50th year of SVD in Maynooth – Jubilarians – Renewal Vows – Fr Barlage’s Farewell.

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Today on Saturday 8th September, the church celebrates the liturgical feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. Many parishes, congregations, peoples and churches all over the world honour the mother of God and remember the day of her birth.

Today we celebrate 143 years and, we honour the Golden Jubilee of the foundation of this House at Maynooth and I’d particularly like to remember one of the men behind its building, Fr. John Lynch. Let us remember “his effort and dedication” that contributed decisively “to renew and promote missionary animation and the SVD Ireland”.

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We remember the first students who began this journey 50 year ago. With Fr. John. Many stories are told about you and the first days and years of you being here at Maynooth. You’re not all here today, some are on mission, some are travelling, and some have past to their eternal reward. Frs. Gerry and Garry, you’re the two noble, experienced and knowledgeable representatives here today. Thanks, you “gave up your life for the sake of evangelization and the work of missions.” I thank you “with sincerity, and your fellow classmates named by Fr. Rector, who have worked in so many places in the world and in one way or another are accompanying us in this moment of joyful celebrations. From you all, we have learned many things. No one, without a doubt, can deny your ability to work, your spirit of service and sacrifice, your honesty and concern for transparency in all the work you have done and continue to do. All of those us who came after you as well as those who  collaborated and worked with you  have learned to love the mystery of the Triune God and the mission that has been granted to us through the Church  with him and of him the desire to bring the light of the faith and the love of God to the men and women who searched and wanted to know God “

We remember our Jubilarians:  Fr. Peter Maloney (65S); Frs. Michael Egan, John Feighery, Michael McGuinness, Alan Thomas Nasraya, Joseph Dillon (50V); Frs. John McCarthy and Paul St John (40V) Fr. Patrick Smyth (25S) To those of you here in the IBP, our heartiest CONGRATULATIONS and it’s great to have you. To those of you abroad, our prayerful good wishes to each one of you. Your lives have been an example during your years of dedicated service. You, like Mary, said yes and made resolutions that made a difference to our world. Thank you and I know so many people do from all over the world.

Last but not least, today too, we remember Fr. Henry Barlage as we say, “abschied” or should I say a brief ‘farewell’. Henry, you once said that you considered one of your predecessors Fr. John Musinsky, as probably the greatest among the Superiors General of the Society. “This was because he presided over the Society during one of the most difficult times facing the Society in particular and the Church in general, the times immediately after Vatican II. The reforms introduced by Vatican II were meant to renew the Church and religious life. But these reforms also had the potential to divide religious communities and the Church itself—progressives against conservatives, the young against the old, the left against the right, reformists against traditionalists. You believed that he was the right Superior General at the right time. His twofold challenge:  to be open to the world and to be rooted in the Spirit renewed the Society and kept it united after Vatican II.”

You had a full active and creative life within the SVD before you became Superior General. To the students of post 1968 in San Agustin, you were the man who was brought back to make changes and the man ‘who listened’ and took notice of their ideas and proposals to bring the SVD into the new way of being active as religious missionaries. We could indeed say that you too came into office at the right time Fr. Henry because you led the Society during the important time of the deliberations and working out what the famous   Aggiornamento “bringing up to date” This was one of the key words of the Council. It was used to mean throwing open the doors of the Church in a desire to dialogue with the outside world. A lot of change was happening in Religious Life and our SVD in your tenure. You promoted the Provinces, you helped Provincial and their Councils to think for themselves and you encouraged the setting up of the Zones, underlining the importance of missionary awareness and ecclesial communion.  You allowed creativity in the Spirit and you promoted unity in diversity, all this in order to promote dialogue, you embraced a more diverse church.  were the first to have lay people address our General Chapter.

Semi-retired in 2,000, you came to the IBP, which you proudly told me was “your longest stay in any country”. You were always called to offer your services in obedience to the Society. Here you came amongst us, of your own free will, but “confessing to Jesus Christ.” You came to, work on a dream of yours:  looking for new ways to do mission and working with the laity. You came “to encourage, be a standby to support and facilitate” your own words Henry. Here, you remained active in retirement, preaching retreats and founding the IoP in 2002 to promote lay people who live a vocational life in the apostolates of the Church and that are so easily taken for granted

You are spoken of, by us here in the IBP as a person of “a gentle and humble disposition” and to me Henry, you are indeed, holiness and graciousness personified. But above all, what has helped us most is your deep missionary spirit, born of great and tender love, to God and to the church. Thank God for having let us share with you over these years and your enthusiasm of the IoP. For us, it has been a beautiful time, because we have accompanied the one who has been our guide and teacher for the past 18 years. Today we thank you for your work, for your fidelity and for your enthusiastic spirit. I thank God for having let us be with you these years.

Confreres, our blessed Founder always looked for signs of the times, of Divine Providence, to see which apostolate could be most effective; he did not hesitate to change plans to adopt providentially offered apostolates. Now is the time for a vigorous, fresh, imaginative, and effective SVD apostolate for us in the IBP, where our church is in crisis not alone here but around the globe. Today, we clearly face many global challenges which call us as missionary disciples to work towards a world where people and creation are respected and loved. This requires enormous changes in the way we all view and deal with one another: to see, to hear and to think as Christ does. Of this we’ll be speaking of anon as we ponder and work on our XVIII General Chapter Document over the next year.

We can see the signs of the times in the youthfulness of this congregation 50 years later. Contemplate the backgrounds, the lives and faces of our three young confreres, Liwei, Clement and Joseph. Your presence here today as you renew vows is for the rest of us in the SVD and SSpS the signs of the times.  Study well, pray diligently and move into the future in the company of holy SVD family, forming communities who keep God’s laws in the countries in which we work. It’s not easy, I know from experience that often our best intentions are slowly worn down, frustrated by events beyond our control, not least of them our own limitations and weaknesses! Be committed to learn, live and spread the faith. Always, always focus on Christ: I believe that a lot of the present troubles of the Church could find their answer in doing that. He is a model of living; his teachings point us away from darkness and wrongdoing. And when confronted by both his love and majesty, one is humbled. 

“May God continue to fill your hearts with gladness. May flowers always line your path and sunshine light your day. May songbirds serenade you every step along the way. May a rainbow run beside you in a sky that’s always blue. And may happiness fill your heart each day your whole life through”                                                                    

Thank you. May the Lord be with us.

  • Taken from Fr Provincial, Tim Lehane’s sermon.

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