Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pastoral Letter to the Priests, Persons of Consecrated Life, and Lay Faithful


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. To conclude the year we affirm the greatness of the Lord as the source of all that is good and true. How are we to understand the meaning of this word “KING”? We know that the characteristics of the “kings” of this world are power, influence, control, wealth and ambition. In Chapter 20 of Matthew’s Gospel, we read how James and John, Apostles of Jesus and the sons of Zebedee, had a petition presented to Jesus asking to be in influential positions in his Kingdom. The reply of Jesus indicates that the apostles did not understand the spiritual meaning of “King” and “Kingdom”. “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve” (Jn.20:26-28). The message is clear: The Christian community is a family, the family of God, a family of responsible service to one another, a family of the children of God belonging to one another. We journey together, and together we serve. That’s the ideal put before us today, the Feast of Christ the King. I pray it can be seen to be my ideal too as I begin my service as your Bishop, next Sunday.

Next Sunday (2nd December) is the First Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of a new Liturgical Year. In the religious sense it could be called a new spiritual beginning, new in the sense of being a new opportunity to begin again with the ongoing invitation to deepen ever more our spiritual relationship with one another and with Jesus Christ, our teacher and our friend. A friend is one who “loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17). But what is love? The evangelist John tells us that we must love as Jesus loves: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:12-14). Advent is a time for each of us to deepen God’s love within us. The life of Jesus Christ is the great love of God for each one of us. Therefore, we prepare to celebrate Christmas, not by material gifts and celebration, but by opening the doors of our hearts and minds to the love of Jesus Christ, a love that becomes authentic and happy life.

Next Sunday (2nd December) is also the day of my Consecration as Bishop of Ossory. Many of you will be able to attend. The majority will be unable to attend. However, my hope is that all of you will be present spiritually with me on that day, praying for all the people in the Diocese and praying especially for your new Bishop, that he can serve the needs and challenges of the diocese with a creative fidelity, while at the same time being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). On such occasions, many use the phrase – “a new beginning”. There is a sense in which it is true to say there will be a new beginning. In fact, every moment of our lives is a new beginning. Scripture declares: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Also, St. Paul invites us to “walk in the newness of life”. Every day is a new beginning for all of us. It is a blessing when we have the conviction that “newness of life” is part of every day. That is why we are encouraged to pray every day. This is how the birth of Christ in our minds and hearts will continue to bring us new life. Tomorrow, we will be either more priestly or less priestly, more married or less married, more faithful or less faithful. Therefore, it is so important to seek the newness of life in Christ, every day.

There is also a sense in which next Sunday is not a new beginning. We are not starting from the beginning. The liturgical celebration of next Sunday will take its place in the long history of the Christian faith of this unique Diocese. The arrival of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Diocese of Ossory was heralded by the tinkling of a bell. According to tradition, Saint Kieran left his home near Cape Clear, Co. Cork, and went to Rome to be ordained a priest and a bishop before returning to Ireland. St. Patrick is reported to have given him a bell and Kieran was to build a monastery on the spot where it should first sound. When the saint had passed over the Slieve Blooms, the bell sounded. Here Kieran established his monastery at Seir Kieran, the centre from which Ossory was evangelised. I hope to make a pilgrimage to that holy place next Saturday, 1st December.

From Seir Kieran in County Offaly, the centre of the diocese moved to Aghaboe in County Laois. Saint Canice had been founder and abbot of this great monastery. Historians record that Canice was a great scholar who wrote a commentary on the scriptures. May his wisdom and insight continue to guide us; may his love for the word of God inspire us all to be true and faithful Disciples of Christ the Lord.

Some time in the twelfth century the Bishop of Ossory moved to the growing city of Kilkenny. In the intervening centuries the Church in Ossory experienced great growth as monasteries and churches were to spring up all over the diocese: Kells, Jerpoint, Gowran (to mention but a few) remind us of that. Then came persecution and famine: many parishes have a Mass rock that bears witness to the faith and courage of the people despite the threats they faced. Through times of joy and difficulty, through darkness and light, the people of Ossory have proclaimed their faith in God and have gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. May we, in our time, hold fast to the heritage of faith that we have received as we seek to express this great gift in the changed circumstances of today.

Today, many say that we live in a fragile world. Significant challenges face us as a Church at this time. First of all, there is the challenge to communicate the joy of Christian faith and the power of Christian love of the other, especially, the poor, the suffering and the deprived, in a world that is often more concerned with self love. The abuse of the other, regardless of age or origin, is always a very great sin. The God of love is a God of mercy and compassion. Such love assures all persons that they are welcome in God’s Church, a community where compassion and mercy embrace us all. Faith-development and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life must also be a priority, an urgent priority, as we look to the future of our diocese. In all of these endeavours we are supported by the Holy Spirit who never leaves the Church untended.

Let us listen to the Holy Spirit who “renews the face of the earth” and who guides us with these words: “Now I am revealing new things to you, things hidden and unknown to you, created just now, this very moment, of these things you have heard nothing until now, so that you cannot say, ‘Oh yes, I knew all this’ (Is. 48:6-7). We must be open to the Spirit as Mary was when she proclaimed: “Let what you have said be done to me” (Lk. 1:38). This response and attitude of Mary gave to humanity the spiritual gift of Christmas, new life in Christ.

On Sunday next I will come among you as the successor of St. Kieran to be ordained as Bishop of Ossory following the retirement of Bishop Laurence Forristal. Like Kieran, I left my native Coolagh in the parish of Callan for Rome and now return with a mandate from Pope Benedict XVI to be pastor of Ireland’s oldest diocese. This is a great responsibility which I do not undertake lightly. As I prepare for my ordination I ask your prayers for me and for the diocese. May Saint Kieran, Saint Canice and the many good women and men who have lived the Gospel throughout the ages be our strength and guide. May the bell that first pealed for Kieran continue to ring out loud and clear, assuring us that God continues to walk with the people of Ossory and that his love and forgiveness are to be found in the Church.

In conclusion, and in your name and mine, I wish to express a word of heartfelt thanks to Bishop Forristal for his 26 years of dedicated and fruitful service as Bishop of Ossory. Let our prayer be that his years of retirement will be marked by his ongoing Christian witness, by happiness and good health.

Yours faithfully in the Lord,

Séamus Freeman, SAC
Bishop Elect