Your life now changes...

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H/T to Soto Voce over at Clerical Whispers for posting the homily preached by Bishop Denis Brennan, Bishop of Ferns, at the ordination of Rev Tomás Kehoe to the presbyterate on June 29, 2008. This is a fine reflection on the ministry of priests and, with no design on my part, a good complement to the post just below on Arrupe's prayer. The "somebody" quoted in the first line of the bishop's homily is Mary Lou Retton.


Homily for the Ordination of Tomás Kehoe

Somebody has written “each of us has a fire in his or her heart for something, find it and keep it lit.’’

It can take time to find what the fire in our heart is for, what it is we want to do, what it is we want to be.

Every vocation involves choosing, and when we choose one way we exclude others, that’s the price of our decision.

The late Karl Rahner makes the point very well ‘’everything beautiful and noble, everything that is or would be possible in itself cannot be crammed into one life simultaneously.

We cannot try all the alternatives, we cannot explore each and then start over in order to live the “right one.’’ We can never be sure that the choice we make is the right one: no decision is perfect.

It is simply a fact that at a certain time in one’s life a decision must be made, then life changes from moving towards that decision to living it out.

Over the years Tomás, you have sought to discover what the fire in your heart is for, what it is you want to do with the gift of your life.

You have come to the realization that, for you, the fire in your heart is for priesthood.

You will not have reached that decision alone, many people will have contributed to this moment in your life, your parents Tommy and Breda, your sisters Mary, Nicola and Emer, your friends and neighbors in Bree, Fr Aidan and other priests whose love and witness made you want you to be like them.

All these people are part of today, and will be part of your priesthood from this day on.

In the words of Karl Rahner “your life now changes from moving towards this decision to living it out” having found what the fire in your heart is for, the challenge now is to keep it lit, in the words of Paul “to fan it into a flame”.

Over the past few weeks a number of priests have celebrated Jubilees around the diocese, Silver, Ruby and Golden. I always come away from these celebrations with a strong sense of how much people appreciate priesthood.

A comment from a women in one parish “we always had a strong sense of community here but Fr __ has put the heart into it.”

Another comment from a young man about his priest “he’s doing a great job here, he’s touching hearts and minds.”

This is what priesthood is all about, building community and touching hearts and minds. That’s why what we do here today will touch many people, it will touch people not yet born. I admire people who answer the call to priesthood today because it is not an easy or popular thing to do!

Many of the old, familiar signposts have gone and this troubles us, we forget that we are a pilgrim people and that there are no signposts in the desert.

This is the lesson of the desert, to have a sense of being led by God, as Moses said in Deut. 1.31, a sense of “being carried by God". To journey with God involves adventure, to be led by God involves surprise.

Look at the call of Peter in Luke Ch.5. Jesus is near the lake and sees two boats. The fishermen have already left them and are washing their nets.

Jesus gets into one - it was Peter’s. He asked him to push out a little from the shore and sitting down he begins to preach and teach. Peter probably felt proud that it was his boat, which had been chosen, but there is a surprise in store for him.

When the sermon is over Peter expects to go ashore amid the congratulations of the crowd but Jesus tells him to push out to sea and let down the nets. From Peter’s reply we can guess that doubts had arisen in his mind about the wisdom of the Master’s words, the hour is late; they have fished all night and caught nothing.

It’s a difficult moment for Peter, if he says he has already tried, its no use, its time to go home, then he will be refusing Jesus’ request, if on the other hand he decides to take a chance, to risk the ridicule of his peers, he will become an evangelist who has passed the test of faith. ‘’At your word I will let down the nets‘’. These words are profoundly important. They show Peter moving from the security of his own calculations to a willingness to be led by God. It was if you like an Exodus moment, a choice between the safety of Egypt and the danger and freedom of the desert.

In priesthood, as in other Christian vocations, we will often be called out of our comfort zones, called to allow ourselves to be carried by God, called beyond our own calculations.

We must have the courage to go where our vocation brings us: in the words of Helder Camara’s prayer, to “accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams and give a completely new turn to your day, and who knows to your life, it is not chance, leave the Father free himself to weave the pattern of your days.”

