Celebrating 150 years of St John’s Church, the challenge for our generation:
keeping our faith strong, vocations to the priesthood, the era of lay ministry.
Jesus must have been a person of great courage. (Gospel Luke 18: 9-14) He confronted people of power and position, “people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else”. He contrasted their ‘despising everyone’ with the tax-collector, “the tax-collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, God be merciful to me, a sinner”. In each of us there is a bit of both those who are ‘full of pride’ and of the ‘humble tax-collector’. How can I develop more and more the attitude of the ‘humble tax-collector’ in myself?
Isn’t it something beautiful that this Gospel has been proclaimed worldwide in every Christian community for two thousand years, and in this church since 1869? Generation after generation of the community of believers in God here in Tralee, gathered to offer Mass together have heard this call: to be humbly aware of their own weakness and failing; to be filled with humble goodness; having an attitude of kindness towards all; especially kindness towards those in need, and, those for whom things have gone wrong in their lives . . . .
As past generations have heard it, so let us hear it this night: Do we despise other people? Are we humbly aware of our own sinfulness? Do we think kindly of others? Do we see them as God sees them, – see them as our sisters and brothers?
In celebrating 159 years, I think not of the building but of 150 years of generations in Tralee for whom this church was their home as God’s family since 1869.
Think of life in Ireland, life in Tralee, what those generations have had to cope with:
- In the 1880’s the Land Wars, seeking secure tenancy or ownership of the land
- In the 1900’s the bid for Home Rule, – leading up to World War 1
- 1916 leading to the War of Independence, and the Civil War, … and the first decades of Independence
- World War II and fear and dread for the world’s future, and for family members in the British army
- Recent decades: economic struggles and recessions, the Celtic Tiger and economic collapse (and recovery and the challenges of today )
Each era, for each generation, has brought its challenges and difficulties ( for the first century the massive reality of emigration). Every generation has faced up to and come through challenges and difficulties, placing their hope in God, in Jesus Christ our Saviour present in their lives through the Holy Spirit. All the generations with Christ’s help have sought to see each other as sisters and brothers. They have sought to love and care for each other: for family, for neighbours, for the person in need, – even for the enemy.
What of the challenges facing our generation, – the challenges of the next 25 – 30 years? Past generations have passed on this church and the faith of the people of Tralee in good order. Will we pass it on in good order to the next generation? That is our privilege, and our responsibility, and our great challenge.
40 years ago this parish divided in two, St Brendan’s parish was founded, – to better respond to the challenges facing us as God’s family. People and priests have made it a success.
What great challenge faces our generation? Is it the challenge of keeping the family of God in Tralee strong? For the past 20–30 years, the new reality is that we can no longer presume “the handing on of the faith from generation to generation”. Indeed the opposite: people in large numbers are leaving aside their faith; prayer is no longer part of their lives; God or Sunday Mass is not part of their weekend or Sunday; love of God and love of neighbour, love of the poor and forgiveness of their enemies, no longer guides their lives.
And surely linked to this challenge is the absence of ordinations to the priesthood? As our priests reach retirement there are no replacements. This is reaching a crucial stage. A retirement regularly means another parish without a resident priest. This parish has one less priest since Fr Piotr was appointed as army chaplain in Limerick military barracks just twelve months ago. I believe this is the challenge facing Tralee parish and all our parishes:
- The faith in God of us all (giving God an important place in our lives)
- Adapting to having fewer and fewer priests
And in our midst we have pointers to the way forward and signs of hope.
Fr Sean was ordained in July 2018 and he is one of your priests. We believe and it is always our prayer that others will hear and respond to the call to priesthood. Also in this parish we have a deacon. In Ireland and worldwide deacons are giving great service in the church.
Central to the way forward is surely more and more lay involvement, – lay ministry. You know better than I the wonderful lay involvement in the parish already. With the help of God that will continue to develop. A vital support for this is the appointment of Paddy Daly as parish pastoral worker. Last week’s feature in ‘the Kerryman’ described his task as, “to inspire, organise and train lay people”, “working with children and adults, families and parents”.
- Lay people as the Christian voice and example in society, in matters political, economic and social
- Lay people actively helping fellow adults to a deeper understanding of their faith
- Lay people actively helping teenagers and children to faith in Jesus Christ, – God with us.
- Lay people leading prayer meetings and prayer services in different contexts.
Pope Francis points to all of this when he reminds us all that every baptised person is a ‘missionary disciple’ of Jesus. This October mission month, Pope Francis chose the theme, ’Baptised and sent’. Is not the most basic example of this, parents sharing their faith with their children?
I mention another major sign of the challenge for our generation and our taking up that challenge.
Thank you to Fr Vitalis and Fr Amos for coming among us from Kitale diocese in Kenya. Our church building is 150 years old, the very Christian faith of their people, their parishes, are less than fifty years old. The faith of their people back home grew from seeds sown and tended by Irish missionaries. Fr Vitalis and Fr Amos come among us to witness to their faith and to themselves grow in understanding the challenges of living as followers of Jesus in today’s world.
They and their people have almost none of the wealth and comforts we take for granted. Yet they and their people at home are full of joy and hope in God. Please God their time among us will be a great source of grace for us all. Their presence points to the great missionary task here in our parish and all over Ireland.
A final word! Another great challenge is care for the planet, care for the environment, care for the earth and all its people, care for the earth as our common home. Pope Francis has shown us how this is central to “love of God and love of the world God has created”. In the past three weeks in Rome a Synod on the Amazon region, its environment and its peoples, has taken place. Surely care for the earth and all its peoples is also a key task for our parish in the years ahead!
We begin ‘150 year celebrations’. The challenge before our generation is:
- To keep faith in God strong
- To adjust to life with fewer and fewer priests
- To develop the full involvement of all lay people in parish life
In the years ahead as in the past 150 years, may this church continue to be a warm, welcoming home for all God’s family in St John’s Parish. May we in this generation in this parish be worthy successors to the generations who have gone before us. We thank God for the generations that have gone before us: we ask God’s blessing on our generation as we continue the journey.
Bishop Ray Browne
Homily Notes 26th October 2019
at the Opening Mass of ‘Year celebrating 150 years of St John’s Church, Tralee’