21 August – Farewell Mass for St Louis Sisters, Middletown
SATURDAY 21 AUGUST 2010
CARDINAL SEAN BRADY
There is a story told of the time Paddy the Irishman died and went up to the Pearly Gates. The angel in charge gave him a tour of the mansions in Heaven. As they pass various chambers the angel points out who is who. “This is where the Presbyterians are and here you have the Methodists. Over there you have the Church of Ireland. As they enter another room the angel whispers: “Sh Sh, this is where the Catholics are. They think they are the only ones here!!!”
The story is a humorous way of saying that we have a very limited view of the Kingdom of God.
I once heard it said that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The Readings for today’s Mass are a bit like that. They are comforting in places; and they are also encouraging. But they are also depressing, very depressing. In fact, they are downright disturbing.
What am I talking about? Well we heard just now that the Lord is coming to gather the nations of every language. They shall come to witness His glory. People will be brought from all nations to the Holy Mountain of the Lord. That is very consoling.
So, if we look closely at the Readings – we will see plenty of evidence of God’s plan for us. God wants each and every one of us to be saved. What do we hear Isaiah say in the First Reading:
‘I am coming to gather every nation and every language”
Just imagine, every nation – to gather them into glory. That is what we all love – glory – eternal glory. That is what we are made for. Nothing else will satisfy us. God’s plan is there in the psalm:
‘Strong is his love for us – he is faithful for ever’
The big event of the last week, in most locations – north and south – was the exam results. A lot of people were happy – they got what they wanted. I congratulate them. Some were very disappointed – they did not get the results they wanted. As a result they are shut out of some places they dearly wanted to go to – the door is locked. I am sorry for those young people but I beg them to remember – it is not the end of the world.
But the most shocking image of all is from the Gospel – it is the image of the Locked Door – the Master is inside – people are knocking to get in and being told to move on. Just imagine being locked out of Heaven – that would be the ultimate disaster. What would it profit, any of us, to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of our immortal souls? Surely there would be every reason for weeping and grinding of teeth. The tragedy is that then it is too late.
So how do we reconcile all of this about the closed door with strong and faithful love? What Jesus is saying is that once he has risen from the dead, it will not be enough for someone to come along and simply say: ‘Open the door now, sure don’t you know us well’.
Is Jesus suggesting that some who think they are sure of a seat at that wonderful feast may be in for a big surprise. It will not be enough to say “Weren’t we eating and drinking in your company”?
Jesus is saying it will not be enough because:
• Eating and drinking beside me is not the same as eating and drinking with me. You can be beside me and not be part of me.
• You can hear me and not listen.
• You can know me and not accept me.
I am not the one who is locking you out. You are the ones that are locking yourselves out. This is a door that is locked not from the inside, but from the outside and the only key that will open it is your own personal response. Listen to me, accept me, love me and the door will open itself.
Another time Jesus said: “I am the door – anyone who enters by me will be saved”. Jesus is the door that we all must use to share the Life of God and enter into His Kingdom. To enter the narrow door that is Jesus Christ is to enter the narrow way that is called the Way of the Cross. It is the way of repentance. As we heard in the Second Reading, the Lord trains the ones he loves and he punishes all those that he trains. “Suffering is part of your training. Of course any punishment is painful at the time. Later on, those in whom it has been used will bear fruit in peace and goodness”. The invitation to the banquet of Heaven is given to you freely but we must not think that this is all there is to the Christian life.
It is said we live in an age where we get very serious about very unserious things; and very flippant and casual and off-hand about things that are deadly serious. Really I cannot image anything more serious for each and every one of us – where and how am I going to spend eternity?
I saw a notice in a Church and it said:
You call me Master, and you don’t listen to me
You call me the way and you do not follow me
You call me the truth and you do not believe me
Why should you be surprised to hear me say
I do not know where you come from and you will not recognise me
This week the Parish of Tynan / Middletown marks a historic event in the history of this parish – the departure of the Sisters of St Louis – the Sisters have been here for 135 years. Naturally there is much sorrow and sadness and loneliness. The bonds of friendship are strong. There are big shoes being left behind to be filled.
