Words of Bishop Denis at the Farewell Mass with the Icon of the Holy Family, Newbridge Monday 7th May 2018
“We gather on this the seventh day of May 2018 to bid farewell to the Icon of the World Meeting of Families that has given our diocese great graces over these past ten days. I thank Fr. Paul and the team here in Newbridge; Mgr. John Byrne and the team in Portlaoise and Fr. Ruairí O’Domhnaill and the team in Carlow for the welcome afforded to the Icon on its visit of these three prime locations in our diocese.
During these past ten days this Icon has been venerated by thousands of parishioners from the already mentioned parishes and their much wider hinterlands. In each visit there has been a special key moment and encounter with the Icon for young people. I thank the many schools, Primary and Post Primary who took part in these encounters. I heard great reports of the liturgy here last Friday in St. Conleth’s.
There was also a very graced and special moment as the Icon was carried into the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise last Thursday afternoon as prisoners in different wings had their opportunity, if they so wished, to venerate the Icon. I thank Governor Ethel Gavin and her colleagues for making this historic encounter possible.
So from priests to parishioners to pupils to prisoners, we have all had our moment with this Icon which ultimately has been written to assist us in our preparations for the World Meeting of Families next August.
Amoris Laetitia is the inscription on the base of the Icon: “The Joy of Love”. It’s not very far removed from the Episcopal Motto I chose five years ago, rooted in Psalm 100: “Serve the Lord with Gladness” – Servito Dominum in Laetitia – it could also translate as “Serve the Lord with Joy”. In fact todays date has some significance in this regard. It was on May 7th 2013, at around this very time I was announced as Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin, in succession to St. Conleth.
I recall every moment of that day as if it was only yesterday. It was the finest early summer day as the sun shone on the temporary podium erected outside the doors of the Cathedral in Carlow. I remember saying how the days leading up to the appointment were eased by the gentle grace of acceptance – “the grace of responding to that call; the grace of the prayers of our friends in heaven; the grace of trusting in the judgement of others”. Five years later I would say that grace has never weaned, but in fact strengthened as the year’s pass.
The Icon which leaves our Diocese today is shaped like the front porch of a house, a home. It is the work of a Romanian iconographer Mihai Cucu and the Redemptorist Sisters in Dublin. In our first reading from Acts of the Apostles we are introduced to Lydia who worked in the purple dye trade. Mihai, like Lydia has a particular expertise and gift of artistic expression. From the earliest days of the church in the Acts of the Apostles, the church was and always remains a great patron of the arts.
So what is an Icon? It’s easier to say what it’s not – it is not a painting, it is not a fresco, a mosaic – the word icon comes from Greek meaning ‘image’. An Icon is written in several layers, it’s not painted. An Icon in fact is prayed as the layers of colour pigments are written and bound together with egg, yolk and water. It’s a very patient piece of work, writing an icon, it should never be rushed.
A good example on this, another iconographer, the Chilean Lucho Alvarez was invited by me to write an Icon to celebrate the introduction of the Luminous Mysteries by St. John Paul II in 2002. I think I commissioned the work in 2007; it arrived in Drogheda in 2014, a year after I was ordained Bishop here in 2013!
Jesus invites us to join him at table; assures us of His abundant presence as He turns water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana and recognises the healing so needed in family life with the raising of Jairus’ daughter. There are just 106 days now left before the World Meeting of Families is opened in every Cathedral with Evening Prayer on August 21st. Pope Francis is coming to the World Meeting to speak to us about family. Of all Popes, Pope Francis again and again emphasises that family life is complex and complicated.
Three years ago in Philadelphia at the last World Meeting he simply said: “sometimes in families plates can fly”. He wasn’t encouraging it but he was realistic. We might all like to count on a world with straight-forward families and relationships, but we are part of this changing age, this cultural crisis, and in the midst of it still God calls us to do our best to live family life to the best of our ability. None of us come from perfect families. Let us keep our feet firmly rooted.
The Icon has been with us and will soon leave. Ten grace filled days. Ten days of encounter with an image in preparation for a much deeper encounter with Christ, who is Love, who is Amoris. If we simply wave off the Icon, but bring none of its impact home, we have short-changed this encounter. The Icon invites us to join Jesus at table in its centre panel. The Icon allows us to be helped by the healing hand of Christ reached out on the panel to the left and the Icon suggests only Christ can make good the simplest offering we can afford at the Wedding feast on the right. Inviting, healing and multiplying – let us trust in Him this Bank Holiday Monday!”