SATURDAY 7 JUNE 2008
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
I was trying to imagine how the people of Haggardstown must have felt in 1854 when this, their brand new Church of St Fursey was opened. I am sure your ancestors must have felt an immense sense of achievement, a great feeling of satisfaction which would have brought happiness and contentment. It wasn’t exactly the easiest of times to be building a Church. The Great Famine of 1846-47 – only seven years earlier – was still fresh in their memories with its story of death and disease, hunger and starvation. Yet, they bravely faced the challenge and rose to the occasion magnificently.
I am hoping that there is a great sense of achievement, a great feeling of joy and happiness here in this parish this evening as we gather to re-dedicate this beautiful Church of St Fursey after its huge work of renovation, restoration and refurbishment that has been carried out.
It is a big undertaking to build a new church at any time. It takes people of vision and generosity and courage. It is a big undertaking to renovate a Church – it takes people of deep faith who appreciate the place of the Church in their lives. It takes people of strong hope – people who hope that there will be enough like-minded people of similar faith. It takes people with love in their hearts – a love for Jesus present in the Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. A love that moves generous spirits to give of their time to attend meetings, to study plans, to make decisions and, above all, to raise funds and to beg for help.
So, I thank God this evening for all of you who have rallied and supported Father Oliver Brennan and Father Paul Montague in this huge undertaking. I hope you are very happy with the outcome of your work. You have every right to be. I beg you to continue to support and to work together as generously as you possibly can because there is a bit of a hill to climb still. But you will get there -I have no doubt about that and, in the process, your own faith will be strengthened; your hopes will be fulfilled and your goodness and love will be rewarded.
Recently I was in the Holy Land. I attended a ceremony in a High School where we had a five act play – telling the story, on stage, of the Prodigal Son. In the story told by Jesus we hear nothing of what went on between the son and his parents before he decided to clear off and enjoy himself and leave all the work to his older brother. Well, the play that I saw gave all of the First Act to the debate between the son and his parents before he left.
In the same way we don’t know the background to the dramatic meeting described in this evening’s Gospel between Jesus and Matthew – the Collector of Taxes. Maybe Matthew had been following and listening to Jesus at a distance for some time. We don’t know. Maybe they had known each other for years and only now did Christ call him to closer friendship. Or maybe they had never met before and perhaps Jesus knew, at first sight, that this man called Matthew was meant to be one of the Chosen Twelve.
What we do know is that Christ really did know Matthew and his worth and so Matthew’s getting up to go with Jesus involved a full-scale revolution in Matthew’s life. There is no doubt about that. He was deciding to leave behind a well paid and secure job of collecting taxes – even if it was a very unpopular one. And so, it took a lot of putting faith in this itinerant carpenter from Galilee.
Matthew was choosing to follow Jesus and leave behind the money and the power and all the pleasures which money and power give. Why did Matthew do it? What gave him the courage to leave behind the wide and smooth road of the world for the narrow and steep way of following Jesus Christ?
Christ tells us why he left because he wants us to know so that we can do the same. Matthew recognised and admitted his need for God. Christ said, ‘those who are well do not need a physician. I came to call sinners’.
We can be so reluctant to admit we need the help of somebody else. Yesterday I called to see an old friend of mine who has been very ill. His wife told me that he was on point of death – he had been haemorrhaging for quite a while – and he hadn’t told either his family or his doctor. We can all be immensely proud, so stupidly proud, that we don’t recognise our need for help.
Matthew recognised and admitted his need for God. In Christ God never ceases to call everyone to seek him so as to find life and happiness. But only those who admit their needs can hear his voice. The Pharisees rejected Christ because they did not believe that they needed him. They thought that their own efforts were all that they needed and that they were sufficient. Matthew followed Christ because Matthew knew that something was missing from his life despite his well paid job and the comfortable life that it brought. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people today who are Pharisees but who don’t know it. They don’t see any need for Christ in their lives so they don’t bother to pray – they haven’t time to pray. They don’t bother to come to Mass on Sunday and to worship and praise God for all the gifts they have received. It is sad – very sad.
Fortunately, however, there are a lot of people who see their need for God and see their need for a house – God’s house. – a sacred space where they can come together to listen to the Word of God.
Jesus did not get angry very often in his life apparently but there was one time he got very angry and that was when he drove the people out of the temple who had set up their stalls inside the temple. He said: ‘This house is a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves’. So, I hope that you will always respect the sacred nature of this place. It is not a Community Centre where we come in to talk to each other – it is a house of prayer where we come in to talk to God. Please observe silence in this House of Prayer. Give to other people the chance to think about life and about the place of God in their lives and about their need for God.
Christ called Matthew to follow him. We are in the middle of a Year of Vocations. Vocation means ‘a calling’. I was a meeting the other night of lay men and women, from all over the north of Ireland and they said that when they hear the word ‘vocation’ they immediately think of vocations to priesthood and religious life. They said they never hear a word about the vocation to marriage. That is unfortunate. Everyone in this Church has a vocation. We are being called to friendship with Jesus Christ either as married or single people as lay-people or ordained to Sacred Orders or called to religious life but each one of us has been called by God. Sometimes that call is dramatically made.
Yesterday I was in Kilnacrott Abbey. We were celebrating the Feast of St. Norbert. Norbert was a Chaplain at the Court of the Emperor away back about the year 1115. Suddenly, like St. Paul, he was knocked off his horse with a bolt of lightening. When he asked the Lord: What do you want me to do? The Lord replied: ‘Stop doing evil, begin to do good’. And so, he gave up his comfortable way of life and began travelling around barefoot and half-naked preaching the Word of God, following Christ, the poor man who had no pillow on which to lay his head.
I hope that this beautiful Church will help all who come here. I hope it will help to satisfy their desire for God. That desire, that hunger for God, is written deep in the heart of each one of us – for the good reason that we have been made by God and made for God. It is as simple as that.
God never stops trying to draw us to himself. That is why he sent his son, Jesus Christ. Only in God will we find the truth and the happiness for what we hunger. Only in God can we find truth which alone can satisfy us.
Here in this Church you will be able to listen to the teaching of the apostles. The only reason we exist is because God has created us through love and out of love. Through love, God creates us and holds us in existence. We cannot really live fully according to that truth unless we acknowledge freely that love of God and entrust ourselves to our Creator – God so loved the world that he sent his son, Jesus Christ to show his love for us. That is what the teaching of the apostles is all about. That is what is explained every Sunday here at Mass.
I hope that the renovations of this Church will strengthen the community spirit here. Strengthen that sense of belonging, of caring for each other, of sharing in that Church – not just in building the Church but sharing in the pride you experienced in being part of this community.