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Homily of Bishop Denis on Sunday of the Word of God

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B:                                              21.01.24

10.30am: Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow


Since 2019, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, has come to be known as the ‘Sunday of the Word of God’. This feast, gifted to us by Pope Francis by his motu proprio ‘Aperuit illis’, determined that today was to be a day devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God.

Aperuit illis’ translates as “He opened their …” And the hope is that He opens our hearts to listen; our bodies to proclaim; our ordained ministers to break down that Word for us; and every single last one of us, to live that Word.  

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time finds us with Jesus on his very first day of ministry. His message is ‘Repent’ and his first action is to call two sets of brothers – all of them fishermen – to follow Him. Simon & Andrew leave their nets; James & John leave their dad. It’s a radical call and it’s demands a radical response.

Is there something particular about fishermen, I often wondered? I caught sight of a boat recently, coming into port after a long nights fishing. Fishing demands patience. It’s a very tough and unpredictable occupation. Sometimes the catch is good and the work rewarded, often not.

Today, many continue to be called to follow Jesus. That calling is rooted in baptism, not admission to candidacy or ordination, but baptism. Living out fully our baptismal calling. Conscious of not doing so in our past, we call to mind our sins, we pray for forgiveness …  


Poor old Zebedee! I remember asking a primary school class, probably during a ‘Catholic Schools Week’ visit, a very serious biblical question: “Who was the Father of the son’s of Zebedee?” The interactive whiteboard was engaged; an older Biblical commentary was taken down; another started flicking through the content page of his Grow in Love religion workbook! I repeated the question: “Who was the Father of the son’s of Zebedee?” Well the father of the son’s of Zebedee takes centre stage this Sunday morning. And I’m glad he does, because I imagine he had some explaining to do when he got back home that evening for supper with Mrs Zebedee!

Of course there’s not a mention of the parents of Simon & Andrew. All we know is they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call; James & John left their dad Zebedee with the men he employed and followed Jesus. Parents play a huge role in the vocation story – Zebedee is perhaps the patron of all parents, and brothers and sisters, and pals and colleagues, and buddies and ex girl-friends and the whole wide gambit that make up the tapestry of a vocation to the priesthood and a call to discipleship in 2024! 

Answering the call. Simon and Andrew answered that call by leaving behind a livelihood, these were men of substance, the business class of their day – Bethsaida, their home town was the Dunmore or Killybegs of the fishing world! And James and John responded by severing family ties, a family who were well-healed employers – it’s never easy to leave home. I still remember my seminary tears as my parents visited on a Sunday afternoon and over those early months, in my heart I always wanted to return home with them. But the call, answering the call brings us places that would normally never be on our radar, because it’s God’s call, not ours!

This past year we have been exploring the reawakening of a religious vocation in the Irish psyche. Last Monday, you may have seen the documentary, ‘The Last Priests in Ireland’, followed by the sequel, the following night ‘The Last Nuns in Ireland’. While clumsily titled, they did raise issues of vocation and the call in 2024. In this past year our mantra has been ‘Take the Risk for Christ’. It has certainly stirred up vocation interest, enquiries and follow up in the diocese, and for that we are very grateful. Seminary formation is a much longer process than my day. There is accompaniment long before formation begins. Then there is a Propaedeutic Year before seminary training commences. And that training can stretch out to seven or eight years.

Any calling involves risk taking. Mark seems to be telling us that a vocation story involves both the leaving of profession and job security and the leaving of family and loved ones. Despite the suggested brevity of Mark’s account of their calling; we can very much suggest, like all callings, it was gradual. The four had been in the crowds, listening to Jesus; they even knew John the Baptist, perhaps followed him for a while. Jesus’s call still was to ordinary fishermen hauling in their nets.

They were as ordinary as any of us. And I think that gives us hope this Sunday morning. The starting point for Jesus’s call into discipleship isn’t to the pious or the perfect, but to very ordinary exhausted folk. The good news is that we too in our ordinariness, in our sinfulness, can repent and follow Him.

We are all called to follow the Lord from the day of our baptism. A vocation call is rooted in baptism, living out our baptismal calling, maybe rediscovering that baptismal calling. So many vocation experiences have roots in an experience where someone rediscovers Christ and an understanding of their faith in their adult years.

Religion is no longer the dominant force in Irish society, we have been relegated to the side-lines but the voice of Church is still important and must be heard today. A voice not to dominate, control or condemn but to walk with people, reopening their lives to the potential all of us have in the eyes of God.

We need priests. We need people in professions like the fishermen in Bethsaida to reconsider their lives and their calling. My message this ‘Sunday of the Word of God’, if you are a parent or grandparent, a friend or a sibling and a young man confides in you, encourage them. If you think someone would make a good priest one day, hold them in your prayers and gently invite them to consider priesthood. The four left everything and followed Jesus? Am I being asked to leave everything to follow Jesus? Every priest is a Vocation’s Director, and every Bishop is a Vocation’s Director, if you wish to talk directly to me, my door is open.