Spiritan Features

Excerpt from Homily for Libermann Day (2nd February) 2018

In looking back we are capable of finding the wisdom for what lies ahead. In its darkest hours, after the French Revolution and before the merger with Libermann in 1848, the Congregation was fragmented and dispersed; at one particular stage it was even reduced to a total of just six members.

At the end of the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s, hundreds of Spiritans were evacuated or expelled and the Nigerian Church seemed devastated.  In fact, many confrères went on to open new missions including Ghana and Zambia, while the Nigerian church came to maturity.

When I arrived in Angola in 1983, the country was under Marxist-Leninist government, a horrendous time for Christians when the regime would punish anyone who supported Church. Taking my first steps in missionary life then, I went each Sunday with an old Portuguese priest in his battered pick-up to a shantytown chapel outside Luanda. He would ring the bell, and only the old catechist and his wife, a bit like Simeon and Anna in today’s Gospel, dared to join the two of us for Mass. I used to say to José ‘Why in the name of God do you continue coming out here? I remember his response: “If we stop ringing that bell, the people will know that we have given up; they cannot come but we are a hope for them”. Today that area has three thriving parishes, served by local priests and communities of sisters, with schools and a youth centre, clinics and a pastoral formation centre.

Today is hardly our darkest hour in Ireland but it is a crucial one and we are called to live it; discern, be faithful and not write, or write-off, the history of our time for we do not know it!  Mary and Joseph, presenting their child in the temple, didn’t know either. They had a living faith but hardly a consciousness of the God-child, nor Jesus; they had to walk the same darkness and light that we must walk, otherwise incarnation would have been mere theatre and not the wondrous redeeming kenosis, God’s emptying to be one with us, that gives both meaning and hope to our pilgrim journey.

Jesus turned things upside down. His parents gave two turtle doves, the offering of the poorest in the temple. Returning to the temple, he overthrew the tables, freed the doves, and let it be known that God can’t be paid, that there is no debt code but grace; the moment you are open to it, you receive it.  

Your heart will suffer so that “The hearts of others will be revealed”. We don’t open-up until others share their pain. When the sword in one heart is exposed, the thoughts of many hearts are opened and revealed. Perhaps the discernment of our time is to share the sorrow of our time; not to busy ourselves with too many plans but to listen inwardly to the promptings of the Spirit and to act courageously. 

We will find like those before us, like Jesus in Gethsemane, that the darkest hour is the finest hour! 

Brendan Carr C.S.Sp.