Earlier today I travelled to Armagh for the Episcopal Ordination of my classmate Eamon Martin. Eamon, a priest of Derry Diocese has been appointed as Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh which means he will become Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland when Cardinal Brady chooses to retire. For now, Eamon will work alongside Cardinal Seán in tending to the needs of the diocese and beyond. There’s no doubt it’s quite an undertaking but equally no doubt that he is well fit for and suited to the task. Needless to say, we all wish him well and will remember him in prayer as he begins this new chapter of his ministry.
Travelling to Armagh today took me back to our days in Maynooth when, each Summer, we’d travel the length and breadth of Ireland to attend the ordinations of our friends and, especially June 1987 and those summer months that followed, when we tried as best we could to attend one another’s ordinations as classmates. Sadly that is very much a memory now since it’s many years since I attended an ordination in Ireland – the last priest’s ordination I was at is just over two years ago when Padraig Hawkins was ordained in Norwich Cathedral for the Diocese of East Anglia. I think it likely the last before that was Tomás Surlis’ ordination in 2003. Thankfully we will have a man ordained for our diocese this year and we’re all looking forward to that.
It was lovely to see many of our classmates in Armagh today. I know we were all proud of Eamon and it was great to see his mother there – though I don’t know her or indeed his family, I’ve no doubt it was a proud and uplifting moment for them.
Eamon’s Address to the congregation
My brothers and sisters in Christ, distinguished guests, friends, thank you for your presence here this afternoon and for the encouragement of your prayers. I know that many of you have travelled long distances to be here. I really appreciate it. Agus dóibh siúd ar fud na tíre a thug am le cúpla mí anuas le scríobh chugam, nó a chuir scairt orm, ag gealladh domsa paidreacha a rá ar mo shon, tugaim buíochas ó mo chroí amach. Cuimhneoidh me oraibh i mo chuid paidreacha féin, agus bígí cinnte go ndéanfaidh me mo dhícheall sa ghairm seo ó Dhia i mo shaol.
I feel a whole mixture of emotions about this new calling in my life – excitement, nervousness, a sense of my unworthiness and inadequacy – but your prayers, good wishes and generosity have lifted me up. Since the announcement of my appointment in January, I’ve been simply overwhelmed by so many messages of encouragement, assuring me that this is a time of hope and new life for our Church, and telling me not to be afraid, but to trust in God always.
Cardinal Brady, Archbishop Brown, Bishop Clifford, I really appreciate the support and welcome that you have given me and indeed that of all the bishops in Ireland and beyond. To my mother, and all my family – I want to say ‘thank you’ from the bottom of my heart. You have always been there for me; God have mercy on my father – I pray that he also, with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, is sharing this celebration in the happiness of heaven. To you, my good friends, your love and support mean so much to me. I really appreciate your kindness and the sacrifices you have made for me; I hope and pray we shall always be there for each other. To the people of Derry, and the priests and retired bishops of my native diocese, it has been a privilege to serve you and work alongside you; I shall miss you and you will always be in my thoughts and prayers – please keep me in yours. And to you, the people, priests and religious of the Archdiocese of Armagh – thank you for your very warm welcome; I really look forward to getting to know you better. I hope and pray that I can be a caring shepherd for you.
What an uplifting liturgy this has been! I am grateful to everyone who has been part of it and to all those who have helped in any way with the planning and organisation for today. And what more fitting occasion than Good Shepherd Sunday, Vocations Sunday, for me to begin my new ministry! Cardinal Brady, your homily was thoughtful and inspiring. I’m sure today brings back memories of your ordination as Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh 18 years ago, and of course for you too Bishop Clifford as you remember your episcopal ordination on this very day in 1991. Thank you both for your commitment and dedication to the flock of Christ here in Armagh. I look forward very much to serving alongside you.
Not long ago my aunts gave me a figurine of the Good Shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders. When I look at it, I remember that when we, like sheep, go astray, the Lord, in his mercy, searches us out, lifts us up, and lovingly carries us back. I pray that the Good Shepherd will always guide me along the right path and walk beside me in troubled times. Agus mé ag teacht chuig an áit iontach seo, Ard Mhacha, croí Críostaí na hÉireann, guím mar a ghuigh Naomh Pádraig:
Críost i mo dhiaidh,
Críost istigh ionam,
Críost os mo chionn,
Críost ar mo láimh dheas,
Críost ar mo láimh chlé.
