Hundreds gathered today with Bishop Denis Nulty on the Feast of St. Brigid to celebrate the witness of consecrated religious life in Kildare & Leighlin Diocese … in gratitude for the past; live the present; embrace the future … praise for the care of vulnerable religious in their tender years … an encouragement to have an ‘Open House’ celebrating Religious Life in 2015.
Pope Francis very clearly in a style that we have become so accustomed to, lays out the parameters for this Year of Consecrated Life. He suggests we must look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope. This is a splendid afternoon here in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow as I warmly welcome you the sisters, the brothers and the religious order priests who join us for our celebration of Evening Prayer, of Vespers. Perhaps you normally recite Evening Prayer in community, maybe you live on your own or in a large convent or monastery, house or institution, but isn’t it beautiful to just gather together as a diocesan family on this the feast-day of St. Brigid, as we see the first shoots of the spring! I also thank the diocesan priests who join us as well as the many parishioners and friends of you the religious this Sunday afternoon here in Carlow. I welcome those who join us on the web-cam from different parts of Ireland and the world and those who are joining us on parish radio.
The media is fascinated by consecrated life, by religious life, by the commitment and example given by your dedication. The interview on RTE Radio last year with Marie Louise O’Donnell on the former Pat Kenny Show is a good case in point. Marie Louise, in an interview lasting about twenty-five minutes, did more for the promotion of religious life than thousands of euro spent on some publicity drive. She visited the Wicklow Hills in our neighbouring Archdiocese of Dublin and spent time there in the company and hospitality of the Carmelite Monastery at Delgany. She spoke of the cloistered lifestyle with its roots firmly embedded with St. Teresa of Avila in the 16th century. Marie Louise O’Donnell could have easily gone to any of your communities, your religious houses, your monasteries, your convents and be equally impressed by what I have seen at first hand on my journey around the diocese, your superb dedication to those on the edges of society and great sense of peace and presence in your own person. I know and appreciate the witness which you, the religious of Kildare & Leighlin give, as you live out your consecration deeply inserted into the faith story of our great diocese built on the shoulders of St. Brigid, St. Conleth and St. Laserian.
The late Pope, St. John Paul II, proposed to the whole church at the beginning of the third millennium: “you have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things”. It is understandable with an ageing profile in so many of your religious communities that many might say what is there left to contribute, we have made some little contribution, it’s over to others to carry the Nano Nagle lantern; to keep alive the flame of St. Brigid and to revisit the writings of Pierre Noailles. The letter to the Ephesians, coming just after our psalms, reminded us “glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine ”. In other words it is not what little we imagine we do, sometimes clumsily and awkwardly, but it’s always Him working through us.
The inspiration of Catherine McAuley; the vision of Daniel Delaney; the imagination of St. Ignatius of Loyola or St. Francis Xavier; the foresight of Patrick Whitney; the dream of St. Francis or St. Clare and the wisdom of St. Dominic … these great people and many more read the signs of their time and interpreted a need, sometimes a niche and met it powerfully. There are new leaders emerging amongst all our congregations and communities, people who see the spirit moving in a different way than in the past, but in a manner that has huge relevance for the broken, the marginalized, the forgotten in our society. We must allow these new visions to take hold, we must not be enslaved to a past, but allow ourselves to interpret the present and live in the future.
At my own Ordination as Bishop of our diocese in this very Cathedral, I said that “diocesan priesthood is a call, not a career; a way of life, not a job; an identity, not just a role”. Your lives, your witness, your example puts flesh on those words, because living the consecrated life is never a career, a job, a role, but a call, a way of life, an identity. It is this very thing that makes your life so intriguing for a radio reporter or a journalist. In a very fast world of words and noise, silence and contemplation speaks volumes. Only an impoverished society can afford to turn its back on the contemplative life.
Education, healthcare and the social services have been built on the shoulders of you, the religious of our diocese. Today we say thanks for this huge contribution to society. Perhaps the newer needs are to be found in the ministry of food parcels to those in need; in the management of our education and healthcare system; in the provision of adult education in the form of literacy and numeracy to those who slipped out of school too early in life. Your care for your more senior colleagues speaks loudest to me; just as a church and society must keep the protection of children to the forefront; so too we will in time be judged on our care for those in their more vulnerable, tender years. I propose as you look to the future that all religious congregations and societies here in Kildare & Leighlin consider during this Year of Consecrated Life having an ‘Open House’ perhaps during the late Spring/ early Summer in an effort to allow society gain a deeper understanding of your deep charism, your solid vocation and your very fulfilled life.
Returning to the feastday of today, St. Brigid – Lá Feile Bhríde. When I worked in Drogheda, I was always told St. Brigid was born in Faughart, and yet one day when driving on the road between Rathangan and Monasterevin I came across a shrine at Mount Rice Cross that states emphatically: ‘Authentic tradition states that near this place Brigid of the Gael was born’! So as you see, religious have a wonderful tradition of interpretation! Even when it comes to our faith, county rivalries can be very rich! With all of you I pray this day:
“Bail’ Ó Dhia oraibh
Ó Shamhain go lá le Bríde
Ó lá le Bríde go Bealtaine
Ó Bealtaine go Lúnasa
Is ó Lunasa go Samhain”.
(“God’s Blessing on you,
From Hallowe’en to Brigid’s Day
From Brigid’s Day to May Day
From May Day to August
And from August to Hallowe’en”).