Pope Francis reminded us in his opening address in Dublin Castle “that even in Ireland’s darkest hours the monks (religious) found in that faith a source of courage and commitment needed to forge a future of freedom and dignity, justice and solidarity. The Christian message has been an integral part of that experience, and has shaped the language, thought and culture of people on this island”.
Today is not exactly the brightest hour in the history of consecrated life in Ireland between falling numbers, the aging process, and the growth of a very secular society. But this is where we are and this is the moment we have to live and where we have to minister
I believe that the greatest challenge facing us as a Christian people, especially in the western world, liesin the area of faith. Our challenge lies in our ability and willingness to face an uncertain future and do so with joy. Recently the archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Martin, remarked that “faith is now a foreign language for people in Ireland”.
Only thirty years ago practically all the patients and staff with whom I was called to work in the Mater Hospital in Dublin came from the mainline Christian Churches. Now in the same hospital the chaplain finds him or herself surrounded by people of well over one hundred different faiths (religions) and none. In such an environment our Christian future would appear to be more uncertain than ever … I sometimes wonder are committed Christians the only ones without human rights today!
And so we might ask ourselves where do we find ourselves in this scenario. Are we men and women of Christian hope, who are prepared to continue doing what we do because it is the right thing to do, independent of the consequences, without necessarily seeing or looking for results? We all dream of being prophetic. Well surely the challenge to our being prophetic lies precisely in our living our belief that He is Emmanuel. He is with us always!
The Holy Father recently invited religious to remember the three words beginning with the letter “p”:
• Prayer: the Pope invited us to return to God. We need discipline, and regular prayer does that for us. Our own founder was referred to by the Pope of his time as “the founder of a new school of charity”, and yet nearly all the testimonies in his canonization process refer to him in his capacity as an exemplary man of prayer (there was Camillus the Giant of Charity and Camillus the Mystic). Prayer keeps us focused on the fact that we work for God. We never lose heart because in prayer we are reminded that it is His church and not ours, his congregations or institution and not ours.
The Teams of Our Lady are a Christian movement which is quite prominent in our diocese especially around Mullingar, and their founder Fr. Caffarel would say that “people who do not pray, or pray only a little are like those with anaemia to whom the doctors says, you are without natural defences and you will succumb to the first epidemic”.
Our greatest challenge lies in the area of faith and in our ability to live this period of our life with joy.
• Poverty “protects us from vanity and pride”. Are we struggling to share with the poor? Are we over dependent on the security of our money in the bank? Let us at least acknowledge that this is an issue, and that maybe we worry a little too much about our security and securing our old age.
• Patience: He invites us “to confront the little things in community life.” He invites us to sacrifice ourselves and avoid losing interest.” Religious, he says can give witness right up to the end, but they can also do the opposite. By carrying the suffering of the world in their hearts they can be “a shining witness of life, giving light and warmth to all of God’s people.” His is an invitation to “wake up the world,” and illuminate it with our “prophetic and counter-current witness!”
“Consecrated men and woman can respond to this invitation, first, by being joyful”, the Pope said.
The Great St. Teresa prayed that “God would protect us from sour-faced saints”. I was flattened by the result of the referendum, but through the support of the Christian community and friends I was reminded that this is the reality in which I have to work and minister, and that God is Emmanuel, always with us. He never said he was “Mr. Fix It” but rather that he is God who walks with us through the light and the darkness. After all, it is His church and we need to stay faithful and courageous, and then “all will be well and all will be well” (Julian of Norwich).
We are called to be courageous and not to lose heart. “He who feels the Lord’s love knows how to place full confidence in Him.”
Let us thank God for the journey on which we embarked enthusiastically some years ago. Let us remain faithful to this journey and know that we will continue to be surprised at every turn, even as the years advance!