The Ordination of Fr Liam O’Donovan was celebrated on Saturday 17 June in the Church of the Assumption, in Slieverue, Co. Kilkenny. Father Liam was ordained for the Pallotines by Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan.
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Homily of Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan for the ordination of Father Liam O’Donovan SAC
‘Priesthood is not a trophy, but a service to the people of God’ – Bishop Cullinan
The giving of self
I was struck by your choice of Gospel for this your ordination. It is a sobering text. Peter getting on in years is told by Jesus that he will from now on not go where he wishes but will be shown the way, little by little, as to where he is to go and how he is to live.
How utterly counter-cultural this is. The modern thinking, the thinking of today and for perhaps three centuries, is that we should follow our own way, reach our own star, to achieve fulfilment and happiness. Instead of following our own will, Jesus says “follow me”. For us moderns so often personal happiness is the goal.
C.S. Lewis novelist (and we can say prophet) writing on happiness says: “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
We see this today – people searching for life without because they don’t have life within.
Pope Francis has given us a wonderful letter about the care of our common home – in Laudato Si. Towards the end of it he quotes from Pope Benedict – we read : “the external deserts in the world are growing, because the inward deserts are vast.” The human person without God ends up chasing around in a kind of desperate search for happiness, needing to be continually amused and distracted because in the heart there is neither peace nor purity.
I think this is so true. So many of our brothers and sisters search desperately for meaning and a reason to live. So many are crying out for something authentic, for truth, for something good and beautiful, but who have been taught to think of this world only, and end up lost in the distractions of pleasure or power or control. They have lost God in their lives, and the habit of prayer and the sacraments, or have grown cold and indifferent. Left to our own devices the human will runs wild, like a river which has burst its banks and spreads out over the flat land to become a swamp, a stagnant lake.
But when things seem to be falling apart maybe they are falling into place through God.
Jesus knows our weakness, and comes to our help. And he has chosen you Liam in this special way to help him heal human hearts.
In Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World we read: The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…… Jesus Christ, fully reveals man to man himself. G.S. 22
And later on it states: The human person, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.
Summed up by the Lord himself in the words recorded in the Gospels.
He who loses his life will save it.
Jesus himself gives the supreme example: “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” ( Jn. 10:11).
“So, we are led straight to the centre, to the summit of the revelation of God as the Shepherd of his people; this centre and summit is Jesus, Jesus himself who dies on the cross and rises from the tomb on the third day, rises with all his humanity and thereby involves us, every man and woman, in his passage from death to life. This event — the Pasch of Christ — in which he completely and definitively fulfills the pastoral work of God, is a sacrificial event. The Good Shepherd and the High Priest therefore coincide in the person of Jesus who laid down his life for us.” (Pope Benedict XVI- homily for priestly ordination)
Similar ideas of GS are in fact found in the writings of Vincenzo Pallotti, the founder of your order.
He believed that if we model ourselves on Jesus, we would always aim to become who we truly are. How do we model ourselves on him? He writes: “To follow our Lord Jesus Christ we need above all his spirit. This means all inner actions of our soul must be similar to those of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may truly follow Him also in his exterior actions.” “Jesus sanctifies, improves and enriches, with His infinite merits, all the words, thoughts and deeds of our life, even those which are mediocre, as long as they are done for God and as long as we are in a state of grace”.
V. Pallotti’s life was a constant effort to live in the mystery of the presence of the God who is infinite. God invites us all into his presence.
The invitation from Jesus himself has been made to you Liam. Seven years ago you decided to answer that call to see if priesthood was his will for you and you went to the seminary and now today you say that total yes, definitively, to his invitation and you will be ordained his priest.
This is not a trophy but a service – a service to the people of God.
Pope Benedict said some years ago in Rome at an ordination ceremony: “The sacrament of orders which you are going to receive today will make you a sharer in the work of Christ.” This is a simple and beautiful way to explain our work – to be sharers in the work of Christ:
to scatter the seed of God’s Word , to preach in his name, to baptize, to dispense his mercy of God especially in the sacrament of confession, and to nourish his people with the Eucharist.
And tomorrow you will celebrate your first full Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi – what a wonderful way to begin your celebrating of the Holy Sacrifice!
Liam, God is counting on you and me and all of us to help him bring salvation to the world. Without God we are lost. We read in the Gospels – “ and as he got out of the boat he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them at some length.”
Liam you are embarking on a wonderful journey of sharing in the priesthood of the eternal priest – Jesus Christ.
Your task, with your brother priests in the Society of Catholic Apostolate – Pallottines and in union with good people of like mind, will be to gather his people back to him, to gather into his flock including those who stray from the sheepfold, and run away. Did he not say to us that he has come to seek out and save the lost sheep. But we are all the lost sheep and we all stray. I stray and I need confession regularly and so I too experience the healing of God’s grace in confession. Otherwise sin builds up inside and the human heart can become so used to sin that it cannot see for the darkness – like a window pane that has become so dirty it cannot let the light in.
God is asking you Liam to speak with courage, with patience and compassion to the world, to society today – to tell your brothers and sister that this world is not all there is, that this life and all is has to offer is not all there is, that we are created by God, that we have a destiny beyond this world, which begins here but which stretches into eternity, that we are here on earth to know love and serve God and to live in a such a way as to live with him forever in heaven.
As priest you will be a sign for all this. A sign that points to God, to the need for God’s grace and salvation. And sometimes not a welcome sign. In that you will be like your father in faith – Vincenzo Pallotti who was no stranger to insult, persecution and difficulties. And as you offer the Holy sacrifice of the Mass you will offer own difficulties and sacrifices and troubles with Jesus himself in the Mass.
That will be your task Liam – to be Christ for others, to be with his brothers and sisters who are also your brothers and sisters.
You will make mistakes, as I do and all of us, for you, like us all, are weak. But His grace lifts up our nature.
We rely not on our own strength but on the strength of God. And God is very strong – with a strength beyond all we can imagine.
I pray that I and all your brother priests will give you good example and that together and with the aid of many people around you, you will do great things for God.
None of this can be done without a commitment to daily prayer.
I know in my own life that any day I do not pray that day’s work is empty. Any day I really pray and rely on the Lord consciously and perseveringly, that day’s work is good and fruitful.
But again this is the work of God not the work of men.
May Christ’s friendship be your strength.
From today you will be his priest. May you learn more and more to give yourself as Christ did. In that way you will grow closer to Christ and to your fellow brothers and sisters.
Vincenzo Pallotti had a real and living devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus and one of his favourite titles for our Blessed Lady was – ‘Mother of Divine Love’. May the Mother of Divine Love guide and protect you to be a good priest of the eternal priest.
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