27 July – centenary of the dedication of the Church of St. Michael’s Church, Lissan

Mass to mark the centenary of the dedication
of the Church of St. Michael’s Church, Lissan
Homily given by
Most Rev. Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh

One hundred years ago the people of Lissan gathered here to celebrate the dedication of the Church of St. Michael, a Church that was built to replace the former Church of St. Colmcille which had served the Parish for many years. The ceremonies began at the site of the old Church and the gathering came in procession here to this beautiful new Church of St.Michael. It was a day to remember in the life of this community. It is remembered in the records that have come down to us in print and in the local lore of this community.  Today we too started at the former site of the Church here in Lissan. We did so to affirm our links with the past and to remind ourselves of the faith of generations that have gone before us.  They have trodden the path of faith. Today we continue on our own journey of faith. 

One hundred years ago the dedication of the Church of St. Michael was led by His Eminence Cardinal Logue and the preacher on the day was the Very Rev. Dr. McRory, later to become Archbishop of Armagh. On the day Cardinal Logue talked of the generosity of the Corr family saying that we now have one of the most beautiful little churches in the diocese. I’m quite sure that the description of ‘little’ was a term of affection and in no way was meant in any way to take away from this magnificent structure. The new Church was indeed a wonderful achievement. It was built with the generosity of Matthew Corr and his brother Bernard both of whom had emigrated with their other three brothers and one sister to America. Matthew and Bernard settled in Philadelphia and did well in business but they never forgot their roots and when they heard of the plans to build a new Church they insisted that they would take responsibility for the project. We see the results here today.

In his sermon at the Mass of dedication Dr. McRory talked of the princely generosity of one man, Matthew Corr, and of the support from his brother Bernard in building this Church. One hundred years later the beauty and magnificence of this Church speaks for itself. It speaks of the generosity of two sons of this parish who appreciated their faith and were willing to give generously to its building. It was built at a time when life was hard for many. Emigration, as in the case of the Corr family, was a necessity not an adventure. In fact in his homily Dr. McRory goes to great pains to explain that this was their act of indebtedness to a community that had nurtured them in the faith. 

Today it is appropriate that we pay tribute once more to the generosity of the Corr family. Today we look back at their commitment and their dedication. They were indeed a family committed to the faith. One hundred years later thankfully we have a thriving community here in Lissan. But Lissan, no more than any other community today, is not impervious to the changes of our time. Today we live in a very different world to the world of hundred years ago. Today we have a confident people, many secure in home and work. That same security has brought new challenges to our faith and lifestyle. One hundred years ago God was at the centre of everyday life. In the words of Patrick Kavanagh;

God is in the bits and pieces of everyday,
A pearl necklace round the neck of poverty.

And that is how our ancestors saw the faith. It was part of the warp and woof of everyday life. The old sayings summed it all up. People in a crisis said that God never closed one door but he opened another. In Irish they put it even more succinctly; “Is giora cabhair De na an doras”. God’s help is nearer than the front door.   In today’s world people often see religion and faith as a private affair, something between themselves and God. In a more affluent society they do not see the same need for God. For many, not for all, there is a better standard of living. People feel more secure. There are opportunities for young people that were un-dreamt of twenty years ago. Today education is taken for granted. There is a whole new world beckoning.  There seems to be less need for God.

Speaking to young people in Sydney just a week ago Pope Benedict put it this way.  He said; ”We have to let God’s love break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age” and he asked the question; ”what will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations; building something that will endure?  Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God or even rejects him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom?”  These are searching questions and they apply not just to young people but to all of us.

The centenary of St.Michael’s Church is an opportunity for all of us to take stock. Put into simple words we need to ask the question;  Where is God in my life?. Does my faith in God influence my everyday life? Does my faith give meaning to how I relate to other people. What is my contribution to the world about me, the people I meet, the style of life I lead. Has God any place in my life?.  Life is not just about the search for thrills and happiness. It is about the search for the good and the wholesome. It is about living a life that looks beyond the present to see the bigger picture about life and the meaning of life. It means living a life under a much broader perspective. It means living our lives with the awareness that we are part of God’s greater plan for all of us.

Today we gather to thank God for the faith of generations that have gone before us. We gather too to affirm our own faith and to commit ourselves to that faith. That faith has its firm basis in the family and in the community. I believe that the call in our day is to strengthen family and family life, to support the family in every way, to help young people prepare for marriage, to help couples to be faithful in marriage and to support that in community and parish life.  Today we thank God for the strength of family life and the example of good Christian families. Today we celebrate your own families. We encourage those who are experiencing difficulties. We support them in our words and in our prayers.

The question remains;  what will we leave to the next generation?. That is the question addressed to every one of us today. I pray that our celebration of faith today may help us renew our own commitment as followers of Jesus Christ.  It is the challenge of our day. I trust that every one of us will accept that challenge and do our best to put it into practice in our lives. 

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