Bishop Ray reflects on the meaning of Religious Life and its history in the diocese of Kerry in the past two hundred years
Homily, Chrism Mass, Killarney Cathedral, 31 March 2015:
Last year at my first Chrism Mass here in the diocese I thanked God and I honoured the whole diocese, the whole People of God, throughout the 53 parishes. I was mindful of parishes, schools, organisations, centres, our priests active and retired, our religious, our laity, our teachers, people of great age, parents, all that is our diocese. It is a reality that reaches back through history, through the generations. I thanked God for the faith hope and love of the people, and for the people of prayer that they are.
I would like to speak of the religious: sisters, nuns, brothers priests. Worldwide in the Church it is a Year focused on Religious Life. Religious Life has been so much part of life in the diocese over the past 200 years. Yet, in ten years time, it is likely that all our convents and monasteries will no longer have communities. We may have a small number of religious in a few houses. It is a good time to remember the great contribution religious have made.
I have in mind religious life here in the diocese and also religious from this diocese who have served elsewhere, who have served literally everywhere, – on all Continents, and in great numbers. I wonder in how many nations have religious born in Kerry served in the past century?
The vocation of a Religious, the call to religious life, can it be seen as responding to God’s Word in our First Reading, – words that are quoted by Jesus in our gospel:
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord, to comfort all those who mourn and to give them for despondency, praise.
In recent times so much has reminded me of the great contribution of religious. The Kerryman and Kerry’s Eye have lovely obituaries each week, regularly they are of Religious. It is uplifting to read them, the long lives of dedicated and wholehearted service, literally all over the world as well as here in the diocese. An article in the Tablet Magazine recently concerned religious life in England over the past two centuries. It spoke of Irish female religious: In 1836, the Irish Presentation sisters settled in the vicinity of St Patrick’s Church, the first church built in Manchester following emancipation, to educate more that 20,000 (mostly Irish) Catholics in the area. In 1839, Catherine McAuley’s Sisters of Mercy arrived in Bermondsey to tend the large population of Irish in south London. The Mercys were the most prolific of congregations, spreading throughout England and Wales with more than 100 convents by 1900.
In recent days here in the Cathedral we have had the funeral of Sr. Francis, a Presentation sister. She spent more than forty years in California teaching in a Catholic School and she loved her years there. At a recent Confirmation ceremony the sacristan was a Presentation sister in her mid-nineties, still making a contribution, – witnessing to Christ and serving Him. Our understanding of Religious:
- Every religious is a gift from a parish. Religious do not come out of the thin air. Each comes from a home, a family, a parish, a school. There are a gift from that place, and the fruit of the lived faith of that place.
- The life of every religious is a call to service, to serve the needs of the people. They work with the people of the community to do so. It is never all their own work. To start up a religious community involves local generosity, – to provide a house and the finance to get going. In the past, people have given houses, land and finance. And the service of the religious to the community is possible because so many local people work alongside them.
- Religious are different from, not better than other people. Their dedication is 100% to the community/church needs. Their own brothers and sisters are dedicated to their marriages and families, to earning their living and being there for their neighbours and community. Religious serve the community, others first duty is to home and family. What religious would claim to be more dedicated or sacrificing than their own mother or father was? Certainly I myself would never.
- Thank God for the homes and communities in the diocese from which men and women have gone forth to serve life-long as religious.
It is useful to see the service of religious as falling in to three categories:
- Best known is surely coming to the aid of people and communities in need. Education, health (hospitals, nursing homes, homes and services for people with disabilities), poverty, injustice, prisons, addiction services and people trafficking.
- Proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel: a missionary; in a school or college setting; with adults; the Dominicans are known as the Order of Preachers, the Franciscans through St. Francis are called to ‘go rebuild the Church’.
- A Life wholly dedicated to Prayer: God our Creator, God our Father so loves and has been so good to our world that we will give our lives to showing God that we appreciate Him, we want to thank Him. On behalf of the world we will dedicate ourselves to saying thanks. The vocation of contemplatives, of enclosed Orders, Benedictines, Poor Clares, Carmelites etc.
Today we remember, appreciate, and honour all religious from our diocese; all the Congregations with houses in our diocese; all the works religious are involved in; all the nations where our religious have served. We realise, religious life in Ireland as we know it is coming to an end. So much of the services they provided, the state now provides thank God. Religious life will re-emerge in new forms, responding to needs some new, some very modern. We can be 100% sure that needs will be there, material and spiritual. Pray that Christian communities will always recognise the needs of our world and respond wholeheartedly. Pray that Word of God in our First Reading will always be heard and will always bear fruit:
The Spirt of the Lord has been given to me, He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord, to comfort all those who mourn and to give them… for despondency, praise.
Bishop Ray Browne.