19 March – Novena for Lent – St Patrick’s Church, Keady
ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH, KEADY
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARIDNAL SEAN BRADY
I was in Cookstown yesterday afternoon for the Re-Dedication of their beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity. It was built between 1855 and 1860 within ten years of the Great Famine and it is really something special. In the renovation they have moved the baptismal font up to the right hand side of the altar to give it more prominence and to reflect, more accurately, the place of Baptism in the Christian life of each one of us. Baptism is the doorway into the other sacraments – the doorway into our sharing in the life of God.
Yesterday too I met a young Polish man who told me proudly that he came from South Poland – near the town where Blessed Pope John Paul II was born – Wadowice. I remember once visiting that town and going along to see the Parish Church. Up near the front, on the left hand side, there is a beautiful baptismal font. When Pope John Paul went back to visit his native parish of course he went to visit the parish church and there is a lovely photograph of him kneeling in prayer beside the baptismal font with his hands on the font.
• I am sure that in that prayer he was thanking God for the gift of his baptism.
• Thanking God for his parents who made sure he was baptised;
• Thanking God for his sponsors – who stood for him and who made the Baptismal Promises on his behalf, and maybe when his parents died – they both died very young – helped to keep him on the straight and narrow path of the practise of his faith – for ever.
Even future popes, as young men, need guidance. Anyhow, Pope John Paul was well aware that his baptism was the basis of his whole Christian life. it is the gateway to life in the Holy Spirit – the life of faith. Baptism is the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism, we are freed from all traces of sin – the sin of our first parents. We are reborn as sons and daughters of God to a new life – a divine life.
At Baptism we all become members of Christ’s body – that is to say – we become members of the Church. I was asked to speak about Baptism and Communion with one another. It is suggested by the theme perhaps of International Eucharistic Congress which is taking place in June and which has its theme The Eucharist – Communion with Christ and with one Another.
When we hear the word ‘Communion’ we probably think about Holy Communion. The Eucharist is called Holy Communion because, by the sacrament of the Eucharist, we are united to Christ who makes us sharers in His Body and Blood to form a single body.
These days I am out and about in parishes for Confirmation. Recently I was in Middletown and, of course, one of the highlights in the ceremony of Confirmation is the Renewal of Baptismal Promises. But, first of all, the candidates have to be called and, of course, they are called by the name they have chosen for their Confirmation. They stand up on their own two feet and this time they are well able to answer for themselves. Perhaps we could do the same now. I invite you all to stand up and in reply to my questions, to answer ‘I do’.
But there is a second string to the Eucharistic Congress bow – Eucharist – Communion with One Another.
Now we know about Holy Communion. We talk about Spiritual Communion – that is, when we cannot go to Holy Communion – we invite Jesus to come, spiritually into our souls and we call this ‘Spiritual Communion’. Of course in the Creed we say we believe in the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints is another name for the Church. Our way to God, and God’s way to us, passes through the way of our family – our parish – through a community of believers. That is way we read in the Acts of the Apostles: that in the early Church they had everything in common. Everything the true Christian has, is to be considered as something possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready, and eager, to come to the help of the needy and of their neighbours in the world. That is why whoever thought of having the Trócaire campaign during Lent was really clever.
In Lent we prepare, over seven weeks, to go up to Jerusalem in the company of Jesus – to commemorate, in his company – his passion, death and, above all, to share in his victory over sin and death. We can do that in many ways –
• By fasting as Jesus fasted in the desert;
• By praying, as he prayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane that he would have the strength to do what the Father willed him to do;
• By Alms-giving which is where the Trócaire campaign comes in.
We can also share in that victory of Christ over sin by going to Confession and have Christ pour out the healing power of his Holy Spirit over us. The Holy Spirit comes yes, in Baptism and Confirmation, but the Holy Spirit also comes every time a sacrament is celebrated. The Holy Spirit comes as the Spirit of Love and love is the first gift of the Holy Spirit and one of the first effects of love is to forgive us our sins.
At Easter – at the Easter Vigil – we renew our Baptismal Promises and, as you have done just now, we recall the fact that Baptism is the foundation of communion among all Christians. That is, among Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Orthodox, Copts, Anglicans. We have all been baptised. We have a lot in common. OK our communion with one another is not perfect but the fact is that the communion with our fellow Christians is far more real than anything we have in common with Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Hindu.
I was over in Lambeth Palace, at the invitation of Archbishop Rowan Williams, to be present at an event to mark the beginning of the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There were nine different groups present – in nine different rooms. The Christians were all in one room; the Muslims in another and so on.
We Christians have the Creed in common and the Bible and lots of other things. When we say that we believe in the Communion of Saints we mean that we do not live fro ourselves only, we do not die for ourselves only, if one member of the Body – for example, my right knee suffers, all the members suffer together.
‘Now’, says St. Paul ‘You are the Body of Christ’ – by baptism and individually you are members of the Body of Christ, so we live in solidarity with all men and women in the Church. The least of our acts, done in charity, profits everybody because of this mysterious Communion of Saints. So yu see our fasting and our almsgiving are linked to our Baptism.
When we are baptised, we are anointed with the Oil of Chrism and the oil of Catechumens. We become like Christ – who is the anointed on. That is what the word ‘Christ’ means. We too are Christian – Christianised. In a sense we belong, no longer to ourselves, but to Christ who died and rose for us. Baptism gives us rights and responsibilities. We get the rights, to receive the other sacraments of course, but also to be nourished through hearing the Word of God, read to us and explained to us in good, well prepared homilies and to be healed and sustained by all the other spiritual helps and prayers in the Church.
But there are other responsibilities. By Baptism we are all made sharers in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. We share in the Mission, given to Christ by his Father, of teaching His people and of guiding them on the ways of God’s pardon and peace.
We are all called to be the Body of Christ – sharing His compassionate love with all as the aim of our diocese states. Take the example of the Penal times. There were very few priests around and even fewer bishops. At one stage there was only one bishop in Ireland, Bishop Eugene MacSweeney, who died in 1669. But the faith was preserved and passed on by baptised Christians who knew their rights and responsibilities to play their part in carrying out the work of Christ – to teach – make holy and rule, guide and shepherd.
Perhaps that is the why St. Patrick in his Confession speaks a lot about his work of baptising the people of Ireland after he had preached to them. The baptistery in the Cathedral in shows St. Patrick baptising on different occasions but especially the daughter of the king of Croghan – modern day Co Roscommon. Let us rejoice in our baptism and give God thanks for it and all the baptised.