This weekend is a time to give thanks – to give thanks to God, first of all – that there are people to be found who are prepared to give up so much in life in order to help others – people who left family and friends to come to Middletown to help children – children from all walks of life – rich and poor, bright and less bright.
We thank God that the St Louis nuns came first to Monaghan. Obviously their reputation soon spread to Middletown where Father Quinn decided your ancestors should welcome the Sisters and they got on well together.
There was farming and schooling and lots of things to be looked after. Sister Canice was surprised to learn that the first football jerseys for Middletown GFC were knitted by the sisters in black and white wool all those years ago.
Tonight we give thanks for all that the Sisters have done – but more importantly – we give thanks to them and to God for what they are themselves and what they represent. People who heard the call of God and took it seriously.
This is not a time for great sorrow but a time for great gratitude and great love. The Sisters have sown the seeds, it is up to this parish to make sure that those seeds stay alive and grow and ripen and bear fruit.
You see we all share the same call – it is the call of God the Father, issued through His Son. It is an invitation to share his life – to share his nature. It is sometimes said of someone – ‘she is a good natured sort of person’. We are all called to be good-natured – for God is good.
That invitation begins as a way of listening. We listen with our ears, with our eyes and with our hearts. The invitation grows as a desire to know God and to enter into God’s love. Like lots of invitations it is personal, only I can decide to accept my invitation. Only you can decide what to do with your invitation. But the example of others can inspie us to make the right choice.
This evening we are thanking God for the presence in this parish, over the past 135 years, of a very special group of people – the St Louis Sisters. They are people who have heard the invitation to holiness and have taken it very seriously. It involved a dying to self in leaving family and friends. It involved an emptying to self that becomes a radical experience of God’s love.
This experience of God’s love changes each person and oopens them to put on the very mind of Christ and to share the very life of Christ. It challenges each one of us to have the same values as Christ had, all the same attitudes and to act as Christ acted.
It invites us to be instruments of God’s love and energy in the world. It binds each one in a union with God and with each other. It enables people to find God present in all things. It is not confined to Religious Sisters, Brothers and Priests. It is extended to all. But the Religious exist to remind the rest of us that we have not here a lasting kingdom. We seek the One that is to come.
Religious life is also called consecrated life. The religious sisters, brothers or priest knows that personal holiness comes before everything else in life. The religious come before the Lord to humbly ask what way he/she must follow her vocation. The religious knows that the gospel, preached by Jesus, is the only book that really must be mastered and that spiritual perfection is the only goal to aim for.
This week I got a lovely book. It is called The Religious Sisters and Brothers of the Diocese of Kilmore. It lists 1056 women and 109 men who entered religious life from all parts of County Cavan and Leitrim. They left families and homes, some for the last time, to join 120 different religious congregations. More than 700 left not only their homes but their beloved Ireland and went abroad to follow the footsteps of Jesus – to save souls and to achieve their goal in life. Among them were 54 Louis Sisters.
The book includes many stories including one of Mary McEnree. She left home at the age of 17 to volunteer to go to work as a Mercy nun in Western Australia – the voyage took four months.
We wish the Sisters God’s special blessings in the next chapter of their life that begins now. We pray that the same freedom of spirit, which enabled them to come here in the first instance, will enable them to leave now.
I know that the greatest gift you could give them is the assurance that you have learned well the lessons which they came to teach– that we must all strive to enter by the narrow gate which is Jesus Christ and hear his call to repent of our sins.
The seeds have been sown. I am confident that they will not fall on hard or stony ground. It is the invitation for each of us to become God’s instruments in the world and to find God, present in all things. The challenge is to continue, like the Sisters, with the same dedication to the praise and glory of God and to reveal his compassionate love to others.