To Plough A New Furrow – Christmas 2004

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Last February, when I arrived in New Mexico on sabbatical, I rang Msgr. Paddy Higgins in Corpus Christi. Straight away words came loud and clear from him. “l want to invite you to my Golden Jubilee and we will all gather on Low Sunday after Easter. I want no excuse, you must be there!”

I needed no persuasion and immediately booked my ticket. It was an occasion that I was looking forward to for many reasons. I had been to Corpus Christi during the Summer of 1967 and ’68 doing supply for priests to allow them get home on holiday. It would be an opportunity to see all the changes that had happened over the years and to renew links with old friends and the special memories I had of the welcome and hospitality of Fr. Paddy and his colleagues.

However, my visit to Corpus Christi was for a different kind of celebration. I was there for his Funeral Mass on the Thursday of Easter Week.

Since Good Friday and all that Thursday afternoon, people were gathering, not merely from the seven parishes where he worked but from the diocese and all over Texas to pray at his coffin. People representing all the diocesan organisations kept vigil in a Guard of Honour and ninety three priests gathered to celebrate his funeral Mass with Bishop Edmond Carmody in a crowded Cathedral.

It was a wonderful tribute to the man from Castle Lambert who was ordained to the priesthood on June 6th, 1954 in St. Peter’s College in Wexford and gave fifty years of service to God and to the people of South Texas. I felt a deep sadness at the death of an old friend.

But also, there was a sense of pride in the respect, the bonds with people and the enormous contribution to the Church in his fifty years as a priest. I came away from Corpus Christi with deep impressions – the tears in the eyes of so many people as the hearse moved away on the journey to San Antonio and the flight home on the following day – told the stories of people who had been inspired by the witness of his life and the various ways they were touched by a gentle and gracious man.

Deep down, I was asking who will replace him and all the Irish sisters and priests gathered for his funeral Mass? What had drawn him to this place so far away from home? What call did he answer?

When I look at the records and find that in 1979, a total of 136 – 90 sisters, 9 brothers and 37 priests from the parish of Athenry were working throughout the world and here at home, isn’t hard not to be impressed by that contribution to the spread of the Gospel? What was the vision that moved them?

I write this article during the week leading into Mission Sunday. And when I look down the list of names of the 70 who are still alive in different parts of the world, it is very obvious that their vision was not parochial but expanded far beyond boundaries that hem us in between the rivers and walls in this parish from Coldwood to Cuddoo and Coshla to Cormacoo.

On August 8th, they gathered again this year, 30 sisters and priests to meet together for the Re-Union Mass and later for lunch at the Newpark Hotel. A pleasant opportunity to meet with their families and to keep in touch with parishioners and old friends. They speak a clear message that the Church we belong to is a missionary church. The Missions are not an optional extra or something on the fringe. Of its very nature, the Church we belong to is powered by the Spirit, it is expansive, forever reaching out to spread the Good News. To be missionary minded is at the heart of being a Christian.

Today the missionary challenge is as great here at home as it is in any part of the world. Every parish is called to be missionary in reaching out to people who have become inactive in the living of their faith and no longer worship and many have lost heart and hope because of the dark days of Church in recent years. That remains a challenge for all of us to listen to their story with compassion and sensitivity. But also to realise that living our faith today also calls us to make them aware that they are missed and our collective worship needs their presence. Above all to have the encouraging word and to invite them to join our company and assure them that they are welcome and that no matter how long they are away, they can always come home. And they can always start by coming to Mass and becoming a part of the faith community of the parish. It is your gentle word that could make all the difference.

There is a growing concern about the lack of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in our diocese. What is the Holy Spirit saying to all of us at this time? At present, there are just two students studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Tuam. That has serious implications for priests and people and various church services in the coming years. In Corpus Christi, the Bishop has twenty priests, who have recently come from India, working in the diocese and as you would expect they are struggling with language and culture. Other dioceses abroad have targeted third level colleges and most of the young people taking up the challenge are coming in their late twenties and onwards. Personally, that is the road I would favour while not neglecting the opportunity to sow the seeds with second level students and also to encourage them to give a number of years overseas and use their talents and skills in the developing countries.

The challenge for every parish is to involve the leadership of the people in parish life to take on responsibilities in various ministries and work with their local priest in promoting the kingdom of God.

Finally, it is my deepest conviction that a vocation to the priesthood and religious life, no matter what stage in life it is taken up, rises from the inspiration and example of the Christian home. The most important area of mission territory today is in the family home. It depends so much on what is going on in the circle that surrounds the hearts of parents and the atmosphere and attitudes of the family.

My appeal is that if you feel even the most modest nudge, why not take the time to talk to someone, a friend or a priest or others in religion. Christ needs your energy, enthusiasm and idealism in the service of the Gospel in some part of the world and in particular here in our diocese at the present time. He is counting on your generosity.

This article is based on Canon King’s reflective sabbatical!

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About this record

Written by Tony King

Published here 27 Dec 2023

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