24 January – 200th Anniversary of St Malachy’s Church, Ballymacilroy
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
SUNDAY 24 JANUARY 2010
I have good memories of coming to this parish and to the Church of St Malachy. I am particularly happy to come today we begin the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of this Church in 1810. So, for the last 200 years – you and your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents have come here to worship God and so carry out the greatest act that anyone can do on this Earth – How did it all come about?
I was in the Servite Priory in Benburb recently. I go there occasionally to experience the peace and quiet and to go to Confessions. I was delighted to see that they have, for sale, lots of very interesting CDs. They deal with important topics such as prayer and faith. I bought one by a certain Italian gentleman called Father Cantalamessa. He is the man who preaches to the Pope and his household.
On the CD in question Father Cantalamessa says that if you have been praying for a long time asking someone to come to visit, when that guest comes, don’t go on saying ‘Come, come’ as if the guest had not come. But he says that is exactly what happens as regards the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has come into our world and into our lives. So instead of continuing to issue invitations, we should instead be thanking the Holy Spirit for having come to us, and to generations before us. We should be thanking the Holy Spirit for all the good which the Spirit has inspired and enabled to take place in our lives and in our parishes.
This Church of St Malachy is a good example of an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This Church was built in 1810. That was twenty years before Catholic Emancipation. It was built at a time when the Penal Laws were still in force penalising Catholics and others for practising their faith. And yet the Spirit must have inspired a number of people to say ‘We need a new Church here’. The Spirit would have inspired others to agree with that proposal and to say ‘Come on – let us work and make the sacrifices involved’.
The people had suffered under the Penal Laws. They had seen how important their faith was to them. They had come to realise that it was important to have a Church in which to gather and do what Jesus did at the Last Supper and on Calvary – ‘in memory of him’.
But that is not the only fruit of the building of this Church. I can think of many others. Last year I paid a visit to St Ciaran’s High School, Ballygawley. I was there to celebrate the magnificent outreach of St. Ciaran’s, Ballygawley to the Mission Territory of the SMA Fathers in Africa. Once again it was a splendid example of a school that thinks of others. Of course the school is really the staff and the students and, to a certain extent, the parents of the pupils. Anyhow that generous response was a wonderful example of a fine team of people, led by Paschal Canavan – doing great things for people less well off than themselves. The inspiration for things like that, goes back to the Holy Spirit and to the fact that the people of this area have a fantastic devotion to the Mass.
The Holy Spirit, who comes to us at Baptism, works in different ways at different paces. One of the first people I met or knew from this parish was Sister Ciaran of the McGinley family who died recently. She was a great example of love for Christ and His Church but also love for the family. I believe she kept in contact with all of them to the end. She suffered a lot in recent years but she did so, never complaining or murmuring or grumbling. I think that that is also a fruit of what is celebrated here in the Mass, where we unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus Christ and we offer them each day in the morning offering to God our Father to the glory of Jesus.
So I salute and congratulate you, Father Seery and Father MacRaois. It is very important that we recall the goodness of God to his people especially at this time when the Church is reeling under the aftermath and effects of the publication of the Ryan and Murphy Reports. It is important to realise that Christ is with his Church and the Holy Spirit has certainly not abandoned it and neither has God. I ask the healing love of Christ to come to all victims of abuse.
Of course the first time I came to this Church was for the ordination of Father Peter McAnenly. That was a great occasion and I have very happy memories of it. Once again Father Peter’s vocation and work as a priest of the diocese is the fruit of the faith which he inherits from his family and which he is doing so much to pass on through his own life and through his work in Dungannon to the next generation.
I remember the first time I came to St Ciaran’s, Ballygawley after I came here. I went there for prize-giving. I remember very well the Head Boy of the school on the night was one Emlyn McGinn. I am delighted that in the years since he has progressed to be a priest of our diocese serving up young people in the Dundalk Institute of Technology. Again Father Emlyn would be the first to admit his vocation comes in part from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through himself but also, I suppose, through the inspiration of the good example which he got from his parents, his family and his neighbours and you, the community, here.
That faith is nourished and enhanced by the faith of the community that gathers here every Sunday to hear the Word of God; to listen attentively to it as we heard it described there in the First Reading. That faith is our treasure which must be nourished. Otherwise it will grow weak and anaemic. I am sure there are many of you who are Readers of the Word of God here and I would like to compliment you and thank you for that work.
In the First Reading there is great emphasis on the reading of the Word of God. I think it is important to remember that when you stand up to read, you are not just remembering something that has taken place for the last 200 years in this Church and participating and sharing in something that goes back thousands of years, more than 2000 years. It goes back to the Old Testament times when people stood up to read the Word of God and read it for a long time apparently, from morning to noon and the people listened attentively. It was read in such a way that they understood and where they didn’t understand, he explained it to them.
I know that apart from the example of St Ciaran’s High School, the other examples I have given are very churchy and clerical but I am sure you all have your own stories to tell of how the Holy Spirit has inspired you in this Church at some ceremony or other.
Perhaps you came here for a funeral – a sad occasion – and you were heart-broken but somehow or other you got the grace and the strength to carry on. Or maybe you came for a joyful occasion – a baptism – a first communion – a confirmation – marriage. Thank God there are more joyful occasions in our religion than sad ones. On all these occasions you got a sense of the Spirit being alive in yourself, in your neighbours, in your families, suggesting good things that could be done and moving good people to do them.
I believe there is a Mission planned for this Jubilee Year – this anniversary year. I congratulate Father Seery and Father MacRaois and whoever else is responsible for this mission and I hope it will go well. I hope it will provoke a real renewal of faith in everyone.
We are each and everyone called to be bearers of Good News – the Good News of God’s love for us, revealed in Jesus Christ. We are called to bring the Good News not so much in words but in actions. We are to play our part in bringing freedom to the captive – to the prisoners. Am I talking about Magilligan and Maghaberry? Not necessarily, we can be enslaved in many ways.
The Holy Spirit comes to tell us that we do not have to remain enslaved by bad habits of any kind. It is possible to be set from addictions to sinful ways and to overcome temptations and to cope with our weaknesses. Jesus came to bring the freedom of forgiveness. Jesus came to cure blindness and to allow us to see that we are all children of the one God – equal in his eyes and therefore brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
We can be blinded in many ways – blinded by passion or greed or jealousy or pride or prejudice. Jesus came to set the down trodden free. We can be downtrodden in many ways too – with worry, with fear. Love drives out fear and if we get a clear idea of how much God loves us – we can be set free from fear. If we really trust God to care for us, then there is not much point in us worrying. We can also be downtrodden with guilt or shame or remorse. That is fairly common and of course that is why Jesus left us the sacrament of Confession.
We are in the month of January, called after the Roman God, Janus. Janus was the God for the Door of the House and of the Gate of the City. To enter the House or the City you had to pass through the Janua. So, Janus was seen as a God of beginnings. He is represented by the Gate – or a double-faced head – one face looking back to the outside, one looking to the inside; one face looking to the past – one looking to the future.
So today we look back with thanks at the past 200 years of the Church of St Malachy but we also look to the future. I look to the future with great hope for the simple reason that the very same Holy Spirit is at work today as he was here 200 7ears ago. Of course the very same evil spirit is also at work. We would not need to be naïve about that. By reason of the Anointing of the Holy Spirit – which each one of us received at our Baptism and our Confirmation – it is our great joy and dignity to be called to play our part in continuing the work of Jesus Christ.