Celebrating Columban Jubilees

29th November 2016 - by Fr Denis Carter

Ray and Dick
Frs. Dick Martin, Peter Hughes, and Ray Collier

Peter Hughes, the regional director for the Columbans in Britain,is pictured here at the Columban’s Day celebrations in Solihull along with Richard Martin (left) and Ray Collier (right). Both priests are celebrating special jubilees as Columbans, Diamond (60th) and Golden (50th). Fr. Peter presented them both with gifts to mark their jubilee years.

At the special Columbans Day Mass, Fr Ray Collier gave the following homily:

Golden Jubilee Mass Homily

I have been a missionary priest for 50 years, by the grace of a God seed planted within me. A God seed that has enriched me, challenged me and has given me immense fulfilment, and joy as a human being and a life full of incredible people, from different cultures and faiths, besides my own, that have brought me healing, insights and sensitivities.

I was blessed to grow up in a very sheltered and safe environment. I grew up where we all knew each other, where all went to the same church, where all came from the same ethnic background, all shared the same accent when we spoke, all had a similar slant on how we understood morality, all shared the same hopes and fears about the world and all worshipped God quite confidently in the belief we were special in God’s eyes. That was the context that give purpose and direction to my early missionary journey.

I have enjoyed and am enjoying the challenge of being a missionary living in a risk averse world. Today, I feel we are all living in this risk averse world, in uncertain times, of moving from one era to another, which history shows that such evolutions rarely pass easily or quickly.

I can still recall Gerry Marinan’s homily on the day he celebrated his Golden Jubilee – which was a rarity then – he reflected on his experiences of mission and shared what he saw as the future of mission. I would like to try and share something of how I see the future of mission.

Let me first of all say a few words on what I see as the context of mission today and then something of how I see the Columbans responding to that missionary task.

In regard to context: Today we live, as I said, in a risk averse world and sadly many in our risk averse world are prone to turn God into their own tribal deity. Yet having said that, people today are becoming increasingly aware of a growing diversity of all kinds in society, which is being facilitated by mass communication. People are equally becoming more aware that there is a need to deepen their understanding to deal with the complexities this presents in both its enriching and dehumanizing ways; in the political, economic, social, cultural and faith realities. Recent political campaigns against migration, for example, illustrate the importance of this reality as well as the poverty of understanding concerning it.

The Church to is struggling to communicate and share with this contemporary risk averse society its vision of hope and the importance of the values that underpin this hope, because it often lacks the theological tools, in the face of an instinct of conservation. This has lead to a crisis of understanding as to the purpose of the Church in society today. Is the Church simple yeast disappearing into the dough of society?

As Christians we believe, the mystery we call God, choose to enter this reality of human diversity, in all it complexities, in the person of Jesus, on our terms, with a message build around the values of love and truth. A message waiting to be discovered by human interaction across cultural, faith and ethnic boundaries. It is in this human interaction, we become evangelised by the Spirit of God alive and active among the diversity of people. The challenge for the Church today, as well as for the Columbans, is to be an engaging presence in this reality and to build a theology that enables it to build communities of healing based on this message.

Diversity is not a danger for the universal church, it is necessary to find the courage, in our risk averse world, to live in harmony in diversity. As Pope Francis said, recently to the different religious communities in Azerbaijan; “opening ourselves to others does not lead to impoverishment but rather enrichment, because it enables us to be more human: to recognise ourselves as participants in a greater collectivity and to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity.”

This mission to follow Jesus – as Jesus tells us in today’s gospel (Lk.9:57-62) and as the missionary life of St Columban emphasises – means leaving the comfort of our own side of the street and crossing over to walk with the other, on their side of the street, on their terms. Not to impose our experiences of God, which is gift, but to be open to a new experience of God in the reality of human diversity and to be generous in our response to the invitations of the Holy Spirit present in the reality of human diversity. I believe, in the diverse faces of the other, we encounter the mysterious face, we call God.

It is important to remember, in walking with the other on their side of the street, to do so, in truth and love, listening to their concerns, their hopes, their dreams and their yearnings and share in their joys, grief and pain, as we journey together in hope. It is in this human interaction, that signs and echoes of the kingdom, alive among the diversity of people, emerges, and challenges us and encourages us, to try to create new relationships of unforeseen possibilities for new life, and a new experience of Church. That for me is our Columban missionary challenge for now and into the future.

And as Jesus again tells us to today’s gospel, when we do so we may have no sense of belonging, no where to call our own, nowhere to lay our head, even though the animals and the birds have.

And as St. Columban tells us, following Jesus is an adventure, which offers his followers no security or well being, nor does he help us to make money or acquire power. To follow Jesus is to be constantly on the road and of letting the dead bury the dead. In other words, nothing should delay our missionary task, no one should hold us back or stop us from the purpose of building the kingdom of life in order to bring about a more humane way of life in the complexities of human diversity; and the dead, are those who are not serving the purpose of the kingdom of life.

Again as Jesus tells us towards the end of today’s gospel, it is impossible to follow Jesus while looking back. We cannot find ways to spread the kingdom while remaining tied to the past.

To build the kingdom today, in the complexities of human diversity, takes commitment and trust in a future that is in God’s hands and courage to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and St Columban.

I’ll end with a quote from Cardinal Martini in 1991. He warned Europe of the need for Muslim integration by saying “The old world (Europe) would be committing a serious error if it did not recognise the full extent of the challenge of this new presence which seems quite uninterested in ‘inculturation’. Europe has three options; it can ignore the whole question or it can claim that it is self-sufficient and edge different cultures into a ghetto or else become the ground for an encounter with epoch-making effects.”