Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A: 30.07.23
St. Brigid’s Church, Hacketstown @ 2pm
Fr. Terence McGovern PP, Ten concelebrating priests
We gather in this beautiful church, dedicated to St. Brigid here in Hacketstown to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Owen Lambert. Fr. Owen’s Golden Jubilee. A Spiritan priest, a Holy Ghost, but much more importantly a native of Knockananna! I welcome warmly family and friends who gather with Fr. Owen this Sunday afternoon.
I welcome the concelebrating priests who join me here around the altar, including those who travelled from Africa. I include very much the Parish Priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox faithful in Ireland Fr. Ateneh (Fr. Anthony).
I welcome Fr. Owen’s family, those who live locally as well as those who have travelled from Derry, Galway, Italy and the United States. Coming from a family of fourteen I won’t risk mentioning names, conscious as I am, that some are sadly gone already to their eternal reward, including very recently Sr. Eileen Lambert.
The gospel presents us with one of the shortest parables, that of the treasure hidden in a field. In its own way it sums up all the parables. It offers us the essentials. Are we searching for the genuine article or are we settling for fake imitative kitch?
Solomon asks not for wealth but for an understanding discerning heart. Discernment is at the engine of our synodal journey, a journey that spans every continent, every country, a journey to discern ‘what is the Lord asking of us’ this day. The question can be asked equally of Ireland, of Ethiopia, of Tanzania, and indeed of Hacketstown, and even more locally of Killamoate, of Askinagap or of Knockananna?
First lets have our procession with symbols reflecting Fr. Owen’s 50 years of ministry …
As we turn the sod in the field looking for that pearl of great price, as we gather to pray, let us together acknowledge our past, recognise our present and anticipate our future, calling to mind our sins …
There is an Orthodox prayer that prays:
“Jesus, who welcomed strangers!
Jesus, boast of the saints!
Jesus, healer of my sinful heart!
Jesus, feeder of children!
Jesus, feast of the poor!
Jesus, King who gives strength to the poor!
Jesus, Master who grants deliverance to the oppressed!
Jesus, destroyer of demons!
Jesus, song of the angels!
Jesus, light to those in darkness, glory to you!”
The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time introduces us to the treasure in the field and to the pearl of great price. The early parable always rests uneasily with me. There seems to be something underhand about finding something, hiding it and then buying the place knowing what you found is hidden there.
There is more honesty in the merchant who knows his pearls from his offal and when he recognises one, he sells everything to buy it. Of course for people of faith the treasure, the pearl is Christ Himself. Knowing, loving, understanding Him with all our hearts and minds.
But let’s also take a look at that first reading from the Book of Kings. What Solomon wanted was not riches, or pearls or treasures but a heart to discern, to understand, to know. Fr. Owen Lambert went first to Ethiopia in 1974, the year after his ordination on June 16th 1973, here in Hacketstown by Bishop Lennon.
Ethiopians present will know all about the myth that the descendants of our biblical King Solomon ruled over Ethiopia for centuries. The Solomonic dynasty was a sequence of Ethiopian kings that at the very least dates back to the thirteenth century and lasted until the 1970’s. This was the Africa that the young newly ordained Owen Lambert left Knockananna for in the 1970’s. He would also later work in Tanzania from the early 2000’s.
Speaking with Owen the other evening about his living passion for all things Africa, reminded me of my own visit to Kenya in 1989. Only recently I found albums of photographs that brought the Turkana region back to life for me, as if it was only yesterday. Photographs of Lodwar, Kakuma and much further south Nakuru evoked several memories. And I realise Africa beats with many different drums. The story of Ethiopia, of Tanzania are so different to those of Kenya.
The Irish Church should be rightly proud of the contribution its missionaries have made to places the rest of us only read about in the Missionary Magazines such as ‘Africa’, ‘The Far East’, ‘The Word’ and of course ‘Outlook’. The last one, if memory serves me right, told very beautifully the story of the Holy Ghost Missionaries, the Spiritans.
You all know Fr. Owen’s story. In 2004 he founded ‘A Partnership with Africa’, a charity based in Kimmage Manor supporting as its name suggests a partnership-based approach to development in Ethiopia and Tanzania. A big part of its work is preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and engaging with domestic workers, making them aware of their rights. Before that he founded Self Help Africa which later merged with Gorta. All the time in his missionary life, Fr. Owen has been an advocate for those without a voice.
When Fr. Owen arrived in Ethiopia in 1972 he was among the earliest Spiritans there. Like all missionaries, you would have imagined they might begin a building programme of schools, hospitals and churches. This plan quickly changed as they grew closer to understand the ways of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy. They began to study their theology and traditions, and most importantly learning their language, even encouraging Orthodox vocations. Naturally not everyone understood their missionary praxis. This spirit of ecumenism showed how churches might work together rather than in competition, obvious today in the presence of the Chaplain to the Ethiopian Orthodox faithful in Ireland Fr. Ateneh.
Ethiopia has been decimated by AIDS, by slavery, by colonialism, by debts, by unfair trade, by famine, by wars and more recently by climate injustice. At all times Fr. Owen and his colleagues, along with many other Irish missionaries across the developing world have been the face of Christ. Their presence beating different drums in Africa allow us at home to reflect on what is really important, where is that treasure deeply buried, that pearl of great value?
1973 was also the year the Irish Bishops founded Trócaire. In the fifty years since through the many charities and missionaries who come home to make appeals billions of euro has been contributed by Ireland and by communities like you in Hacketstown. In celebrating Fr. Owen’s Golden Jubilee, I also compliment all who have walked with him and supported his initiatives generously over these past fifty years. Our pearl, our treasure may be in another field thousands of kilometres away, but the Lord “who sees what is done in secret will reward you”. He will indeed reward each one of you. Amen.
 From a modern Orthodox prayer Akathist to Jesus, Light to Those in Darkness, ‘Scripture in Church’, No. 211, Dominican Publications, pg.24