HOMIILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEAN BRADY
SATURDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2008
In every Diocese the Cathedral Church is a focus of unity and it is wonderful to see representatives of every parish in the Diocese gathered here this evening. I am also delighted to meet again with so many of the young people from Kildare and Leighlin who were present at World Youth Day in Sydney. I hope Bishop Moriarty didn’t insist on you sleeping outside all night in preparation for this celebration as you did with hundreds of thousands of other young people before the Mass with Pope Benedict at Randwick Racecourse! I thank you for your faith and your joy on that occasion. You were an inspiration to me and to so many others and I thank you for bringing that faith and joy back to your own Diocese and now to this Cathedral for our celebration this evening.
Those of you from the Cathedral Parish, or who can remember being here for a special occasion, will feel they owe this Cathedral a particular debt. Although it is only, I think, the third time I have visited and celebrated Mass here, I too, feel I owe a debt, and I will tell you why. I suspect that by now everybody will have heard of Springfield, Illinois. It was from the steps of the State Capital there that Barack Obama launched his election campaign.
In the year 1905, my granduncle, Fr Philip Brady, was ordained here in Carlow for the diocese of Springfield, Illinois. Three years later my uncle, Fr Hugh Brady, was ordained for the same diocese. In the space of the next fifty years, five other members of my family, uncles and cousins, were ordained here for various dioceses. I am conscious today that they, and more than 3,000 priests educated in St Patrick’s College, Carlow, would have visited this Cathedral, and celebrated the great ceremonies, the great mysteries of our faith here. I am sure that it was here that they derived inspiration to continue on their faith journey, to stay with their decision to give their lives to the spreading of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. So, I regard it as a great privilege to come here today, to thank God, with you, for all that this Cathedral has meant in our lives. It has meant something in my life and I am sure it has meant much more in your lives.
Perhaps you have been here for a joyful ceremony, like a Baptism or First Communion. Maybe it was a very sad, tearful occasion, like the funeral of a mother or a father or a dear friend. Maybe it was on a day on which you made a life commitment, such as the day you were married or the day you were ordained to the priesthood. Whatever it was, it was a privileged time, a time in which you came with others to hear the Word of God and to receive grace of God. Whether you knew it or not, you came at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It was a time you met Jesus. When you heard the Scriptures, you were hearing God and when you received the Sacraments, you received in your soul the very life of God.
This evening I want to give thanks for all of those privileged times and events in which the presence of God was especially evident and powerful. They are what make this Cathedral hold such a special place in the hearts of Carlow people.
The late Bishop Larry Ryan once wrote, “Every Church is a public permanent statement of the faith of a community.” Every church, and especially every cathedral, invites us to pray. Like their tall majestic bell towers, they turn our minds from earth to heaven. They raise our eyes to God.
So what was the public permanent statement which Bishop James Warren Doyle, the great JKL, was making when he laid the foundation stone on 18 March 1828? Basically, I think, it was the message of today’s Second Reading. The message given by St. Paul to the Corinthians almost 2,000 years ago –
• God is faithful –
• God has called us and joined us to his son, Jesus Christ.
• God has enriched all of us in so many ways.
• God has given us so many gifts and graces.
The building of this Cathedral stated all of that and more. I think it says worship of God is important. To adore God is to recognise God as our Creator and our Saviour. It reminds us of what Jesus said: “You shall worship the Lord, your God and him only shall you serve”. To worship God is to praise God. It is to acknowledge that God has done great things – in us and for us.
In 1828 this statement was made, not in words, but in grey-blue stone from the quarry on the Tullow Road, in the white granite of Colonel Bruen’s quarry and in the majestic oak of Oak Park. To combine all of that diversity, and much more, into the glorious building you see before you, you needed genius and inspiration. That genius was to be found in the person of architect, Thomas Cobden. He, in turn, looked for his inspiration to Continental Europe. The inspiration for the glorious Bell Tower, for example, comes from the Beffroi Tower in Belgium.
I believe there is a great sense of unity about this Cathedral. It is a well put-together building. It retains part of the transept wall of the old 1787 Church, built by Bishop Staunton, reminding us that we all owe so much to the past and to the people who went before us. The elegant medieval windows evoke memories of the glory of Duiske Abbey. And while the majestic 150 foot tall Tower lifts our minds to God, and to heaven, as our final destiny, the low-pitched roof reminds us powerfully to keep our feet on the ground and to walk humbly in the sight of the Lord at all times.
In this way JKL, with the help of Thomas Cobden, left us, in stone, a permanent meditation on the unity which is the heart of the Christian life. It is worth remembering that JKL was a member of the Augustinian Order, so he would have been influenced by the spirituality of St Augustine. This spirituality is fundamentally that of conversion to Christ, to the love that unifies all our energies.
It is also worth remembering that St. Augustine was heavily influenced by the writings of St. Paul. It was St. Paul who reminded us that the Church is made up of ‘living stones’.
