HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY 2020 – 26th of February – Tulla – Matt Talbot Novena
Last year, with it being my third year in row to be with you to launch your annual Novena, I was delighted with my hat-trick of events. This year with it being 4 in a row, I feel like the Dublin football team, that I should keep going and retain that winning habit!
Celebration of St. Mochulla
I know this is a special year here in the venerable and ancient parish of Tulla with the 1,400 anniversary of St. Mochulla and I wish you well in your preparations for that.
The first year I was here, it being the centenary of Fatima I had an opportunity to speak about devotion to Our Lady.
Two years ago, because Ash Wednesday clashed with St. Valentine’s day, I spoke on the theme of God’s love for us.
Last year, with Ash Wednesday being in early March and with no specific instruction from Sr. Bosco, I had a carte blanche to speak about the meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent in general.
This year word came from the Vicar of Ceantar na Lochanna that I was to say a word on Temperance and also a word in recognition of the ideal of the Pioneers who take on and promote the virtue of temperance, which is such a rich theme at the heart of this season of Lent.
Virtue of Temperance…
On Sunday last, Temperance Sunday we got into the mode or mood for the spirit of Temperance. My reflection on the themes of a given Sunday often start with Sr. Eileen’s Cúinne in the Ennis Parish Newsletter with her blingual summary of the themes of the day and this weekend was no exception with her reflection on Domhnach na Measarthachta.
Temperance, as we know is a virtue. A virtue is a skill, an exercise, a drill, a positive habit that forms a good within us that helps us to thrive and flourish. Take the example the Tulla Secondary school hurlers when they did so well in preparation for getting to the semi-final of the Harty cup this year. They had a whole series of skills or drills that helped their game improve. Or consider also the wonderful Tulla musicians who played brilliantly for the Christmas Mass for Clare FM this year – they had a whole series of warm up tuning exercises analagous to virtues of which temperance is one, which contributes to making things harmonious and sound well and enjoyable for all.
I feel that, if we were being really honest, we would have to admit that there are few of us here tonight who are untouched by the problems of excessive drinking, or drug taking or some form of intemperate or addictive behaviour either among our families, neighbours or friends. If there is one common feature to this experience is the feeling of helplessness. This experience of helplessness has brought countless people to turn to the Lord in a spiritual movement like the Pioneers or AA or Al-anon in order to help those who cannot help themselves. There are times when we feel submerged in the problems of life, our society and the world around us. Some lose hope, faced with the enormity of these difficulties.
In truth, many of the glaring ills of modern society have their roots in the abuse of alcohol and other substances. The origin of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association highlights the fact that we acknowledge the need for a power greater than ourselves; we acknowledge the need for God’s help in facing these situations. The Pioneer movement is one which has its origin and its guidance in God’s love for us exemplified in the Sacred Heart. For us total abstinence is not a case of being anti-drink or kill joys as such. Rather it arises out of a deep compassion for those who are caught on the treadmill of intemperance and the way we help them is primarily by prayer, sacrifice and example.
The message of the Pioneer or a devotee of Matt Talbot to the world today is not the abolition of drink or other attractive substances but moderation in its use. Total abstinence is a means for some only. Temperance, however ought to be the goal for all. Pioneers try to make Ireland more conducive to Temperance and so counter a sub-culture of binging, over-indulgence in the use of alcohol, drugs and other lures or pleasures of the world.
We live in a world that is consumerist, affluent, self-indulgent and less appreciative of spiritual and religious values. The value of voluntary asceticism has been replaced by a more Hedonistic image of the “good life”. The commercialisation of leisure has been exploited by the alcohol industry. This makes the Temperance movement appear as a counter-cultural movement. Pioneers are primarily defined, not by what they are against, but what they are for; and primarily they are for God and for his greater glory. We see this reflected in the prayer, the Heroic Offering which runs:
For thy greater glory and consolation, O Sacred Heart of Jesus,
For Thy sake,
To give good example,
To practise self denial,
To make reparation to Thee for the sins of intemperance,
And for the conversion of excessive drinkers,
I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drink.
Analysis of the root causes
The disproportionate alcohol consumption in our society is not about enjoyment, but about something dark and troublesome. We are very familiar with the results of the abuse of alcohol, tragic road accidents, domestic violence, chaos in Accident and Emergency Departments. We can ask ourselves what are the causes of this over indulgence? For a culture to be drinking excessively is indicative of unresolved pain and hurt. Is drink then being used as an escape, a mask?
Surveys indicate that alcohol consumption in Ireland has increased significantly in recent years. Of course, an increased prosperity means people have more spending power to splash on alcohol, yet poorer people tend to spend much higher proportions of their incomes on drink. There is strange misconception that increasing consumption of alcohol is equated with greater enjoyment. The abuse of alcohol may be an indicator of a spiritual malaise as people recognise a lacuna for an emptiness in their lives and endeavour either to ignore this or address it with alcohol. Many of the situations which alcohol attempts to address have deep spiritual roots. This is frequently over-looked. I believe that in this context that the Pioneer Association and Novenas like this Matt Talbot Novena these days has a very significant contribution to make today.
The founding ideal of the Pioneer Organisation was to form a group of committed people, strong in their devotion to the Sacred Heart, enthusiastic and ready to work hard, to lessen the widespread uses of alcohol through their love of the heart of Jesus. That founding ideal looked for the qualities of enthusiasm, determination and perseverance from pioneers.
An evening like this provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the good that the Pioneer Movement and Temperance focus does; it brings hope to many, it prevents darkness and misery in so many cases, it does much for the quality of married life, it trains young people to develop strength of character, helps people to have sound priorities in spending power and encourages the members to give their time and energies to helping others.
Finally, it assists us to have strong devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The example of Pioneers and Temperance movement can still have a powerful influence on our society.
So let us keep on trying, working, and persevering as we embark on this Lenten Journey, this Ash Wednesday. Let us thank the Sacred Heart for all the blessings and benefits that have come to us personally through the Pioneer Movement. Let us continue to pray to Him and place our trust in him. I would like to congratulate the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association here in Tulla and to say well done to the officers of the Association in their perseverance and good work. And wishing you all a happy and holy Lenten season. Amen!