Find your parish Donate

Homily of Bishop Denis at Benemerenti Award Presentation in Sallins Parish

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A: 04.02.23
6.30pm – Church of the Guardian Angels, Sallins


The Bene Merenti Award is an ancient Papal Award that goes back to 1832. It was originally an award for soldiers in the Papal army. Now it is open to all who have given long and exceptional service to the Church. The Pope of the day honours the recipient, this evening Pope Francis is delighted to honour Mary Humphries. I welcome Mary’s family and friends.

Recently I looked through the files of applications over the years from Kildare & Leighlin for Benemerenti Medals, that have been many awarded; in the last nine years I have applied for hundreds of awards and presented many to recipients in several parishes, including here before in Sallins.

Tonights gospel from St. Matthew focuses on salt and light. We eat too much salt! And we certainly crave for too much light. Most of us love the sunshine – we can’t get enough of it! That’s why package holidays have become so popular.

Isaiah offers us the litmus test for salt and light … how are the hungry, the oppressed, the homeless … are they better off by our Christian presence in the world? In many respects this is the litmus test for a benemerenti recipient – how the parish community benefits by our presence in it.

Salt and light are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. As we gather this celebratory evening here in Sallins, we call to mind our sins …


There was a priest in my native Meath Diocese – Fr. Michael Deegan, the late Parish Priest of Ballynacargy in County Westmeath. I remember his suggestion at a deanery conference many years ago that priests should take a break from preaching and concentrate more on the other wonderful parts of the Mass.

He decried that most leaving a Church only referenced the quality of the priests’ homily and missed the entire celebration. The priest preached too long, too short, spoke too quick, got sidetracked, couldn’t be heard – “was that microphone switched on?”

St. Paul suggests to the Corinthians reminds them he’s no orator or philosopher; in fact he talks about feelings of “fear and trembling” as he was faced with the task of preaching. I know many great people who struggle at the ambo, but who are a powerful presence at the sick bedside, who are wonderfully pastoral!

We are all called to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” . A challenging call indeed! Perhaps Isaiah extrapolates best what this means in practical terms in living out of Christian calling. Mere external ritual and observances doesn’t press God’s buttons; they must be joined to internal sincerity. Doing away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word and doing so by sharing what little we have with the hungry and the impoverished – this is the roadmap that leads to a plethora of lights shining.

When you clench your fist, you harden your heart and turn away even from your own – doors are closed and bolted, there’s no turning back. I applaud the groups and associations who deal with violent behaviour and aim to eradicate domestic abuse. Too much goes on behind well painted teak front doors with shining brass menagerie. I applaud all who have welcomed refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere. Protest is a legitimate right in a democracy but we must also participate in the global response to a crisis. We need to balance privilege with personal responsibility.

Returning to our celebration of Mass. I know people who have struggled to return to Mass since the Covid lockdowns. I spoke with a couple last evening, at a play in Coon, County Laois, who told me they hadn’t returned to Sunday Mass, they go on a Wednesday. Maybe the pandemic was in some respects a grace for us in Church, as it has allowed people to step out of habit and routine and answer for themselves what ‘practice’ really means.

The twin themes of light and salt offer perhaps some help here. The late Pope Emeritus Benedict in reflecting on the Church at the end of the Millennium titled his reflection: ‘Salt of the Earth’ . It was in essence a candor interview with the journalist Peter Seewald. It reminds us this is what we must be in our home, in our parish, in our diocese, in our church, in our world – “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” .

And the prophet Isaiah gives us the checks and balances that allow us to truly answer that question. Mary, our benemerenti recipient this evening, you have answered it through your involvement with the Parish Pastoral Council, with the Baptismal Ministry Tea, with the Parish Choir, with every occasion that is Sallins, with the organising of hospitality here, with carrying the Sallins banner at diocesan moments and with assisting with sacramental celebrations here. For these and much more you are being honoured this evening. But Fr. Alex, Fr. Liam and the parish team would say its not enough to leave it to Mary, we all need to find it in our hearts to respond.

We need salt and light – a pinch of salt and a lot of light. I’m shortly due to get my bloods checked, the text that follows some days later will quickly remind me if that pinch is more generous than necessary! Today, February 4th sees daylight hours gently lengthening – sunrise was at 8.04am and sunset at 13 minutes after 5pm. I was setting out from Carlow as the sun was setting. Salt and light are essential for our health and wellbeing, not just our physical health and wellness, but very much our spiritual heath and wellness. It is this we honour tonight in recognising Mary Humphries and her contribution to Sallins.