ronan Drury some years ago on Good Shepherd Sunday. Reflecting on the role of the priest in society Fr Ronan said;
‘’ almost any priest will tell you that if he were not ordained he would never have been the recipient of other people’s love, confidence and trust to the extent that he has been.
All through life as priests we feel such moments when we go out in love to meet a human need, and it is our trying to meet that need that makes us feel we are being ordained again, being chosen again, made relevant again.
Our vocation as priests is endorsed and validated by our response to human need, being able to build a bridge between people, to achieve such privileged intimacy with people and their families……this is the recurring miracle of priesthood.
And despite the many challenges and disappointments of recent years the fact remains that for countless people a priest is still good news.’’
Ricky, from this day forward you will be privileged and challenged to reach for that goal…….to be good news for people!I wish you well.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
John Carroll (V. Rev.)