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Homily of Bishop Denis on Temperance Sunday including prayer for Ukraine

Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow 27.02.2022, 8.30am

Introduction: Today is Temperance Sunday. It always falls on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It calls us to be temperate, to be moderate, to bring a sense of proportion into our lives.

Temperance Sunday – ‘Drink’ – We have that awkward relationship with it in Ireland. I dread to think what the streets will be like around St. Patrick’s Day, with the additional public holiday this year? Over a hundred years ago Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, was asked to speak at a gathering of young people about health and well-being. In his speech he warned his listeners about the dangers of alcohol and told them: “you can get along with a wooden leg, but you can’t get along with a wooden head”. The terminology is very much 1920’s but the point is well made. We are all too aware of the public and domestic violence, debt, anti-social behaviour, road fatalities that are rooted in the abuse of drink. And yet we turn a blind eye, as if that extra drink was harmless, even the first drink was nothing.

One of the most negative effects of alcohol is how it is understood as a gateway drug to even more harmful and addictive drugs. Drugs are part of the shady life of every parish, every community. The perception that this was only large town stuff has been blown asunder by the reality that too many families face. Sometimes it’s what might be understood as the white-collar, well educated, middle class who take something at the weekend for a kick, for a high and turn in for work on Monday with no after effects and also no thought of the journey of travel that drug took. The one who pushed the drug, the runner who collected it, the one on the street. Not everyone can turn in for work on a Monday. Some are caught in a spiral of debt and desperation, their only way out of debt and desperation it seems is to go deeper into the drug culture. Temperance Sunday reminds us we all have the power to say ‘No’. Temperance Sunday reminds us we all have the responsibility to support one another – someone drinks too much, gambles on their phone during work meetings, swallows something outside a night club – we have a shared responsibility of supporting each other, there always is another way.  

On Wednesday we’ll queue up for the ashes. To be blessed themselves and bring more home in the tissue paper! “Man, you are but dust and dust you shall return”. “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” What’s it all about?  A four year old was shocked when I tried to explain the ashes as a rub of dirt on our foreheads. We mightn’t like the description, but it’s very close to the reality … “dirt we are, and unto dirt we’ll return”. The temperance theme is cushioned within reflections around the issue of the direction we take in life. Blind man leading another blind man; the kiln testing the work of the potter; the person judged by their conversation, clean conversation.

Ash Wednesday. The queue for ashes! The search for direction! I echo the call of Pope Francis for prayer and fasting this Ash Wednesday to end the war in Ukraine. In times of trouble we call on the tender mercy of God “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk.1:79)

But it’s not enough to pray just for one day. It’s not enough to be repulsed by the media coverage and then turn away – to turn over the page, to swipe the phone, to switch the channel. It’s not enough to impose sanctions and take measures that are slower to take effect. All of us need to do all within our power to stop the violence.

So what might we do? I suggest we light a candle in our churches for every day during the season of Lent. A candle that reminds us light always overcomes darkness, and especially the darkness of war. War is the path of no return. A candle that reminds the people of Ukraine they are not forgotten, they are in our thoughts.

Secondly, we pause at the Sign of Peace, a sign we understandably suspended during the pandemic, while not yet restoring the sign, let’s take a moment of pause and reflection for the cause of peace and how we can all contribute to being peacemakers in today’s world.

Thirdly I invite this prayer for peace in Ukraine to be prayed at every Mass during Lent:

Loving God,
We pray for the people of Ukraine,
for all those suffering or afraid,
that you will be close to them and protect them.

We pray for world leaders,
for compassion, strength and wisdom to guide their choices.

We pray for the world
that in this moment of crisis,
we may reach out in solidarity
to our brothers and sisters in need.

May we walk in your ways
so that peace and justice
become a reality for the people of Ukraine
and for all the world.