The Indian poet Tagore describes the alternative “I spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung”.

At Ordination we are commissioned to sing a song, the song of songs, the song of God’s love, this is what ministry is ultimately all about.

Tomás, this is what you are promising to do today, do it with enthusiasm. In the first sermon he preached Martin Luther King said “when you discover what it is you want to do in life, do it with all your strength".

At a priest’s Jubilee last week the priest celebrating thanked God for the songs he had been able to sing over the years of priesthood and the promises that he had been able to keep.

Then in the spirit of Jubilee when debts are canceled he asked forgiveness for the songs he had not been able to sing and the promises he had not been able to keep.

Priesthood involves risk; it’s not a hurler on the ditch kind of job, if you want to do it you have to put yourself out there in all sorts of ways. Like the other Christian vocations there are no guarantees, it’s an adventure in faith.

The poet captures it well:

Life is an adventure,

A mystery,

A journey,

A pilgrimage,

A tapestry woven slowly day by day

A battle to be fought,

A gift to be enjoyed,

A path to be chosen,

You have chosen your path,

Now, celebrate the mystery!

Make the journey!

Enjoy the pilgrimage!

Weave the tapestry day by day!

Don’t be intimidated by the difficulties you may meet!

Enjoy the gift!

And never forget, not only have you chosen, you have been chosen too!

Thanks be to God.

-Bishop Denis Brennan


  1. Concord Pastor,

    You use the words presbyterate in the introduction above and describe yourself as a presbyter. Why this usage in a Catholic context instead of "priesthood" and "priest"?

    BTW, I do know presbyter roughly means elder, and in that sense it's come down to us today as Alderman (shades of Chicago) as well as being adapted by Presbyterians (shades of Scotland).

  2. The word used in the New Testament to refer to the order and ministry I hold in the church is presbyteros. This Greek word is translated as presbyter although it is often also translated as priest. The word for priest in the New Testament (ierus) is used only to refer to Christ the High Priest of the new Covenant.

    The words priest and priesthood are commonly used to describe the presbyter and his ministry. Indeed, when asked by someone what I do for work, I always reply that I am a Catholic priest. On reflection, however, I realize that I seldom refer to my ministry as priesthood but rather as ministry.

    So, it seems that I generally use priest in conversation and presbyter in print. Both, I believe, enjoy history and favor in Catholic usage.

  3. I really enjoyed this entry and totally agree with this concept that " each of us has a fire in his or her heart for something, find it and keep it lit.’’

    This is most important in whatever you choose to do in your life. We are called.

  4. Hi all,

    The Prayer of Ordination brings all these ideas together beautifully!

    The candidate kneels before the bishop. With his hands extended over the candidate, the bishop sings the prayer of consecration or says it aloud.

    "Come to our help, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God; you are the source of every honor and dignity, of all progress and stability. You watch over the growing family of man by your gift of wisdom and your pattern of order. When you had appointed high priests to rule your people, you chose other men next to them in rank and dignity to be with them and to help them in their task; and so there grew up the ranks of priests and the offices of levites, established by sacred rites.

    "In the desert you extended the spirit of Moses to seventy wise men who helped him to rule the great company of his people. You shared among the sons of Aaron the fullness of their father's power, to provide worthy priests in sufficient number for the increasing rites of sacrifice and worship. With the same loving care you gave companions to your Son's apostles to help in teaching the faith: they preached the gospel to the whole world.

    "Lord, grant also to us such fellow workers, for we are weak and our need is greater.

    "Almighty Father, grant to this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within him the Spirit of holiness. As a co-worker with the order of bishops may he be faithful to the ministry that he receives from you, Lord God, and be to others a model of right conduct. May he be faithful in working with the order of bishops, so that the words of the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth, and the family of nations, made one in Christ, may become God's one, holy people.

    We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. R. Amen.

  5. Thought Bishop Brennan's homily was really an uplifting insight into the meaning of becoming a priest.


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