At Irish festival, bishop calls for changed hearts

When Irish eyes are smiling, goes the song, they’ll steal your heart away.
On Sunday, hundreds of Catholics who packed a tent for Mass at an Irish festival in downtown Peoria were repeatedly urged to give their hearts away — to God.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, principal celebrant of the annual Mass at Erin Feis, told the assembly that the rituals and traditions of our Catholic faith “do us no good at all” unless they embody “a profound conversion, a real change of heart.”

The mostly green-clad crowd that filled the large tent for the 10:30 a.m. Mass was welcomed to the “cathedral on the riverfront” by Msgr. Stanley Deptula, master of ceremonies. Minutes later, the liturgy began with a bagpipe-led procession featuring a Knights of Columbus Honor Guard.

Bishop Jenky has traditionally used the annual Mass at Erin Feis to issue strong challenges to the Catholic community. The Diocese of Peoria’s “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith,” for example, traces its roots to a passionate plea from the bishop at the 2004 Erin Feis Mass for Catholics to “rise up” and stand with our God.

Again this year, the bishop used straight talk to call on Catholics to be “set apart” from a sinful culture by embracing Christian holiness.

“IT IS NOT enough to merely bless ourselves with holy water,” he said in his homily, “to genuflect, to walk around with ashes on our heads every Ash Wednesday, to come to Erin Feis or celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, to light candles, or to check off the word ‘Catholic’ on those forms asking for our religious identity.”

Even the Mass itself, the “gift beyond all measure,” will do us no good, said the bishop, “unless and until we allow the reality of the Blessed Sacrament to change our minds, reform our lives, and empower our service to God and neighbor.”

Sin, said Bishop Jenky, “is always a swindle that promises a lot but gives us nothing.” Through a series of questions, the bishop then asked those attending to consider what they might need to give up in order to be filled up with the grace of Christ.

“Do we believe the expression of our human sexuality can be disconnected from love and commitment?” he asked.

“Do we believe it’s all right to lie and steal and cheat to get what we want?

“Do we always put ourselves first, and are we always ready and willing to ignore the needs of others?

“Do we value and defend all human life, or do we surrender to the deadly folly of our culture that sees the taking of a human life made in the image and likeness of God as an acceptable solution to human problems — that dares to reach into the womb and even the sick bed to destroy the gift of life that God has given?”

The bishop urged Catholics to show their “change of heart” through their decisions and choices in the ordinary events of everyday life.

THE ANNUAL Mass at Erin Feis is coordinated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians and is promoted as a Liturgy for Peace and Justice. Those attending were asked to contribute canned goods or make monetary donations to support area outreaches to the needy, including the soup kitchen sponsored by the Missionaries of Charity.

Rick Christian, president of Ancient Order of Hibernians Peoria Division, greeted those attending the Mass and served as lector. The offertory gifts were brought forward by Mike Duncan, past president, as well as Dr. Patricia O’Connell, national missions and charities officer for the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians and state president, and Debbie Jeffries, president of the Peoria County Division.

Music for this year’s celebration was led by a group from Peoria Notre Dame High School. Bishop Jenky concluded the Mass with a traditional Irish blessing, ending it with the phrase “May you be in heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

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