These ‘living stones’, you and I, every baptised person, are also called into a love that unites. You and I, through our conversion to the love of Christ, are called to make a living cathedral out of our own lives, out of our homes, out of our towns and cities. We are called to make them a place of encounter with the love of Christ, a love which unifies and transforms all people. I believe the world has never been more in need of this love.
I became particularly conscious of this when I visited the Holy Land earlier this year with the leaders of Ireland’s largest Christian traditions. It was not just a pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Christianity. It was an encounter with the ‘living stones’ – with the Christian community in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, in the West Bank and in Gaza. There we also met a group of young Christians who travelled for over six hours from Zebabdeh to meet us!
It was an extraordinary experience. The Christian community in the Holy Land is so full of joy and life but it is also experiencing tremendous difficulty. The number of Christians in the region has decreased dramatically. They need our help and support. That is why I want to commend Bishop Moriarty and Fr Bill Kemmy, his secretary, for the excellent way in which they have connected the celebration of the dedication of the Cathedral to the Christian community in the Holy Land. The peace lamps from Taybeh which will be lit and distributed to each parish in this Mass and the olive wood gifts that will be distributed throughout the Diocese by each Parish are a practical expression of a much deeper bond of solidarity between each of us and the Christians of the Holy Land, based on our baptism.
The Gospel this evening tells us, several times, to stay awake, to stay alert to the signs of the times. In our world today there is no shortage of disturbing signs. They make us feel anxious about the future. But there are also many positive signs. They are the seeds below the winter soil. We should never doubt that God continues to fulfil his loving plan. Whether it is in our own lives or in the events of the world, God’s love and peace can break through at a time and in a way we do not expect? People did not expect the Saviour of the world to be born in a stable, yet God’s love made flesh was present there. People did not expect the Messiah to be put to death on a cross, yet it was through the cross that God revealed the depth of his love and achieved the final victory of good over evil.
These first two weeks of Advent call us to renew our faith that God continues to turn all things to our good. Advent calls us to believe that in spite of the twists and turns of world events, God’s time will come. One day God’s peace and love will prevail. Our Gospel even suggests that it will come at a time we might not expect.
There is much talk at the moment of the credit crunch. I have great sympathy with those who are suffering as a result of that credit crunch. I suspect its impact on all of us, but especially the most vulnerable, may be more profound than had previously been anticipated. Can we dare to hope that despite the many negative consequences of the credit crunch the seeds of a more just and sustainable world are being sown. Can we hope for a world dominated by global solidarity rather than global rivalry. It will require moral courage and wisdom and self-control on the part of all to avoid the individualism, excess and dominance which fuelled the credit crunch.
Yet the global impact of the credit crunch has reminded us dramatically that, as a human family, we have never been more interdependent. If we can turn that global interdependence into a culture of global concern for the other as well as for ourselves which is the golden rule of the Gospel, then a more peaceful and sustainable future for the whole of humanity may well be closer than it has ever been before.
We have seen the dreadful pictures from Mumbai in recent days, the scenes from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan. They are all vivid reminders of the failure to beat swords into ploughshares, words and weapons of war into words and actions of peace. And yet, it may be that the world has never had a greater opportunity to develop a global culture of peace than it has today.
When I was in the Holy Land it struck me several times that the young people in Gaza city, for example, for all its misery and desolation, were using the same mobile phones, were enthusiastic about the same music and football teams as the young people in Jerusalem, Carlow and Krakow. Yes, of course, there were distinct historic and cultural differences between them but there were also bonds of solidarity and mutual encounter that had never existed before. Is it possible that with the development of global infrastructures of communication and travel, used responsibly, God is providing us with the means of a creating a more global understanding of national cultures and the possibility of more peaceful exchanges between them? Perhaps the Credit Crunch is challenging us to create stronger institutions at a global level which can guide all human activity towards a shared humanism based on solidarity?
I was particularly struck by a comment made to us by a member of the Palestinian authority. He suggested that world faith communities had to play a much more active part in finding solutions to situations of conflict in the world. In an increasingly global era, there is a strong case for making the dialogue between the major faith traditions of the world and the international political community more mainstream and permanent at a global level. The interaction of faith, politics, culture and history is so entwined that a more formal structure of ongoing international dialogue could be an invaluable contribution to the work of peace.
This Cathedral is called the Cathedral of the Assumption – the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven. It is an ever present reminder to us, as Advent is, that our ultimate homeland is in heaven. What we await with joyful hope at this time of the year is not only the coming of Jesus in the celebration of Christmas but also the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ at the end of time. What God has done in Mary, bringing her body and soul into heaven, he offers to all those who accept him with faith, following their judgement on the last day. This is the source of our hope.
As we reflect on the signs of our times, we give thanks for the sign of this great Cathedral and pray that it will continue to nourish the faith of the people of Kildare and Leighlin until the coming of the Lord. We pray that Mary, who pondered all these things in her heart, will bring us closer to the heart of her Son, that we may know the depths of his love and bring to us others the gift of his peace.