Homily of Archbishop Neary for the Celebration of Religious Life – 2nd February, 2012.
I extend a very warm welcome to the Religious of our Archdiocese as we celebrate the World Day for Consecrated Life. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the great work, which as Religious, you have been doing here in our Archdiocese over the years. Through the various ministries which you have held, your influence has reached into the hearts and homes of the people of God, of the Church of Tuam. Your participation in, support for, and the leadership which you have provided for various parishes and communities is something for which we are grateful to God and are deeply indebted to yourselves.
Today’s Feast is typified by light, at once a delicate, mysterious element as well as an overpowering and blinding source. Candles are blessed today. When lighted their wick can be easily snuffed out. Yet candles symbolise Jesus, our eternal light, one who illumines the path of our journey, the inspiration that the gospel provides to be a light to others. The flickering flame of a candle can touch off a forest fire – a fire that destroys, purifies and prepares for rebirth of nature. The biblical readings not only develop this double symbolism of the fragile and the mighty presence of God in light, but they also act as “a presentation of the Lord” in our hearts and lives.
The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the fact that we share the same flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. The gospel identifies Jesus in his human frailty being carried to the temple to be presented to the Lord, and at the same time He is proclaimed as a light to the gentiles and the glory of the people.
Todays feast, therefore offers that most special grace: to expend ourselves heroically for God, and all the while to do this with delicate charity and the hidden light of persevering faith.
In the paragraph preceding the 2nd Reading of the Epistle to the Hebrews the author insists that “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them sisters and brothers”. In today’s reading the author insists that “since all the children share the same blood and flesh he too shared equally in it …. For it was not the angels that he took to himself; he took to himself descent from Abraham. It was essential that in this way he should become completely like his brothers and sisters so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high-priest of God religion, able to atone for human sins because he himself has been through temptation he is able to help others who are tempted”.
The pressures of secularism and modern life have reduced the significance of religious faith in the lives of many Christians. In religious life and priesthood we are not unaffected by all of this. The result has been that God has receded from the awareness and experience of everyday life. Daily experiences are reduced and impoverished, have little meaning beyond themselves and are seldom open to the transcendent. As a people of God we are challenged to recover the mystery of life and the transcendence of everyday experience.
In many ways we are living a ‘Holy Saturday’ experience which demands that the Church again die to itself, be crucified to popularity and trendiness and, overthrowing the cultural idols of relevance, effectiveness and growth, live solely with radical courage and faith in the power of God’s crucified one. In the Church in general and in religious life and priesthood in particular we have experienced the concrete events of human pain and suffering, of abandonment and loss of hope as we look to the Lord for the coming of God’s kingdom and experienced deflation and despair akin almost to a divine absence. And yet on Holy Saturday God was truly present, was in the One who suffered, was forsaken and discredited. In so many ways today we are experiencing a cultural ‘Holy Saturday’. We could easily allow despair and pessimism fill the vacuum left by the collapse of confidence. The abolition of optimism however in a peculiar way creates the possibility of something deeper, namely hope. Hope finds space to flourish in the very absence of optimism, it is the courage not to be swallowed by despair but, in frank acknowledgement of rampant evil and negation, to trust in the possibility of life and creativity amid and beyond the appearances and make the necessary provision for it.
We are constantly being told that the world is in crisis, the Church is in crisis and that religious life is in crisis. Crises are always painful, but when faced up to with serenity and courage they can be overcome and are even necessary for our maturity. As believers in an incarnational God, we know that the Holy Spirit is not in crisis. The Prophet Jeremiah tells us what to do: “set up milestones for yourselves, make yourselves guide posts; consider well the highway, the road by which you travel (Jeremiah 31:21). A Prophet of more recent times reminded religious: “you have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished, look to the future where the spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things”. (Pope John Paul II, Vita Consecrata).
This feast is at one and the same time consoling, hopeful, challenging. Today we lift up the lintels, throw open the doors of our hearts that the Lord may enter and be our light. He is our King of glory in the fragile wrappings of an infant as well as in the armour of a warrior, mighty in battle. We invite the Lord to be our consolation, our strength and our victory.