On Sunday last, 5th September, Bishop Ger Nash was ordained to the episcopacy at St Aidan's Cathedral, Enniscorthy and installed as the 81st bishop of Ferns. Below is the full ceremony on YouTube and the homily given during the Mass.
Dear friends. In the 6th century, about 100 years after Christianity first came to Ireland, a young man arrived here in Enniscorthy from Scattery Island at the mouth of the River Shannon in Co. Clare. There he founded a monastery and when he arrived in Wexford, he founded another settlement that became known as ‘Teampeall Senáin or ‘the Church of Senan’ from which comes the name ‘Templeshannon’ that we have today. St Senan was a contemporary of St Aidan and they knew each other well.
Almost fifteen centuries later, another Clare man has arrived here, not on his own initiative, but in response to a call to come and serve as our bishop - to follow in the footsteps of St Senan and become the successor of St Aidan. It is difficult to contrast the world that must have awaited Senan as he arrived here in the 6th century to the ecclesial and social landscape today. In the words of the Gospel, Senan arrived here without purse, bread or haversack and many of the things that would have made his mission easier, from a worldly perspective. But while he lacked material things, he possessed a strong faith in the power of the Gospel that had changed lives everywhere since it first erupted in Jerusalem a few centuries earlier and spread west here to Ireland.
In our liturgy this afternoon, the Gospel chosen is the wonderful episode from Luke’s Gospel of the risen Lord’s encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is an Easter Gospel, full of new hope, new beginnings and themes that are very appropriate for the occasion we celebrate today.
The first thing we notice is that Jesus walks with his disciples. Perhaps more than any other Gospel text, this one confirms our call to be a synodal Church on the move in which we walk together with the Lord and with each other. And on that journey, we grow in friendship and faith. Into this synodal Church, Ger begins his episcopal ministry as the servant of unity in a Church on the move. He now walks with us as successor of the Apostles, as our leader and chief shepherd.
The word “bishop” comes from the Greek word episkopos which means ‘overseer’. Mgr. Ger, you will fulfil your episcopal ministry as overseer, not from on high, but with your feet firmly on the ground. Nor will you lead us by standing still in the middle of a static community. Being an overseer in a synodal Church will mean that sometimes you will lead from the front of us – teaching and explaining the Word of God, breaking new ground, seeing new possibilities for mission, training people to be catechists, preparing for new forms of leadership, co-responsibility and pastoral care. Yet at other times, being an overseer in a synodal Church will require that you go to the back of the community, wait for those who walk slower, walk with the wounded and accompany those in most need of God’s mercy. It will also require that you follow the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel and walk with those who are going in the wrong direction, away from Jerusalem – those who have had their hopes shattered and who have given up on Christianity and the Church.
On the Hill of Tara, we are told that St Patrick lit the Easter fire - a symbol of the Christian faith. A prophecy was made at that time that this fire would never be extinguished. In recent decades, the fire has certainly dimmed and may be full of embers. But it still burns. Today we pray as a Church that these flames of faith may burn strongly once more, ignited by a New Pentecost that will lead to a renewed Church of conviction and not just convention. As Jesus broke open the Scriptures to the disciples, their hearts began to burn and be moved. There was a new vision and energy in what Jesus shared that moved them out of their sadness and renewed their hopes. After this, they returned to Jerusalem, were present for Pentecost and went out on mission. The dream was still alive.
In our day too, attentive listening to the story Christ, combined with constant prayer and intense faith will cause the Holy Spirit to ignite hearts and imaginations, drawing them to the friendship and knowledge of God and his love. Falling in love again with the Lord and his kingdom will determine everything and animate all that the Church teaches and stands for – all that the human heart is drawn to and loves. Only the all-consuming fire of the Spirit can save us from sadness, diminish our disappointments and alleviate our apathy. Only the all-consuming fire of the Spirit can create a new heart within us and generate a new vision for the future, like Jesus did in today’s Gospel in the hearts of the disciples.
Mgr. Ger, as our bishop, Apostle and chief teacher of the faith, your mission is to tell the story of Christ from a heart that burns with love and in a way that assures us that you believe that story yourself. You will do this with words that light a fire, words that touch the soul, that speak to the heart, that lead people to worship and to participate in the Eucharist – not because they have to, but because they want to. In the Gospel story, the disciples had the basic information about Jesus, but they lacked a more profound perception of the mystery of Christ. For many of us today, we also know the basic features of the Christian story, but we don’t always get the meaning it contains. Being like Christ in this story will require that you accompany the people of God and listen to their concerns. But it will also require that you open up the meaning of human existence that comes from the Gospel, teach the faith and light the fire of new hope. This is our challenge as Church – to hear the Gospel with fresh ears and hearts, allowing it impact fully on us and transform us.
