This evening as a parish community we gather to mark the Golden Jubilee of the ordination of a son of this parish, Monsignor Martin Keveny. We do so in a spirit of genuine gratitude to God for the witness and the service given by him over all these years. We do so also with thankfulness in our hearts to Fr Martin. By any standard, his service of God, the Church and this diocese has been exceptional. In particular, his long years of service reflect two very important aspects of the Church’s mission; pastoral care and missionary activity.
Martin is essentially a people’s priest. He loves people, enjoys being with them and is energised by them. Pastoral care is second nature to him. He is, as we say, ‘a born natural’. Thankfully, he has been able to live out his priesthood in pastoral care, in this diocese in Ballycroy, Ballina and Kilfian and abroad in London, New York and Brazil. And the presence of all of you in such great numbers here this afternoon is a tribute to the way in which he has lived his priesthood and touched the lives of so many people in so many places.
This evening, as I look back on Martin’s fifty years of service, my mind goes forward to a time when it looks as if Ireland will not be blessed with the number of priests which we now have and the quality of pastoral care which our priests now give. As I do, I am convinced that people many years from now will look back on our day, and, for all its failures and faults, and there are many, will remember it as a golden era of pastoral care. This evening, as we celebrate the service given by one priest of this diocese, we also pay tribute to the exceptional service given at this time by all the priests of this diocese. And while we thank Fr Martin for his work, we also thank all the priests for their generosity, faithfulness and service. Against the background of the clouds which have darkened recent years and recent days in the Irish Church, it is well for us to remember and put in perspective the faithfulness and dedication of the priests of this diocese and the vast majority of priests everywhere, at present, and over so many years.
Fr Martin chose the Call of Samuel as the first reading of our Mass. In doing so he highlights the fact that all of us priests are called by God and our ministry is that of going out, to proclaim God’s Word and serve God’s people. In a real sense, therefore, all priests are missionaries. Pope Francis reflected on this recently. He describes this call from the Spirit to live as a missionary as ‘an irresistible drive to donate one’s life to the service of Christ and even to consume it or burn it up on His behalf’. He said that this was the flame that burned in the heart of St Paul, the Apostle, and every apostle and it’s the same flame that’s alive in the hearts of so many people who have left their family and the possibility to create their own family to announce Jesus at home and in far off lands. Referring to missionaries he said; ““They went forward compelled by the Holy Spirit: a vocation! And referring to Missionaries today, he described them as the ‘glory of the Church’. The missionary, he continued, ‘knows that life will not be easy but he goes ahead’ just like the apostles of our times.
This was the spirit which sent Irish missionaries abroad over all the centuries. And in this spirit, Fr Martin undertook missionary work in New York and for the past twenty two years he has worked on the Killala Diocesan Mission in Brazil. But he knows, as we all know, that given the great changes in the Church and in society today, he is probably in the vanguard of the long line of carriages which have taken Irish women and Irish men to the ends of the Earth as missionaries. While he may be in the vanguard of this great movement, new challenges in evangelization present themselves to us today and as Pope St John Paul II, when speaking of missionaries wisely said; “Each generation is a new Continent to be won for Christ.” For the Church in Ireland today, the Continent is Europe and the country is Ireland. In the past we went abroad to bring the light of faith to foreign nations; our task nowadays is to bring this same light to ourselves; especially to our young people.
Fr Martin chose the Prayer of Christ for priests as the Gospel reading this evening. It is well for us, priests, to remember this; God is on our side and Christ is always praying for us. And of course, not only Christ but so many people who pray for us priests everyday.
Recently, Pope Francis said that the priesthood rests on seven pillars:
1) The strength of a priest depends on his relationship with Christ.
2) The priest must be close to the people he serves.
3) A priest’s authority must be linked to service, especially to the care and protection of the poorest, weakest, the least important and most easily forgotten.
4) The priest must be a minister of mercy.
5) The priest is called to simplicity of life.
6) The priest must be a model of integrity.
7) The priest is to be a source of blessing for his people.
Martin, thank God, your priesthood rests securely on all seven pillars for you are, in particular, a priest who is close to the people he serves and is also a source of blessing for them. May the Lord bless you as you journey to the future. In particular, may he continue to give you the energy and enthusiasm, which is the envy of many.