PARISH OF KINNEGAD
Cardinal Seán Brady
Archbishop of Armagh
Sunday 7th June 2009
It is a great privilege to be here today. It is an honour to be part of the centenary celebrations of this Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in the historic parish of Kinnegad.
• I want to thank your young and energetic Parish Priest, Fr Tom Gilroy for his kind invitation to be here.
• I salute your Pastor Emeritus, my friend and one of my predecessors as Rector of the Irish College in Rome, Msgr Eamon Marron. His energy and unstinting commitment continue to inspire us all.
• I congratulate your Centenary Celebration Committee. The wonderful range of activities and events they have put together to mark this important year in the life of your parish is really impressive. Their collaboration with the priests and religious of the Parish represents, I think, a model way of being Parish community. It is a way of being a Christian faith community, which is crucial to the future of the Church in Ireland.
• I also want to thank my colleague Bishop Michael for his warm welcome to the Diocese today and for his invaluable wisdom, advice and friendship over many years. Bishop Michael is one of the longest serving members of the Irish Bishops’ Conference and I can’t begin to tell you how much we depend on him in our work.
• I also extend my gratitude and esteem to all the priests and religious who are gathered here today. I know that this parish has given so many of its daughters and sons to the service of the Church as religious Sisters, Brothers and priests.
In a heartfelt way I want to thank you all for your continued generosity and faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ and the love of the Blessed Trinity in these painful and challenging times. These are difficult times for the Church in Ireland. Much greater difficulties, however, are faced by those who suffered abuse. This is a time for much prayer, great healing and wise discernment.
As a Christian community we must face the full truth about what happened. We must face up to the full challenges of the truth of the past, as well as to the challenge of safeguarding children, of justice and healing, challenges which have been consistently set before us by Pope Benedict XVI.
When this beautiful Church was built one hundred years ago, it was built carefully and patiently. In rebuilding trust and hope in the Church, and within the Church at this time, the respect, love and care we show to every individual will be critical. Our faith calls us to see, in every individual, a unique and cherished child of God. It calls us to respect and protect the innate dignity of every person, irrespective of their age or condition of life. It calls us to care especially for the most vulnerable.
When this beautiful Church was built one hundred years ago, it was also built by a whole community. The local community of faith came together to share the effort. The challenge of rebuilding hope and trust in the future will also involve the whole Christian community. As Christians we are the Body of Christ. In the words of St. Cyprian, we are ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ The Church ‘is a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all.’ (n.4)
The Blessed Trinity calls each one of us to be in loving communion with God and everyone united with each other. This is the vision which sustains us. This is the call which beckons us onwards in every challenge and every changing tide of human history.
Building communion with God and community and with each another is at the very heart of being a Catholic. I have noticed how important community organisations are in the parish. Father Gilroy has mentioned to me the good work of:
Youth Club and, of course,
The GAA Clubs and
The Juvenile Soccer, and others.
On this feast of the Holy Trinity we are reminded that communion and community are also part of God’s very nature. God is a community of person – not a lone, solitary figure. Not just a static community – but a dynamic community – a community of mutual love – a community of persons, equal in dignity but also diverse in their mission and roles.
The Father creates,
The Son redeems,
The Spirit Sanctifies.
As our Gospel today reminds us, at the very moment we begin our Christian life in Baptism, we are baptised ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ When we gather together in prayer we begin ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. When we say Amen to the all that we believe in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass we do so through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to the glory and honour of the Father Almighty. The Trinity is at the very heart of our faith. It is important that we think about it, especially on the Feast of the Holy Trinity.
A way I find useful to throw light on the Blessed Trinity is a way used by many early Christians. According to St Cyprian, the Blessed Trinity lives in an eternal communion of life and love which is perhaps a little like a lively dance. It is full of energy and life. It is full of harmonious movement in which each person is sensitive to and responds almost intuitively to the needs of the other. As with all human analogies about God, the idea of the life of the Trinity as an eternal dance is a limited one. But it may help us a little bit. I am sure many of the boys and girls here today are excellent dancers. God certainly invites each of us to join that dance through the sacraments and through prayer and especially through the kind of life we live.
This insight into the Christian truth of God as a community of persons, living in harmony and sharing with each other, was of particular importance to the early Christian communities of Ireland. We have it in the emphasis given to monasticism as a practical expression of the life of the Trinity. There individuals sought communion with God but also lived a common life in community. These communities, like the Trinity, were also intensely missionary. They sought to share the civilisation and love that came from their life of common prayer, holiness and work, with others.
Of course we have it right here in the Parish of Kinnegad in the great monastic tradition associated with St. Finnian at Clonard. It was here that St. Finnnian became renowned as the ‘tutor to the saints of Ireland’. Many of the founders of the best known monasteries in Ireland, indeed across Europe, are known to have been educated at Clonard or studied with those who had been at Clonard.
We think of St. Colmcille, the founder of the monasteries of Derry and of Durrow before moving to Scotland to found Iona. We celebrate his feast on Tuesday. This week, Cardinal Keith O’Brien is coming to Derry, as Papal Legate, to celebrate the centenary of St Columba’s in the Long Tower. We think also of St Ciaran of Clonmacnoise which became known as ‘the first Celtic University’. We think too of St. Molaise, pupil of Clonard and founder of a major monastic school on Devenish Island in Fermanagh.
