+ Bishop Colm O'Reilly - Knock 2007



Compiling lists of invitees to weddings and other family occasions is a notoriously tricky business. Many a friend was lost when someone who was almost sure enough of an invitation to have purchased the present for the couple was omitted. They were bypassed by the postman delivering the gilt-edged cards. There are other hurdles too which remain to be crossed. Even if the invitations have arrived without fallout, there is still the further dangerous issue of placing side-by-side at the table those who turn up. The device of putting down place names to assign seats is a tactic designed to counter the cold shouldering that has created a degree of tension at many a big interfamily feast.


When you hear the Gospel today, you realise that these hazards are not new to the world. Jesus saw it at the meal where he was the guest. He saw the jockeying for positions that went on as the guests took their places, looking for the most prominent seats. He gave what you could call shrewd advice. Go for a low place and you will have the privilege of being invited to a higher one, he suggested. I sometimes think that here and there in the Gospels there is something like what we call "tongue-in-cheek" and this almost sounds like that.


Whatever about that part of the Gospel the next part is very serious. Jesus tells the host that he has got something more important wrong. He may have got the invitations out properly but he invited the wrong people. That is the part of the parable of this Sunday that stops us in our tracks. In Huckleberry Finn, a famous American novel, it is well said that "it ain't the parts of the Bible that I cannot understand that trouble me; it is the parts I do". This part is very clear. The people who wrote the Gospels and the people who heard and read what they wrote knew that Jesus was really speaking about a quite special meal to which He was inviting all. He was speaking about the Eucharist, the meal to which we are invited. At every Mass that we attend we hear the priest say as he holds up the host "happy are those who are called to His Supper".


Being invited brings responsibility. This is the serious bit that I am talking about. So let me explain by quoting three people. Firstly, the late and much admired Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Hume. On a visit to Ethiopia at a time when the country was in one of its terrible times of famine a small boy followed him around one day. The child could not speak to him because he had no English but he held the Cardinal's hand in his and rubbed his cheek against the hand of the Cardinal. With the other hand he pointed to his mouth. The cardinal understood that he was saying that he had two kinds of hunger, a hunger for love and a hunger for food. Cardinal Hume said that it is the Eucharist that the meets these two kinds of hunger. Those of us who come to the Lord's Table at Mass have a responsibility to the poor of the world. Jesus says so to us when He tells us that "the poor and the lame and the blind" are to be welcomed by us.


The second person I want to quote is the late Pope John Paul. In his letter on the Eucharist published for the Jubilee Year 2000 he had these strong words to say: "Can we not make this year an occasion for diocesan and parish communities to commit themselves in a particular way to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world?" He goes on to mention several groups affected by poverty, the last on the list being immigrants. Then he goes on to mention the connection between helping the poor and our Sunday Mass. "We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognised as true followers of Christ. This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations will be judged".


The last person I want to quote is neither Pope nor Cardinal; not a priest in fact. The name is Jacques Delors who was once President of the European Commission. I heard him address a delegation of Irish Bishops in 1993. He began by quoting the words of the Gospel about the Rich Man, Dives, who would not make room for the poor and hungry man, Lazarus, at his table. He used the Gospel story to make the point that the rich nations of Europe must welcome those who were not economically strong to their well-stocked table.

That was 1993. Thirteen Irish Bishops made up his audience. At that time I expect that I and the other twelve were probably thinking the same thing. It might be put something like this: "He's putting it up to the wealthy nations like Germany and France and Britain and others to open their purse strings". A short time before that meeting took place the Irish Bishops had published a Letter entitled "Work is the Key". An important part of it was a section that dealt with unemployment and the consequent poverty in which many lived in Ireland.


Now things are different, in some respects. We have less unemployment and more wealthy people. We can now hear the words of Delors addressed to us, a nation with considerable resources. We hear the pleas of Cardinal Hume spoken to us more directly and we hear Pope John Paul challenging us in the words of his Letter "Stay with us, Lord". Let me leave the last word to him in the form of a question: Judged on our concern for the poor of the world, is our Sunday Mass authentic? Or, to paraphrase Huckleberry Finn, are the easy-to-understand parts of the Gospel hard for us to take?


+Colm O'Reilly

Archived References  
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2010
Statement by Bishop Colm O'Reilly on the Dublin Report
Bishop Colm O'Reilly video interview for Mission Sunday 2009
Message on Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2009
Homily by Bishop Colm for Trinity Sunday, on 150 years of SVP in Longford.
Bishop Colm's Pastoral Letter Easter 2009
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2008
Bishop's Letter to the Diocese, Easter 2008, 'on the way forward'.
Bishop's Message for the Year of Vocation
Bishop's Homily at Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, Sept 2007
Message from Bishop Colm on Ferns Report
Message from Bishop Colm on the death of Pope John Paul II
Homily by Bishop Colm at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in St. Mel's Cathedral, 7th April
Statement from the Bishop, 27th May 2006
Homily at Clonmacnois Pattern Day, 2006
Bishop's Christmas Message 2005
Message from Bishop Colm for Vocations Sunday 2005