Homily for the Feast of St. Oliver Plunkett, Lourdes, 2022
In the reflection today I’ll just comment on three aspects of what is before us in the Liturgy of the Word and the Feast of the day.
- The call of St. Matthew mentioned in the Gospel.
- The words of Jesus that the Church is primarily a place of welcome for sinners and not just saints.
- Finally the feast of St. Oliver Plunkett.
Call of Matthew…
‘As Jesus passed by He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him “follow me”! And he got up and followed him.’
For a great pictorial representation of this dramatic moment I encourage you to contemplate the masterpiece that is Carravagio’s The Call of Levi (or Matthew).
Carravagio with characteristic play on light and darkness captures the challenge for Matthew with one hand on his money, representing the lures of the world and the other open to respond to the call of Jesus Christ as he beckoned him to follow. Perhaps something that we can all relate to. The challenge to go beyond the immediate concerns of our own to reach out to others and Jesus Christ in going that extra mile.
Jesus calls sinners
The words of Jesus “I did not come to call the righteous but the sick” cut to the core of His message. Pope Francis has often echoed these words as he put it our Church is not so much a museum for saints, but a field hospital for sinners. In sync with the call of Matthew in taking that to mind we are called to smell of the sheep in being open and welcoming to good and bad.
At Mass on Sunday last in a place in Ennis called Cloughleigh I was greeting the congregation after Mass as I normally do. I could see an African man approach as he was wearing his native traditional dress and he stood out with his distinctive style, design and attractive colours. He was terribly upset, because he was from Nigeria and he was beside himself with horror of the recent killings of Christians in his home area a few short weeks ago around Pentecost. The tragedy didn’t get much traction in the news for whatever reason, but the horror of Christians being persecuted for their faith and many other faiths for that matter is still alive and well in the 21st century.
In mentioning martyrdom there is a much talked about the Prophesy of Cardinal George of Chicago, who died in 2015. His interesting comments were as follows:
- I expect to die in bed,
- My successor will die a martyr in the public square,
- His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly rebuild civilization as the Church has done so often in human history!
I most recently came across these words again in a most interesting book called Picking up the Shards, by the retired bishop of Limerick. I’m not going to spoil the plot by telling you how and why Bishop Donal figures the Church will help to rebuild civilization. You’ll have to read it yourself for that!
Persecution and martyrdom for the faith can take subtle forms in the modern world. We can see elements of it in the cultural and ideological wars at play all round us where principled stances on life issues, justice and various aspects of morality dare not speak their voice.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Oliver Plunkett, a great witness to the faith, dying as a martyr on the first of July in 1681 in Tyburn, London, England.
The statistic caught my eye, not just because today is the feast day, but he died the very same age that I am just now! I won’t tell you how many years old that is, but I hear you all say in chorus that is very young!!!
After all … they say … , age is a question of mind over matter, if you don’t mind then it doesn’t matter!
As a very young boy, I just about remember the canonization of St. Oliver Plunkett in the mid-1970’s. I was at the impressionable age when talk of being hung, drawn and quartered left a huge imprint on my mind. This was a man, I thought because of that was a serious player. To put himself in the position of suffering to such a degree – there must have been a major issue at stake. Of course that was the phenomenal faith of our ancestors during penal times. I’m convinced to this day that it was one of things that planted the seed of vocation in my young mind just 7 or 8 years old.
A couple of Summers ago I was in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh for the ordination as Auxiliary bishop of Michael Router and I was deeply impressed with the relatively new, 2019 bronze statue of St. Oliver. It’s certainly not for the fainthearted! Oliver Plunkett is bound, hands behind his back and is ready for the gallows, en-route to a very brutal and horrific martyrs death, having been tried for treason.
There is a prayer to St. Oliver that runs:
Glorious Martyr, Saint Oliver,
who willingly gave your life for your faith,
help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you to the see of Peter.
By your intercession and example may all hatred and bitterness bebanished from the hearts of Irish men and women.
May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts,
as it did in your heart.
Even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland.
Críost linn ar fad an lae seo agus i gconaí!