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A time for Priests 2017 – Irish College Rome

Bishop Denis attended, as a guest speaker, the Pontifical Irish Colleges’ course “The Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World” on Septemeber 14th 2017. The course was attended by priests from dioceses across the country.

During the course, Bishop Denis celebrated Mass for the priests in attendance, below is his homily from that Mass.

In his introduction Bishop Denis commented “We mark todays Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross; in the former Missal it was known as the “Triumph of the Cross’. Its origins lie with the discovery by St. Helena of the True Cross on September 14th, 320AD. Fifteen years later the Churches on Calvary were dedicated, allowing a space to venerate the True Cross.

Family Life brings joys and crosses in equal abundance. Those we love most are often those we hurt most, because we think they know us, we think they can take it, we think it runs off them – well it often doesn’t. We exalt Christ’s cross every time we freely take up our own Cross…”


I always think there is a strong link between todays Feast and our celebration of Good Friday. Only that Good Friday falls into a context, following the betrayal of Holy Thursday night in Gethsemane, and just before the silence that Holy Saturday brings. Today’s feast comes out of the blue, so to speak. It comes at us as a new Academic Year gets into full swing.

I recall celebrating this feast on our regular Meath Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Meath travel every year on the dates between September 12-17, in fact they are in Lourdes now as we speak. I was privileged to lead Kildare & Leighlin’s first ever diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes earlier this July. I remember reflecting there that the real gift of Lourdes is somewhere near the second Station of the Cross as ‘Jesus accepts His Cross’. The gift of acceptance of a disability, an illness, depression, anxiety – whatever the Cross may be for you, this is the greatest gift Lourdes offers.

As priests, you have come from different dioceses for this graced time of renewal, re-nourishment and refreshment. Perhaps some of you were students of the Irish College in the past, your visit is all the more interesting as you compare today to your day! How things have changed, but the Crosses we carry don’t change as easily. If only they could morph into a different Cross, no such luck!

I think of the Passion Play performed in Ballylinan, County Laois last year. As the play drew to a close, the greatest applauses on the night were reserved for two of the characters, Jesus and Judas! Perhaps it speaks to the contradiction in all our lives. Remember Simon of Cyrene was taken from the crowd to help Jesus carry his Cross; don’t be afraid to share your burden with another, don’t be afraid to be that Simon for others.

There was an auction earlier this year where a small portrait of Christ which was expected to make €800, was sold for €120,000. It was a painting of the head of Christ wearing the crown of thorns. Items that sell way beyond their guide price are known in the trade as ‘sleepers’.

Pope Francis returned last Monday from his very successful trip to Colombia, his twentieth visit abroad. He knew he had to get back for Wednesday’s Audience because of the Irish priests attending this renewal course here in the Irish College! He may have returned with a much reported black eye from bruising on the Papal Mobile, something else that was coloured black very much caught his eye out in Colombia.

We know Columbia has had its fair share of violence and guerrilla warfare.

Back in 2002 FARC guerrillas massacred 119 civilians in an indiscrimate attack, using an impoverished homemade mortar assembled with gas cyclinder parts. On Friday last Pope Francis prayed as he reflected on a very stark image of a black Christ with no limbs, representing those who died in that guerrilla war, I conclude with this prayer, as we reflect on the Crosses that have impacted most on us in life:

O black Christ of Bojayá,
Who remind us of your passion and death;
Together with your arms and feet
They have torn away your children
Who sought refuge in you. 

O black Christ of Bojayá,
Who look tenderly upon us
And in whose face is serenity;
Your heart beats
So that we may be received in your love.

O black Christ of Bojayá,
Grant us to commit ourselves to restoring your body.
May we be your feet that go forth to encounter
Our brothers and sisters in need;
Your arms to embrace
Those who have lost their dignity;
Your hands to bless and console
Those who weep alone.
Make us witnesss
To your love and infinite mercy”.