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Feast of Presentation 2024 World Day for Consecrated Life

Today on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, Bishop Michael celebrated Mass at the Poor Clare Convent, Nuns Island. Present was a large group of religious from the Dioceses of Galway and Clonfert celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life.
“Despite old age and the challenges of the world in which we live – to be a religious is to be a precious instrument of encounter between God and the many waiting and often restless human hearts about us. Today, I thank you for being you – for the life and witness of religious in our two dioceses. I thank you for your ministry over the years and still today.” – Homily of Bishop Michael
Last week, I travelled to Nigeria. To be precise to the Diocese of Jalingo which is in Taraba State in the North East of the country. For years now the Diocese of Clonfert has had a close working relationship with the Diocese of Jalingo. Last year, their Bishop invited me to visit and while I was there to ordain three priests. It was an experience I will never forget. Despite the many considerable difficulties and challenges of the region, the people were most gracious and hospitable. They welcomed us with open hearts and hands. With a population of about 220 million, not only is Nigeria is the most populous country in all of Africa but it also has one of the youngest populations. It is religiously varied with belief spread across Christians of the Reformed Traditions, Catholics and Muslims. In stark contrast to our current experience here in Ireland – there is a palpable and profound sense of the presence of God in the midst of his people. I met so many faith-filled young Catholics. The vast majority of Priests and religious are young. Their liturgies are joy-filled with active participation in the responses, the music and dancing. Mass on Sunday lasted well over two hours – no one left, no one complained. Lay involvement is strong. Much time and effort is dedicated to catechesis and teaching the faith to both young and old.
What struck me most of all was the genuine esteem and affection of the people for the Irish and their thankfulness for the work of generations of Irish missionaries who had planted the seeds of the faith in their midst. Nowadays, there are very few Irish missionaries in Nigeria – however, their presence and their work is definitely not forgotten. In my own mind – I couldn’t help but think of the stories, I heard while I was in Kiltegan. Stories of priests and sisters taking the boat to Africa -in days when there was no internet or mobile phone and roads and cars and planes were in short supply on that great continent. There was a sense of excitement and adventure to be sure but there was also risk and real danger on so many levels. I couldn’t help but think of the challenges of culture and language, food and fever, loneliness and isolation those early missionaries encountered. Not only were faith communities formed, churches were built, schools and centres of education founded, houses of formation were established, hospitals erected and centres set up to care for and help those in need. The vast majority of those Irish missionaries were religious – both male and female. Where I was, it was the Irish Augustinians and the Carmelite sisters that led the way. I could not help but think about that missionary activity of brining the light of the Gospel to the lives of people and holding it up as Good News that can make a difference in their lives. It struck me deeply that such activity takes place through the reality of encounter. Human beings who have encountered God himself encountering other human beings and out of that there comes an individual and personal encounter with God that bubbles up into a life of faithful discipleship.
Each year, the World Day for Consecrated Life gives us all an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the great gift Consecrated Life in all its wonderful and varied charisms is to the Christian Community. I know that here in Ireland, in many communities, the days of large numbers of religious sisters, brothers and priests is long since passed. Many of our religious orders and associations have completed or are completing their mission. Some might tend to conclude that religious life in Ireland is dying or dead. While we miss the variety of activity and the added depth and particular charisms religious and especially women religious bring to our faith community, I do not succumb to the theory that religious life is a thing of the past. As is evident from our history in God’s own time and in God’s own way, new forms of religious life will emerge to meet the demands of our today. New hearts that have encountered the living God will be inspired to more radically live out their baptismal calling in religious life.
At the heart of today’s Feast of the Presentation of Jesus lies the idea of encounter with the Lord. Those two great characters of Anna and Simeon emerge almost from the shadows of the temple to encounter the Lord of light and life. They had waited their whole lives for this moment -a moment so precious that from then on it would define their very existence. Today’s Feast is an invitation for us all to come and see. To spend time with and to encounter the Lord of light and life in our own hearts and lives. It is also a time to recommit ourselves to being instruments of encounter between others and God. For we are all called to mission.
Our mission here in Ireland is different from that of those missionaries of old. For the people they encountered had never heard the Good News. Many of the people we encounter have heard the Gospel but for a variety of reasons it has not taken root in their lives or they have decided it is not for them. Just like those early missionaries to Nigeria our home environment has its particular challenges too. We could easily loose heart, be tempted to sweeten the Gospel with our own particular viewpoints or be intimidated and afraid in an often hostile secular culture. However, that calling to be a religious sister or brother or priest that was there at the beginning still exists today. Despite old age and the challenges of the world in which we live – to be a religious is to be a precious instrument of encounter between God and the many waiting and often restless human hearts about us. Today, I thank you for being you – for the life and witness of religious in our two dioceses. I thank you for your ministry over the years and still today. I most of all thank you for your encounter with people and for the many ways, seen and unseen, that through you they have encountered the transforming light and life of the living God. Amen