You have chosen as your episcopal motto I sith agus muintearas Iosa…In the peace and companionship of Jesus. This will define your ministry as our bishop – walking with us and patiently drawing us deeper into the peace and friendship of Jesus Christ so that we become more like him - to become other Christs and partakers in his nature. This will be our strength as we go forward – possessing the gift of his friendship that we want to share with others. This is also our conviction - that the Church has something unique to offer our culture and society that is badly needed today. Here is the source of our confidence – not in ourselves, but in the message we proclaim. In the words of Pope Francis:
‘We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach’ (The Joy of the Gospel, 265).
This was the conviction of the early disciples after Pentecost. They were no longer sad or afraid, but proclaimed the Gospel on its own terms, despite the consequences.
This is the Spirit of mission and evangelisation we pray will animate our diocese in the future - that we become a Church that goes forth, that accompanies people and yet is courageous and confident. Along the coast of our diocese, from Arthurstown, to Kilmore, to Wexford to the south of Arklow, are fishing ships that are moored in harbours. They were not designed to be moored, but to fish out on the open sea. Being a missionary Church means taking risks, of “putting out into the deep” and not being afraid to proclaim the Gospel on its own terms, despite the consequences. This will necessarily mean times of suffering and trial. But this is what being a prophetic Church will demand – knowing that our deepest vocation is to a community of hope that does not fit in but rather is called to stand out.
Mgr. Ger, we do not know how the journey that you begin today will all work out, for we walk by faith and not by sight. The challenges are many, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 being one of them. But I’m sure St Senan did not know how it would all go either when he first came here. Yet, he trusted in God and because he did, his ministry was fruitful. In that same spirit of trust, we believe that the Holy Spirit that you receive today will guide you and empower you as you go forward to meet with the people of our diocese, listen to young and old, accompany us, visit our parish communities and pastoral areas. By the integrity of your own life, your love and care for people, your love for Christ and love for his Church, God will shape the future with you and ahead of you.
As you go forward, keep before you the themes revealed in this beautiful Gospel – themes that you carry into your episcopal ministry as you build on and encourage all the terrific work being done in our diocese. We are certain that you will carry that work forward and build up the Church here among us.
As I speak now, about five meters behind me lie the mortal remains of one of your predecessors, Bishop Thomas Furlong. He was a skilful innovator and leader who presided over the founding of many institutions and the building of many of the Churches in our diocese at the end of the 19th century.
Your call will not be to preside over the building of physical churches, but to build living churches of people with living faith. These might be smaller but will be creative, convinced and committed. We pray for you today that you will lead us to be a Church of Spirit-filled evangelisers where the gifts of all the baptised are mobilised for the mission and are encouraged to use their gifts as St Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to do in the second reading today.
I began this homily with a reference to the saints and I conclude it in the same way. Mgr. Ger, you have said ‘YES’ to God’s will by coming to us here in Ferns as our bishop. Like Mary our mother, you did so without knowing fully the consequences of your consent. Like her, you have placed your trust in God’s goodness and providence. I am sure that after the emotional high of today subsides and as your family leave you here among strangers and return to their homes, you might wonder to yourself what has happened to me and what have I put myself in for? This is what Mary must have wondered too when St Luke tells us starkly that after the blaze of light that accompanied Gabriel’s visit, “the angel left her”.
For Mary, the light and clarity of the Annunciation must have seemed a long way off as she stood on Calvary. Yet despite the worst that could have happened, she believed that the promises made to her by the Lord would still be fulfilled (cf. Luke 1:45). Mgr. Ger, the road ahead of you will not always be easy. You will miss your home, your family and your native diocese. But we pray for you that you will know the Lord’s tenderness and closeness at those times of challenge.
As you now become our bishop who walks with us to the Father’s house, may your heart burn within you with joy and peace. And may you always be sustained by our prayers, friendship and support. As you begin this journey, may the Lord be the source of your strength, for as the First Reading today tells us: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”.
May St Aidan and St Senan, St Patrick and St Brigid, St Ibar and St Munn, the Wexford Martyrs, St Teresa of Calcutta (whose feast day falls today) and all the saints accompany you towards a future that belongs to God. On this blessed day for you and our diocese, we join in praising God as we welcome you in our midst as our brother, father and friend. Amen.
Fr Billy Swan