That’s exactly what she said. It was just after a funeral Mass. It was a lady that has visited St. Matthew’s a few times. I think she comes up from down the country. This was the comment she made to me when she came over to say thanks. We had a little chat about Priesthood and in lamenting that it had lost a lot of the respect it previously had, she also felt that it must also be a time of low morale for priests, pointing to both lack of vocations and falling Mass attendance. Whilst there is some truth in what she was saying, and she was speaking without harshness, and I know many priests who are tired and a few who are demoralised, I take a different tack on this. Of course I agree these are challenging days for all of us trying to live Church. It is not an easy time to try to bring up children and to do so in a way that gives them a good moral compass and some sense of the sacred. However all that said I have been of the opinion for a while now that whilst priesthood is not without its challenges it is actually an exciting time to be a priest. Some of this excitement is directly related to the changing face of the Church in relation to a rapidly changing society. Of course my friend after Mass put her finger on a very important point, namely that we priests do not ‘command the absolute respect’ we once did. My response to that is, surely that is a good thing. When we reflect on it, with the benefit of our experience, we can now say that respect earned is always better than respect commanded or demanded. Perhaps we should also be a little uncomfortable with the word ‘absolute’. In any case all this got me thinking. Indeed I myself can be critical of priesthood but I actually believe it is still a beautiful vocation and I would like to say a few words in it’s defence.
In recent days I have attended an Ordination. It was held in the Pro-Cathedral on November 14th, the Feast day of St. Laurence O’ Toole. This was a fitting day indeed because one of those ordained was our own Deacon Bill, Bill O’ Shaughnessey. Bill is a native of Castledermot, the birthplace of St. Laurence who together with St. Kevin of Glendalough is a patron of this diocese. We had the privilege of having Bill here in St. Matthew’s for nearly a year. The diocese rejoices, as do all of us here in St. Matthew’s in a very real way, in Bill’s generosity of heart. Speaking after his Ordination I put it to the assembled gathering that Bill had all the qualities necessary for being a lovely father and a great husband and yet because of the persistent whispering of the Holy Spirit in his heart he had decided to put all this at the service of God and his people. Of course he can only do this with God’s grace. This is what priesthood is about. Essentially service of God and his people. For us as priests a major part of that service is through the celebration of the Eucharist and preaching God’s word. Having had the privilege of getting to know Bill over the past year or so and listening to the prayerful passion with which he preached at his first Mass I am happy to say that our diocese had just received a really wonderful new priest.
Sadly beside all the joy of the past few days I received news that a good friend of mine had died. He was ninety three years of age. For the past forty years he has been editor of the well respected and world renowned journal of theology, The Furrow. He was also the Professor of Homiletics in Maynooth. I am of course speaking of Fr Ronan Drury. Last Christmas Ronan celebrated Midnight Mass in his home parish in Mullagh for the sixty – third year in succession. He often greeted us with his mischievous smile, ‘Is there anything I should know?’ Or ‘Tell me all!’ Those of you who suffer my own rambling homilies, will enjoy a comment he made to me in class one day. I had just delivered a homily and Ronan was critiquing it: ‘ You know Joe, you have some wonderful things to say… but remember you do not have to say them all today!’ That was Ronan, witty, sharp, incisive, never hurtful. When I left him I always felt I mattered. I felt encouraged. To thousands of priests in Ireland he was our Professor, our brother and our friend. I will miss him very much. May he rest in Peace.