Mgr. Sean Cahill’s Golden Jubilee Mass,
St. Michael’s Church, Enniskillen
23 June 2011
My brother priests and dear friends,
For many years now we have been talking about a shortage of priests. Some commentators would contend that other secular vocations have also been struggling – nursing, medicine, social work and youth work are cited as examples. A consumerist culture places its emphasis primarily on attending the right school, making the right connections in order to get the right job, the big money and prestige.
A vocational culture, on the other hand, is one in which people have a sense of being called to make life better, a sense of possessing a gift to offer, a sense of a mission to be accepted and completed, a sense that we are called to live a worthwhile life and do things that count on the human level, whether or not it brings money and fame. If they are religious, people have a sense of God calling them regardless of the difficulty, danger, or lack of worldly rewards.
This sense of vocation is at the opposite pole of much of society’s measure of success which is calculated mainly in terms of image, prestige, letters after one’s name, what we can afford to buy and own or, if we’re really successful, having celebrity status. What does it say about the values of our society if we compare what we pay many of our golfers, our footballers, our film actors, our higher executives with what we pay our carers, our nursing assistants, our cleaners and our classroom assistants?
Yet lots of outwardly successful people are dissatisfied. Many find themselves within reach of the so-called top and ask “Is that all there is?” Many experience a deeper longing and look for something more satisfying to fill the void. There is an organisation in America called Teach America which visits centres of training and learning trying to recruit the nation’s best college and university students to go to work in some of the country’s most difficult teaching situations.
Not many years ago one of their recruiters looked out on the assembled students and said : “I really don’t know why I am here to-night. I can tell just by looking at you that you are probably not interested in what I have to say. This is one of the best Universities in America. You are all successful. That is why you are here, to become an even greater success on Madison Avenue or Wall Street or in Law School. Here I am trying to recruit some people for the most difficult job you will ever have in your life. I’m looking for someone to go into a burned-out classroom in Watts and teach biology. I’m looking for someone to go into a little one-room schoolhouse in West Virginia and teach kids from six to thirteen years old how to read. We had three teachers beaten up last week in their classroom. I can tell just by looking at you that none of you wants to throw away your lives on anything like that. On the other hand, if by chance there is somebody here who might be interested, I will be glad to speak to them. Thank you for listening.”
Many people instinctively look to something larger than themselves. They are hungry to give their lives to something more important than their egos and to pay the price in making sacrifices. Isaiah put it, “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken;” St. Paul says, “Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for mankind in their relations with God – and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness – No one takes this honour on himself but each one is called by God, – ”
In Matthew’s words, “The eleven disciples set out for Galilee – Jesus spoke to them. He said” Go, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always, yes, to the end of time.”
Jesus walked this earth to show us what God was like and to help us to understand qualities like truth, mercy, freedom, forgiveness and love. He brought together a very disparate group of people to continue his work on this earth. We now call this community the Church; and from that community individuals are called to minister as priests to God’s family. Those who are called take on a responsibility of service to those entrusted to their care.
They are given and accept a ministry of God’s presence in the world. It is the responsibility of the priest to help open up the presence of God to people. This is not something neat and packaged. This is not having ready answers or neat solutions to the messiness of life. It is more about mystery. It entails ultimately standing humbly before our God in wonder and awe, trying to grasp some understanding of Him through our own experience and our own living, through what God Himself has spoken to us in the Scriptures and through what God is saying to us in our own lives. Its about trying to discover the kind of life that God calls each one of us to live, it’s about opening up delicately and respectfully a window into God’s world.
This evening we are gathered together, priests and people along with Mgr. Cahill, to celebrate and give thanks for fifty most productive years of priesthood. Words are important but no human word reaches the depths to which real witness goes. Mgr. Cahill has already left behind to the diocese, and particularly to St. Macartan’s College and the parish of Enniskillen, a legacy which needs no fanfare and which is inscribed in the hearts, minds, and memories of grateful pupils and parishioners.
In his work in the diocese, and in the manner of his work, he has generously and untiringly brought God’s grace to our people and our people to God’s grace. He has been equally at home with word, with brick and with sacrament. He has earned the respect of his brother priests and the gratitude and affection of all he has served
It is an appropriate turn of life’s circle that over the last four years, in his retirement, he has devoted a generous measure of his time and boundless energy to the promotion of vocations. There could be no more fitting tribute to his life’s work that to find some of those he has served so well following his example and taking up the challenge of ministry. His prayer card says :
“Lord Jesus Christ, while you walked the roads of Palestine, you chose and called apostles and confided to them the task of preaching the Gospel, of feeding your flock and ministering your Sacraments.
Grant that in our day your Church may not be deprived of holy priests who will share with everyone the fruits of your Passion and Resurrection.”
At his own request, I have resisted the urge to itemise and trumpet his marvellous deeds and achievements. With characteristic modesty his prayer card says ‘Not to us, Lord; but to your Name give the glory.’ I offer him our gratitude, our congratulations and our best wishes for the future and I know you would all like the freedom to express your feelings in the usual way.