Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary for Mass of Thanksgiving on the occasion
of his 25 years of ministry as Archbishop of Tuam
Hope is essential in human life whether for single, married, religious, priest or bishop. The first reading in today’s Mass assures us that God is near and is a God who is compassionate and caring. There is no need to be afraid as God speaks a word of assurance, well-being and solidarity.
As I celebrate with you 25 years of my ministry as a bishop, firstly, I want to thank the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the various Parish Councils for marking this occasion. As I look back over those years, my prayer is one of gratitude to God for sustaining and supporting our Archdiocese and all of us during what were, at times, difficult and demanding situations. I thank God for the people, religious and priests with whom I am privileged to work and pray.
The role of a bishop has changed enormously over the years. Gone are the days when a bishop could minister on his own. Today, we are privileged to work with others as a member of a team, to learn from them and to go forward together under the guidance of God’s Spirit as we endeavour to bring about God’s kingdom. We depend on, learn from and work with our baptised faithful, the religious and priests.
I am reminded of the sermon that was given by Saint Augustine on the anniversary of his ordination as bishop. He emphasises that the bishop is first and foremost a member of the Church along with everyone else. He said “for you, I am a bishop, with you, I am a Christian”. Augustine talks about being tossed about by stormy activity in the open sea, but then refers to the safe harbour in tranquil recollection. He said that from the moment the burden of office was placed on his shoulders, he realised that an account had to be rendered to God of the way in which he fulfilled that office. And yet he acknowledges that he is encouraged by what he shares with others, namely being a Christian who has been saved by Jesus Christ.
I am only too aware of how dependent I am on the grace of God, on the priests, religious and people with whom I work. I never cease to wonder at their generosity, their availability and sensitivity which are expressed in transmitting the healing and compassionate love of Christ to those who are broken and bruised. This takes place in different committees, pastoral councils, various ministries, boards of management in our Catholic schools and countless other ways. The hundreds of people involved at parish and diocesan level is something which is very encouraging, supportive and also challenging. As Archbishop, one of my primary responsibilities is to support and encourage all those who are involved in this wonderful work.
I am very dependent on them and without them the diocese would be very deprived. I have learned and continue to learn so much from those people who give of themselves, their time and talents so generously for God’s church and the kingdom. I have the utmost trust in those people and I am eternally grateful to them.
As I administer the Sacrament of Confirmation in the parishes and church areas throughout the Archdiocese I am always impressed by the amount of preparation which parents, teachers, pupils and priests undertake. It is so encouraging to witness the way in which they give expression to their particular talents, whether in prayers, music or song, and the way in which families gather from far away places in order to be together for the celebration.
Again, it underlines what can be achieved when home, Church and school work together as a team. The challenge facing all of us is to take that forward into the teen and adult years and ensure that it is related to service so that what is celebrated in faith and prayer finds expression in life itself.
To my brother priests I thank them for the way in which they utilise their particular gifts for the spread of the Gospel, their availability to those who are sick, bereaved or feel disappointed and disillusioned by life itself. We remember with fondness those priests who served so faithfully in our Archdiocese during those 25 years and have now gone to their eternal reward. I hope and pray that young men and women would be inspired to come forward and offer their service to God as priests or religious.
There is an old African proverb which states “It takes a village to rear a child”. It takes a parish to form a priest, and it takes a diocese like Tuam to form an archbishop! I would not be here today celebrating 25 years as bishop were it not for the wonderful support which I receive from my own family and I welcome – with my three sisters and family members – the people of the archdiocese, the religious and priests who have supported, encouraged, challenged and prayed with and for me. I am particularly blessed with the team of people with whom I work here in Tuam, each in his or her own way making a huge contribution to the Church of Tuam which is our Archdiocese of which we are so proud.
I beg you to keep me in your prayers so that I may be able to continue to live up to the motto which I chose when I was appointed Bishop – Fidelis et Misericors, faithful to God and compassionate towards the people of God.
I thank all of you who travelled today and braved the treacherous weather conditions. I hope you will have a safe journey home and I wish you and yours God’s choicest blessings this Christmas.
This Mass was celebrated on 10 December 2017 in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Tuam, Co Galway.