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Bishop Farrell warns against portraying God as Santa Claus

By Sarah Mac Donald - 01 September, 2019

The Bishop of Ossory has told a reunion of priests in Kilkenny that the kingdom of God does not come about through “being passive”.

The priests were gathered in St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny to celebrate diamond, golden and silver jubilees of their ordination to the priesthood.

In his homily Bishop Dermot Farrell reminded the priests that they were anointed in order to make the kingdom of God present in this world, “a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of joy and hope, a kingdom of forgiveness and love, a kingdom of rejoicing, a kingdom of reconciliation”.

He underlined that the world is full of “little ones” – people who count for nothing and who are routinely ignored.

“Do we believe that God has commissioned us to deliver such people from what oppresses them?” he challenged the jubilarians and added, “If we are not engaged in constructing the kingdom of God, we are busy constructing one of our own.”

Referring to the readings of the day, he told the reunion gathering that they had heard about Gideon being given his “vocation”. He was not too enthusiastic about the job he was invited to perform. He didn’t believe that the Lord would be with him.

“I am sure there are times when many of us can identify with the reaction of Gideon, particularly when we are confronted by the massive challenges of life today and ministering in a culture often in opposition to the Gospel,” Dr Farrell, a past president of Maynooth, said.

He explained that Gideon had had to learn that prophecy is not a simple prediction of the future but a call, right now, in the present, to acknowledge God, whose loving mercy is without limit.

“The purpose of prophecy is not to paralyse us, but to challenge us to play our part in changing ourselves, and our world. It calls us to place our trust in the God who, at the end of history, will make all things new.”

Elsewhere in his homily Bishop Farrell said, “Sometimes we can cling to a God of grace and not of truth. When we do, we miss the truth of who God really is. God can be seen as Santa Claus with only an abundance of grace.”

But he stressed that an authentic preacher of the gospel cannot be a preacher either of grace only, or of truth only.

“Our preaching, on the one hand, cannot be characterised by an active and robust preaching of moral and dogmatic truth and Church law while saying nothing about God’s prodigal kindness and compassion. We cannot speak exclusively, on the other hand, of the grace of God, and of the mercy of God, but say nothing about God’s truth or God’s law.”

He said ministry as mission means “ongoing engagement beyond the comfortable associations of our language, culture, social class, age, gender or sexual orientation. It is to that vast, diverse world that Jesus sent his very first followers and to which he still sends them, sends us, today.”

“What would your reaction be to God’s invitation? Would you be like Gideon and demand a sign? Would you make God wait, as Gideon did?”

Bishop Farrell acknowledged that we all make God wait.

“We place so many barriers in the way of a call, of the original summons which God places in our heart. We become calculating to the extreme, with a prudence that very often is nothing more than an excuse for not accepting and spreading the love of God.”

He said the faithful have to make space for God to go where He wishes to go and not merely where they think He ought to go.

St Kieran’s College in the diocese of Ossory was founded in 1782, after the passing of the Catholic Relief Act that year.

This act enabled Catholics to found schools, with the consent of the Protestant bishop of the diocese, for the first time since the Irish penal laws were introduced.

The College was founded as the diocesan school and was the first of its kind in the country.

As well as teaching lay students St Kieran’s was a minor and major seminary. As a seminary, the College educated many priests who went on to be ordained to serve in Ireland and abroad. It is estimated that at least 600 alumni of the seminary went to the US.

In 1982 St Kieran’s College celebrated its bicentenary and over 200 priests from around the world attended the celebrations.

However, in 1994 the seminary at St Kieran’s was closed after 212 years because of the fall in vocations to the priesthood.

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