As you know, better than I, Clonard also lists among its highly influential alumni, people like St. Brendan of Birr, St. Brendan the Navigator, St. Colman of Terryglass and those others who are often referred to collectively as the ‘twelve apostles of Ireland’. Clonard is also linked to St. Comgall of Bangor. Bangor, in turn, became famous for its important role in recovering civilisation in Europe after the dark ages, through monastic missionaries like St. Columbanus and St. Gall.
The legacy of Clonard, now part of this parish of Kinnegad, underlines magnificently the power of one person. This was also a key theme in the Year of Vocation which has just come to an end here in Ireland. It was called ‘The Power of One’! The impact of the life of one person, like your own St Finnian, has been both extraordinary and enduring. One person, faithful to God, fired up with the vision of a strong community of faith, modelled on the life of the Blessed Trinity itself, can do great things. Rather God can do great things through the lives of those who listen to the words: “Go make disciples” and take them to heart.
I understand that you are already making preparations for the 1500th anniversary of the arrival of St. Finnian in Clonard, which you will celebrate in 2015. I wish you every success for these preparations. You are the holders of a great legacy on behalf of the Irish people. It is important for future generations that you do all in your power to preserve and promote that legacy because it is something of immense importance and good. I pray that your preparations and celebration of the arrival of St. Finnian and the founding of the monastery at Clonard will be a time of great renewal for each of you and for the whole parish as a community of living faith. I know that in celebrating St Finnian, you will also be celebrating people like Cardinal John Glennon, renowned Archbishop of St Louis, who died in Dublin en route to America after receiving the Red Hat in Rome.
There is a second important lesson, I believe, we learn from the example of St. Finnian and his faithful followers in the Irish Monastic tradition. It is the importance of building communion and community in everything that we do. Across the Western world at the moment, many countries, especially in larger towns and cities, are experiencing a crisis of community. Where there was once a strong sense of community, there is now a growing isolation and fear. In some cases there is has been a dramatic breakdown in social cohesion. This breakdown is often marked by an increase in violence and crime. It can also be observed in a more general attitude of aggression and lack of civility towards others.
Ireland has not been immune from these trends. Even in small rural communities in Ireland I sometimes hear people express concern about a loss of neighbourliness, of loneliness or of regret that many valued community events of the past no longer take place.
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is an opportunity to renew our commitment to community as a fundamental part of our Christian calling. It is an opportunity to renew our commitment to being good neighbours and to caring for one another in all sorts of practical ways. Irish people have always been renowned for and proud of their heritage in this regard.
The community is important to our well being both as individuals and as a country. We know this not just because research tells us but because the very nature of God our creator reveals it to us. We are not only created in the image of God as individuals. We also reflect the image of God in our life as a community of persons. When we live that life in harmony, mutual service and peace we reflect the image of God among us. We reflect the harmony and love of the Blessed Trinity. This is the ideal which lies behind monastic and religious life. This is the ideal which inspired people like Finnian and Brendan and Colmcille and Columbanus and Gall. This is the vision which fired their imagination and will to go out to the far flung parts of Europe in some of its darkest days and renew civilisation with the vision of vibrant Christian communities doing good in the world. This vision still inspires young people to leave home and to go to developing countries for a spell to help in voluntary projects. We salute the missionary sons and daughters of this parish – wherever they may be today – and remember them in prayer. We recall the fact that by baptism we ar all missionary.
When we do not live well as a community, we suffer as individuals and as a society. When we simply look after ourselves and society breaks down and we may even begin to believe that there is no such thing as society.
So how do we build community? Government sponsored initiatives which promote positive and harmonious relations certainly have an important part to play. Parishes certainly have a critical and irreplaceable role in building community. It is a fundamental part of their mission and duty. Even the parish bingo can create a valued point of contact and interaction for people who would otherwise feel isolated! The challenge is to reconnect people with each other in their community.
At the end of the day however, there is one thing which can do this with more meaning and more value than any other. It is captured for me in a wonderful saying of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice. He once said: “Were we to know the merit and value of only going from one street to another to serve a neighbour for the love of God, we should prize it more than silver and gold.”
St. John of the Cross once put it like this: ‘where there is no love, put love, and you will find love’!
Building up community, creating the civilisation of love among us, in the image of the Triune God, is achieved, in the words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, by living ‘the little way of love’.
Every kind word, every generous action, every thoughtful gesture has immense and incalculable value in the eyes of the Triune God. Every act of love, no matter how small, continues the mission of love by which the Blessed Trinity created, redeemed and now continues to sanctify our sometimes lonely and aggressive world.
Yet, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us that the power of God’s Triune love to heal and to help us to live by the truth is greater than any evil. Beside this Church lie the remains of the old St. Mary’s Church, destroyed by a tragic fire in 1909. Out of that tragedy this better and larger Church was built. The image of these two Churches standing side by side is a constant reminder of the truth of the Cross itself. Even out of the greatest evil God has the power to bring good. That is why we draw such hope from the final words of our Gospel today: ‘and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” The Lord does not abandon his faithful people. He does not abandon the wounded and the broken. By the power of the Risen Lord the Church is given strength to overcome, in patience and in love, her sorrows and her difficulties
The monasteries founded by St. Finnian and other early Celtic saints played an important role in the development of what became known as the ‘golden age of Irish Christianity’. On this Feast of the Holy Trinity let us commit ourselves to that radical way of living which is the ‘little way of love’. It is the way of doing ordinary things with extraordinary love – in our homes, our schools, our workplace, our Parish, our Church and our country. This is the surest rock on which we can build our Christian hope for the future. It is the hope for healing, for forgiveness and for every person in this world to be treated with the dignity and love of a child of God.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.