Bishop Martin Hayes’ Homily at Fr. Thomas Small’s Ordination in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Belturbet, Co. Cavan, on Sunday 27 September 2020
God calls; there is ‘a still small voice’ that calls each one of us – a calling that is there before we are born. God calls each one of us…”Before, I formed you in the womb…” as we hear from Jeremiah in our chosen first reading. “before you came to birth I consecrated you;… “. That ‘still small voice’ can only be heard where there is love, caring, nurturing and respect for life – all of which reflect God’s love. This ‘still small voice’ is the call to each one; be it to marriage, family life, the single life, or religious life and priesthood. Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, referring to the specific calling of priesthood, affirms that “each one is called by God”. The calling to priesthood has its foundation in love. We hear how Jesus, in our Gospel today, before he called Peter, to ‘Feed my sheep’, wanted to be sure that he loved him; that the bond between them was based upon love.
Jesus deliberately chose to ask Peter three times; “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” Jesus is highlighting that before he could call Peter to ministry, their relationship had to be on a solid basis of love. Thomas, in being ordained to priesthood today, you are called to ministry on the foundation of your personal loving relationship with Jesus. You learned to relate in loving ways at home with your parents, Barney and Bridie Small.
All relationships have their beginnings in the home. We remember and give thanks for Barney and Bridie who are with you in spirit today. You and your extended family have been recalling memories of their lives, the example of their faith and how their love for each other has influenced your decision to make this life commitment to priesthood. Thomas, their nurturing and faith have provided the basis for your vocation to priesthood. We remember them and your deceased extended family members, parishioners of Annagh, neighbours in Marian Park here in Belturbet as well as Milltown and friends; each of whom has had a role in your life story and Christian formation. It is among a caring family and community that the reality of God’s love for us is revealed to us.
Recent research into the caring of priests, religious and those in pastoral ministry has shown that a life-giving ministry requires that we stay true to our original call, remain in touch with the memories; the vital sources of personal growth found in a loving caring home environment. It is in solid family and local community life; its nurturing, its joys and coping with sorrows, its fragility, where that ‘still small voice’ of God, the God who journeys with us, is heard. ‘We are chosen from among God’s people’ as is indicted in the first line of our second reading from Hebrews. Once we stay in touch with our original calling, we have a lifeline to God. “I am with you to protect you – it is the Lord who speaks” (first reading from the prophet Jeremiah) is the voice which can enable us to address the tendency to get engrossed solely in the tasks at hand. The administrative responsibilities – ‘being a busy priest/bishop’ may conflict with the value of just ‘being present to others in Christ’. We need to develop a balance, between our pastoral work and the care of ourselves, while remaining rooted in a deep spiritual life.
The challenge of public priestly ministry today is to teach based on the Word of God. Thomas, you are appointed to act for God’s people in relation to God – in union with the bishop as successor of the apostles and with your fellow priests. Yes, you are to become a bridge to people, so as to be of service, to reconcile and to seek out the lost – and there are those who are lost today, struggling, particularly, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Yours is a calling, a privilege, a responsibility that may cause many to be fearful, however the Good Lord promises “I am with you to protect you”. We are back to the relationship with the Lord; the reminder to remain in contact with the Lord. “I am putting my Word into your mouth” says the Lord (first reading from the prophet Jeremiah). Our ministry is only possible with prayer, prayer with the Word of God and by imitating Jesus, who sought that assurance from Peter three times, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”
As a Christian community, as Church, we celebrate Jesus Christ as one of us; one who came among us in response to the Father’s love and because of God, the Father’s love for us. Jesus Christ took on our human condition, lived among us, suffered for us, died, and rose again. Thomas, you are called to imitate that mystery in your life; the mystery we and you will celebrate in the Eucharist.
Over the past six months or so, we are experiencing turmoil due to the ongoing presence of coronavirus. It has brought uncertainty, worry and frustration, resulted in physical sickness, mental anguish, the tragic death of loved ones, bereavement and it is still ongoing.
Jesus Christ is with us in our uncertainty, our suffering and pain; He has shared in our human frailty – He has been there Himself. In bonding with us, Jesus has revealed to us a spark of divinity, that ‘still small voice’ which holds us, enfolds us, and can carry us through to new life. We have a solid basis in Jesus Christ with which to offer hope to all who are feeling frustrated, anxious, and fearful today.
This is our calling Thomas, and your calling now. In remaining close to Jesus Christ, drawing upon your upbringing in Marian Park with your parents Bridie and Barney, surrounded by the parish community of Annagh here in Belturbet, and in Milltown, the formation community in Maynooth, you are now ready to offer hope, support, and encouragement to people. On the basis of your spiritual life, your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you can be an instrument of that hope, a refuge, the bridge to carry people through. Remember you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God.
Finally, each one of us is called; to marriage, family life, the single life, or religious life and priesthood – we all feel inadequate, unworthy – that is a good insight, as we then know our need for God’s help. It is not about us, it is not about me, it is all about God and the vital importance of our personal relationship with Jesus.
If we can all be alert to ‘the still small voice’ calling us now, then perhaps others will discover that further calling to pastoral ministry as a religious or as Thomas has, to priesthood. We rejoice with you, Thomas. We celebrate with your extended family, your parish community, your friends, and as the people, priests and deacons of our diocese. Congratulations, we pray every blessing on your future priestly ministry in the diocese of Kilmore.
 initiated in 2015 by the Irish Episcopal Conference and reported on by the Integrity in Ministry Working Group in 2019.
 Roman Pontifical, International Commission on English in the Liturgy, 1978, p 209