I mentioned back in January that we live in a time of change, challenge and opportunity, and I suggested that this is a good time, as the psalms say, to ‘sing a new song to the Lord’. A lot of people commented to be afterwards about that beautiful verse of scripture, so I chose it for my episcopal motto: Cantate Domino canticum novum!
Sing a new song to The Lord! It suggests ‘renewal’. It calls on us to seek fresh ways of presenting the message of the Gospel. But how can this be done? How can we sing the song of the Lord in these strange times? How can we make it heard above the cacophony of voices competing for attention in the public square? Only if others can see that our believing in Christ makes a real difference to our lives. St Augustine said ‘the one who has learned to love a new life has learned to sing a new song’! For me, that new song is a song about love and peace, a song of forgiveness and reconciliation. It sings out Good News about the sacredness of all human life and the wonder of God’s creation; it tells of the dignity of every person and it challenges us to reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable in the world; It’s a song about family and solidarity, about charity, truth and justice.
Of course there are some who will not want to listen. There are others too who have been so hurt and betrayed in the past, that understandably they find themselves unable to trust our message. That is why we must continue, as Pope Benedict XVI exhorted us in his letter, ‘to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body’, and persevere in our efforts to bind those wounds and heal them.
Pope Francis has spoken recently about the need to ‘go out of ourselves’, beyond our usual comfort zones to the ‘edges of our existence’. It is there, he says, that we meet the poor, the forgotten, the disillusioned. And there we must sing our new song in a way which will speak to the reality of their daily lives, with all their hurts and burdens and troubles. The only way we can do that is by singing about God’s mercy and love for each one of us personally. That is what the new song is about – it is a song of love, that God unconditionally loves each one of us, despite our sinfulness and imperfections, and that the Lamb of God, who suffered and died to take away the sins of the world, has mercy on us.
The singing of the new song is not simply a task for bishops, priests and religious. It belongs to all God’s people. We are all called to holiness and to mission. During this Year of Faith, I pray for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Ireland, enkindling the fire of God’s love in the hearts of all the faithful! My brothers and sisters, we need you to share in the renewal and new evangelisation that is at the very heart of the Church’s mission. Sing the new song of the Lord with your hearts and your lives, by witnessing to Christ in your families and workplaces, and in the new mission fields of media, culture, business and politics.
Blessed John Henry Newman said that God has created each of us to do him some definite service, some task or mission that he is not entrusting to anyone else. On this Vocations Sunday, I pray that each of us can hear more clearly the voice of the Lord in our lives, and understand more fully what God is calling us to. I pray also that the Holy Spirit may re-awaken in Ireland that wonderful spirit of self-giving which inspired so many young men and women in the past to give themselves totally to the service of the Gospel as priests and in consecrated life.
Of course we must all be sure that it is the Lord’s song that we are singing, and not simply our own composition with a catchy rhythm and some clever lyrics. And we must sing in harmony with one another as people, priests, religious and bishops. Our new song must never dilute the strength of Christ’s message but must capture faithfully the timeless truth of the Gospel. And that can only happen if we live in communion with Christ and with one another, and if we gather regularly to be nourished by God’s word and the sacraments.
In Ireland today each one of us is being called to personal conversion, to open our heart to friendship with Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life! If we listen carefully to his voice speaking gently in the depth of our being, then we can find our personal vocation and learn to understand where our Good Shepherd is leading us. We become like a new person with a new song, and, because that new song is about the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is impossible to keep it to ourselves! As the old Baptist hymn puts it: ‘Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth… How can I keep from singing!’
My dear brothers and sisters, every Holy Thursday at the Chrism Mass, the bishop asks his flock to pray for him. In those same words, please pray for me that, ‘despite my own weakness and sinfulness, I may be faithful to the apostolic office entrusted to me today, and every day of my life remaining, by the grace of God, I may be made a living and more perfect image of Christ, the Priest, the Good Shepherd, the Teacher and the Servant of all. May the Lord keep all of us in his charity and lead us, shepherds and flock, to eternal life’.
‘Sé an Tiarna m’aoire, ní bheidh aon nith de dhith orm. Amen.