27 JUNE 2011

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This is indeed a day of great rejoicing as we come together to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving and rededicate, to the glory of God, your beautifully renovated and reordered Church of St Patrick.  

I warmly congratulate you Fr Donnelly, your congregation and kind supporters who have ensured that the physical attributes of St Patrick’s Church are made secure for many years.  I thank and congratulate the Parish Finance Committee and the Building Committee who have provided generous assistance and advice for this renovation project.  I also congratulate Karl Pedersen, the architect, for his professional work and most interesting piece on the renovation in the booklet.  I most gladly rejoice with, and congratulate, the people who made it all happen.  They are listed on page 19 of the booklet.  The engineers, surveyors, clerk of works and of course the contractors, and sub-contractors, the people who had to take the plans, the designs and specification and made it all happen.  As an acclaimed architect once said to me: ‘Those are the people I take off my hat to.’  

In the Booklet we read:  ‘At St Patrick’s Church, Ballinderry we are very conscious of the work of all those who went before us in establishing a sacred building for divine worship at this site’.  It is important that we all be conscious of the valiant efforts of the people who worked to realise this creation.

This Church was first built in the now distant 1843.  Prior to that we know that people on the Derry side went to Carnagh Chapel on Spring Road and those on the Tyrone side to the wee altar by Duffy’s Corner, where, according to the records of Ballinderry Historical Association, they prayed in the glade under the canopy of Heaven.  The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 offered new possibilities and the people of Ballinderry were, as always, quick off the mark.  Fr MacOscar offered to buy this site from the Salters Company of London.  But he did not have to do so.  The Company offered him one Irish acre as a free grant to the parish.  It is testimony to good relations, and presumably to the high opinions, of the Company of their employees from this parish.

The work of promoting the construction fell to Fr Quinn.  The O’Neill’s of Ballinderry, known as the Masons, began the work and Michael McWilliams & Co completed it.  

Recently the Eucharistic Congress Bell came to this area.  It is of interest that in 1897 a decision was taken, when Fr McCooey was the Parish Priest, to procure the services of a bell.  The bell weighs half a ton.  Some money was raised in America – a certain Mr Toner sent a cheque for £22.  The benefactors, obviously natives of the parish, said that they gladly contributed so that the bell would ring out melodiously to echo over the waters of sweet Lough Neagh.  There are echoes there surely of the yearnings in the heart of every exile for their native share.
Things appear to have rested, more or less thus until 1964.  Then Fr Patrick Fox embarked on a major work of restoration.  The most notable feature was the installation of the beautiful stained glass window depicting seven, the perfect number, Irish saints and scenes from the Bible.  Then in 1994-95 the roof was replaced – an important piece of work – during the tenure of Fr Terry Kelly.

That takes us to today and the beginning of another chapter of this illustrious church.  The results are to be seen by all and need no commentary from me.  There is abundant commentary in the Booklet and I urge you all to read it.

As Karl Pedersen writes –‘old churches are steeped in history’.  This one is steeped in your history, the history of your families and your community, the history of baptisms and births, marriages and deaths and much more.  It is a proud history – a history of the value and appreciation of faith.  But church buildings are not primarily about bricks and mortar but about the people who come to pray and worship in them.

Now what are the challenges?

I think that today’s Gospel is particularly well chosen. When I come here I am often reminded of the Sea of Galilee, which features so prominently in the life of Jesus.

The challenge now is to ensure that this, St Patrick’s Church, will continue to provide meaning to the lives of the people who worship here.  The challenge is to ensure that it will continue to give hope to people.  That will definitely help if we all remember the following:

When the Holy Spirit came, the Infant Church decided that there were four things that would play a part in ensuring they could continue the work of Christ.  They must be faithful to the teaching of the Apostles.  That teaching was naturally all about Jesus and his compassionate love, his healing power.  You people, and your ancestors, had gathered here for almost 200 years to listen to that teaching, as the Scriptures are read and explained from here and to go out and put into practice in life.

Every Christian community is called to be faithful to prayer.  It is a response to the love of God for us – a love made visible in Jesus Christ and made known through the teaching of the Apostles.

Here you gather to pray often:  In times of joy and sorrow you come to ask help.  In times of danger and of jubilation, you come to give thanks.  The Christian community is committed to caring for the community and I know that there is a strong community spirit here.  Your winning of the All-Ireland Club Title is just one illustration of that community spirit.  I know that there are many more.  I am quite sure that what happens within these four walls also plays its part.  Long may it continue to do so.

Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat.  When he had finished speaking he said to Simon:  “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”.  

The fact that Peter, and the others, had been fishing all night in vain, plus the fact that Simon was the fisherman and Jesus, the carpenter’s son, must have tempted Simon to answer something like this:  ‘Master, with all due respect, I am the fisherman and know about these things and we were out all during the night and caught nothing’.  But no, that is not Peter’s way.  He has far too much trust in the Master to even hesitate, for one moment, before obeying.  So, Peter puts his trust absolutely in the word of Jesus and that trust is rewarded.

For over one hundred and sixty-eight years our people have gathered in this Church on the lovely Lough shore.  They have come to this place to savour, again and again, the great promises of God that He would be with us to the end of time.

Your ancestors gathered to hear again the great challenge:  to put our trust and to put out into the deep.  In other words, not to be afraid to give time to prayer and to experience there the everlasting, unchanging love of God at work in our own lives and in the lives of others.  Here may you realise that you are in the presence of God.  May you see more clearly that God is here, but also within you, in the beautiful creation that surrounds you and in those around you.

The fourth request, made to the early Church, was that they should be faithful to the Breaking of Bread – in other words – to the Mass.  

I have great memories of celebrating Mass here, where you gathered in great numbers – young and old – to, as in the words of the Second Reading – ‘Sing the praises of God’.  God is a God who called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.  

This evening we recall that we have all been called out of the darkness of ignorance of Jesus Christ to knowing Him and loving Him.  It is not a reference to Derry’s recent good form in qualifying for the Ulster Final, after a period in the shade.  Many good wishes go with them and especially the Ballinderry players involved in that final.

St Peter tells us to set ourselves close to Jesus Christ.  St. Paul puts it another way – Put on the mind of Christ.  Have the outlook of Christ – make the values which Christ lived – truth and justice and love – make those values your values.

Today, as down through the ages, Jesus invites us to recognise what He has done for us.  That he loved us to the end – to the extent of dying on the Cross to save us from everlasting death.  He has left us the Mass to remind us of His love for us.  What a treasure that the Eucharist is and what a privilege to belong to a people who appreciate that treasure.  

There is a lovely piece in the Eucharistic Prayer of this Mass which sums up many of our hopes and the hopes of this Parish this evening.  

Father accept the prayers of those who dedicate this Church to you.
May it be a place where your Gospel of peace is proclaimed –
and your holy mysteries celebrated.
Guided by your word and secure in your peace,
May your Chosen People, now journeying through life,
Arrive safely at their eternal home.
There may all your children, now scattered abroad, be settled at last in your City of Peace.

Let me quote the excellent Booklet one more time.  The fact that such enormous effort has been made by your Parish Priest and so many others, bears testimony to the relevance of the Church to the present and to our future.

This space has communicated with so many people over the years.  This restoration work will ensure that the conversation continues.  Long may that conversation continue.  If it does, you will see that God will not be outdone in generosity – that is for sure.  God wants this conversation certainly to continue so that you may come to know that each and every one of you is precious to God – so precious that God has written your name on the palm of His hand.