Homily given in Killeagh-Inch parish on the 28th Sunday of the Year.
“I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.”
Today’s first reading gives us a lovely account of the gift of wisdom. Where does wisdom come from? We often hear people saying if I only knew that about things that happened when they were younger. Wisdom is firstly a gift that comes from God, it comes from gaining knowledge but it is also something that we can learn from experience. This leads me to speak today about our SpiritFest about the events that caused such publicity. Many of you don’t know the facts and I want to put them before you. The Spirit Fest was a success in as much as anything spiritual can be gauged in success or failure. People engaged in different events and the seeds of what was planted will hopefully grow in the future.
And following on from that lead I want to need to address the invitation to Fr. Tony Flannery, to explain what really happened and answer some of the comments and criticism that were made. The idea of The SpiritFest originated in the Pastoral Council, not from me personally, as was suggested, so I cannot take the credit ,but from a member. The person felt that we should try something new. I am reminded of the words of Pope Francis last week that we are not to be a museum of memories but try to be a source of inspiration. That sums up the motivation behind holding the event and sums up the reason for Spirit Fest. We said we would begin with a keynote speaker. There were three names mentioned, two were not available but Fr. Tony was. As a group and a parish we were delighted because he was well known in the Parish from previous visits giving missions etc. I must mention also, not everyone on the Pastoral Council was not happy about him coming but we spoke about it and came to a consensus and it was decided that we would continue with our plan.
The first indication that there might be a problem was when I met with the Bishop with regard to a letter of complaint about me from a group of “concerned Catholics”, a self-appointed vigilante group who oversee orthodoxy in the south of Ireland. They were complaining because I said I was voting “yes” in the recent referendum. A covering letter with the letter of complaint complained about the “dissident Priest” Fr. Tony Flannery being let loose on Killeagh-Inch Parish. Sometime later the Bishop sent for me again and after a conversation requested that our invitation with Fr. Tony Flannery be withdrawn. The invitation came from the Pastoral Council so I said I had to consult with them. I met with the pastoral council and after lengthy deliberations replied stating that out of respect for our relationship with him, the bishop, we would move the venue to the local village hall. We value the freedom of speech and wanted to hear what Fr. Tony had to say so we continued with our plan. The Bishop promptly replied repeating his request and eventually I invited him to come and meet with us in Killeagh.
We met and a very open, respectful and frank discussion took place. We put our points across but the Bishop remained adamant that he would prefer if the invitation was withdrawn as Fr Tony was “out of ministry”. When the conversation had ended we agreed to withdraw our invitation to Fr Tony. These are the facts of what happened and the reasons why we made the decisions we did. I personally look to the famous American philosopher Kenny Rogers whose words of wisdom have stood me in good stead in over thirty years of pastoral ministry. He said “You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to run”. That time had come.
Our very purpose is the spiritual good of the parish and we felt that the possible ramifications of a standoff with the Bishop would not be in anyone’s best interest. That is why we withdrew the invitation.
The reaction has been interesting. In particular I want to mention two articles in the print media, firstly by Mr. David Quinn in the Irish Catholic and the second by Margaret Hickey in the Irish Examiner. Both were ‘very Catholic’ in what they wrote but not very Christian in my opinion. Let me explain. Neither contacted me or any member of the Pastoral Council to find out what happened or to enquire to the reasons for how our decisions came about. Surely when putting forward a strong view as they did, the first step is to gain the facts. I would call it lazy journalism and putting forward one’s own person agenda, something the Catholic Church often criticises the secular media for and here they are doing exactly the same. Also in their view and in many other reactions the incident was seen very much as a black or white, win or lose situation, yet again not a Christian approach; reacting from a place of fear and not of love. We believe in discussion, dialogue and engagement with the issues and try to reach consensus or compromise when necessary.
Some people have been critical of the pastoral council for a) For inviting Fr. Tony and b) For not standing up to the Bishop. I believe that the Pastoral council gave a great example of courage and of how to engage in a Christian way. We didn’t get our way and we invited the Bishop to our final event Songs of Praise, which he duly attended and was warmly welcomed.
Wisdom (she) is gained not magically but with work. Would she say Fr Tony was invited in all sincerity and maybe cancelled in the same vein? What would she say about lazy journalism and misjudged words?
This leads me to quote a letter we received from Fr Des Wilson, a man of proven courage and wisdom that has meant so much to me and to the members of the Pastoral Council.
“It is only by discussing our differences that we are able to hone and shape our own ideas…. If we have no opposition then we lose our sharpness and are of no benefit to the church”.
He also said “We all share the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit……. yet what a strange irony to tell each other to keep quiet”.
As for Fr. Tony Flannery, I believe that not being allowed come to the Parish was more beneficial for him as it highlighted a terrible injustice that is being done to him. Shortly we begin the Year of Mercy, how fitting it would be if one of the first acts of mercy were to reinstate Fr Tony and the other priests who are being treated in a shameful way because they feel they have something to say and will not stay quiet.
I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps. In her company all good things came to me, at her hands riches not to be numbered.
Together may we try to listen to each other, with love and respect and as a consequence grow in wisdom?