(This is the text of my homily preached at the 70th Corpus Christi Procession in Cork in 1996.)

Good afternoon. My name is Fr. Tom Hayes and I welcome you all to our annual Procession with the Blessed Sacrament. This is the 70th Corpus Christi Procession in Cork City and I’d like to extend a particular welcome to a special group of people. Joining us for today’s procession are some of those who were present at the first Corpus Christi Procession in Cork in 1926. You’re especially welcome here today.

Each year, here in Cork City, across these dioceses and throughout the country, millions of Irish people of several generations have gathered and continue to gather in procession. We come here today from Kilmore Road, from Kiltegan Lawn, from Curraheen Rise, from Lotamore, and from all points in between. We come to worship Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. We come to ask his blessings for ourselves and for those we love. We ask his blessing for the sick. We invoke his name when we speak of peace. This is a day of prayer.

But this day, this procession, is also special for another reason. It is an occasion when the Catholic people of Cork wears its faith in a very public way.

Most of us tend to not do that very often.

Jesus himself cautions in the gospel against brash and pompous demonstrations of religious fervour. The Gospel story about the man who ran with his prayer to the front seat of the synagogue, only to have his hypocrisy highlighted, probably rings a caution in the ears of most us. In fact when Jesus looks down at the crush in the back seats and porches of our churches, surely he wonders why we take that one parable so much to heart!

The place where religion and the rest of our lives meet isn’t clearly marked on any map. Some people say that religion should be contained and limited to the private and the personal. There may be good reasons for wanting things that way. History is dotted with people who have abused their religion for their own ends. Some have pointed to their religion to help justify oppression, slavery, racism, sexism, and the curtailing of other civil rights. The good of society demands that we consider carefully the place of religion.  It demands that we be wary of excesses and extremists and recognise them as such.

It is equally important for all of us who are part of the church that we ask ourselves if we are being fairly represented as a church to the wider society.  There are times when I hear statements being made in the name of the Catholic Church and I wonder whether I and the group or person concerned even belong to the same church!

The profound reality, of course, is that we do.

The Catholic Church is a complex mix of some people who are very forgiving and others who are bitterly intolerant. Our church includes people who are single, married, separated, divorced, celibate and those who can’t make up their minds. Some members of our church have opened their homes to children from Chernobyl; others have closed their hearts to their own grandchildren because the parents weren’t married. The Catholic Church includes men, women and young people who are serving time in prisons and it includes men and women who run marathons for people in need. It includes clergy and religious, and everyone from agriculturalists to zoologists.

This patchwork community of people reflects the full spectrum of human colour. We do not always have agreed, simple solutions to life’s complex questions, whether they arise within the church or are presented to us by the society and times we live in.

At times, however, internal divisions in the church may prevent us from attending to the central questions of our times. We devote a lot of energy and time to debating issues that often only affect the surface of our existence.

But the times we live in are both a challenge and an opportunity for all of us who believe in Christ. The profound problems of our society are crying out for the new life that only Christ can give. These days are also crying out for courage and imagination, for reassurance and hope. Our society needs the true heart of the Christian message more than ever.

The recent vicious and violent murders and assaults cry out for the sacredness of human life to be echoed around our country. The dramatic increase in the use of legal and illegal drugs is surely pointing to the deep voids in people’s lives. As more families are left struggling with the suicide of a loved one, all of us must ask why we have failed to make real the hope that our faith offers us. The all too prevalent hurt in family life challenges us to be instruments of Christ’s healing in the world.

It is time for us to get back to the basics. But the basics of our Christian faith do not revolve around a holier-than-thou sense of morality, or a rejoicing in the weaknesses of others. The language of our faith is inclusion, tolerance, forgiveness, charity, hopefulness, service, courage, risk-taking, the centrality of the Eucharist, prayer, justice, and a love that makes all things possible …

These are the hallmarks of our faith; they ought, also, to be the hallmarks of our church.

So that we may hear what the Spirit is saying to us about the issues of our times, we need prayer, reflection, dialogue and respect. So that we may effectively bring the new life of Christ to our world we need to live it with those who are part of the church with us. The awesome wonder about God is that he sent his Son regardless of the fact that we didn’t deserve him. It is not for us, then, to say to others whether or not they can be part of the church.

Each of us has a vital part to play in keeping the church closely attuned to the mandate that we have received from Christ. Each of us has a right and duty to offer our unique gifts as part of the fabric of the church. It is neither healthy nor necessary that all be the same.

The thread that holds the patches of this Catholic quilt together is our faith in Christ and the new life that he has given us. That’s what the church is really about.

Today we bring this faith onto the streets of Cork in a formal way. On other days, let us continue to bring it with us as part of who we are.

We do not bring it in judgement; we bring it as a gift that all can share. We bring our faith in Christ, and we offer it to all the people of our city as our greatest treasure.

As we say each time we make our baptismal promises:

“This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church and we are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus, Our Lord. Amen.”