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Conferral of Minisrty of Reader, led by Bishop Denis in St Patricks College, Maynooth 13.02.2020


There is something bold about this Syrophoenician woman; something even defiant. We gather this evening in St. Mary’s Oratory to celebrate the conferral of the Ministry of Reader on eight seminarians – John, Jordan, Anthony, Sean, Frankline, Conrad, Christopher & Mark. All of you studying for six dioceses across the country.

There is something bold about presenting for formation towards ordained ministry in a culture that is becoming deaf to God’s word. And this evening with the conferral of this Ministry the eight seminarians become recognised proclaimers of His word into this same culture. In many respects what we are all about is counter-cultural, but we do so in an awareness of our own fragility, our own weakness, our own narrative and we pray for God’s love and mercy …


Jesus wasn’t preaching on home ground in this evenings gospel from Mark. I think for Mark the presence of Jesus in the region of Tyre and the healing of this pagan woman carry huge significance. It was moving from the Jewish world with their customs and traditions into a Gentile, perhaps more hostile world. I purposefully chose to stay with the readings assigned to the day rather than select from a range of options around Ministry and vocation call. I think we rob ourselves of the richness of scripture by picking and choosing rather than making something of what is set out before us.

Just as Pope Francis offered his four great dreams for the Amazonian region with the publication of yesterdays post-synodal exhortation ‘Querida Amazonia’; I am going to offer four pointers that I propose might root tonights Ministry of Reader into the wider formation journey.

A reader must know themselves, be comfortable in their space. There was a lovely line in an interview in the Tablet magazine some time back with the Dominican Timothy Radcliffe. He was speaking about the late much-loved Jean Vanier. He said “you know, talking, preaching, is primarily not about what you say but about who you are. You have to communicate with your whole body. Jean Vanier did this. He radiated joy[1]. You communicate with your whole body, with every fibre of your being. We need to take a leaf out of the Syrophoenician’s book, we need something of her boldness but nothing that verges on arrogance, just her boldness, her defiance.

A reader must understand inculturation, one church is not like the next, one parish is very different to it’s neighbour. Know your people. Know who you are proclaiming God’s word to. Pope Francis in yesterdays exhortation says “A process of inculturation involving not only individuals but also peoples demands a respectful and understanding love for those peoples[2]. He was addressing this to the Amazon region, it’s as relevant for Down & Connor, Kilmore, Dromore, Kerry, Kumba, Elphin or Tuam as it is for Elphin. Get to know your congregation; get to know your people, get to love those you are reading God’s word to. It sounds simple, but how to be a good priest, be nice to people, it’s not rocket science, but it’s at the heart of the Ratio Fundamentalis.

A reader should know his or her text. And know it literally inside out, but never off by heart. There’s a difference! Know the context in which the passage was written, walk in the shoes of the Syrophoenician, feel the pain of deliverance her daughter sought from the devil, hear the dialogue between Jesus on foreign soil and the mother on home ground. Learning things by rote was a great teaching tool of another day, but not our day, we must make each text our own.

And finally a reader needs to realise this text is being fulfilled as he speaks, in this day, at this time. The sacramental presence of the One who walks amongst us. Again we are reminded by Pope Francis in “in this call to recognise him in the poor and the suffering, we see revealed the very heart of Christ, his deepest feelings and choices …[3]. The scraps that fall from the table, the Syrophoenician had enough faith to know that the smallest scraps, the smallest crumbs would be enough. As the poet Patrick Kavanagh said “in a crumb of bread the mystery is[4].

Freddie, sits at my feet when I visit my brother’s house. He is a golden retrievor, “a house-dog[5] in Mark’s world. He certainly gets the scraps and sometimes much more. Dogs, particularly house dogs know how to beg, they know how to wriggle that last piece of beef suspended in mid air on your fork before you have time to think. I’m not on home ground when I’m in my brother’s, and Freddie in his boldness knows how to comatose me into submission! As Ministers, you will often read in territory that is foreign to you, check the microphone, mark the lectionary, claim your space, and if someone offers you a missalette thank them, but let them keep it!

[1] The Tablet, 12 October 2019, Vol. 273, No. 9322, pg. 14: article: ‘Choosing Life’ by Maggie Fergusson

[2] Querida Amazonia, ¶78

[3] Pope Francis, ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’, 2018, ¶96

[4] Kavanagh, Patrick: ‘The Great Hunger’.

[5] Mk. 7:27