ST JOSEPH’S CHURCH, MEIGH
9 JULY 2008
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
Secondly, it is a good time to be silent and to think about the history of this Church – its purpose, its origins, its place in the life of this village and surrounding area. Finally, it is a time to rejoice and to be glad at what has been done and to give thanks for all of that.
Down through the ages people have always felt the need to come together, in assembly, to acknowledge who they really are and to state, loud and clear, that they depend on God. Our God is a God who is love. God has been revealed as a God of love by the fact that He has created us out of love, to share His life, which is a life of love. In God we live and move and have our being. Each day of our lives God shows us a Father’s love. God decided to create us in his own image and likeness. God has set us over the whole world in all its wonder and beauty. God has made us to praise Him, day by day, for the marvels of His wisdom and love.
When the children of God sin and wandered far from His friendship, God reunited them with himself through the blood of His Son, Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. God never ceases to gather His people into His Church. They gather so that they may be one, as the Father is one with the Son and the Holy Spirit. They make a House in which to gather, a place where they can hear the story of the marvels of God being recalled and recounted, and build an altar around which they can assemble to offer their gifts. This evening we are stating a fact, that we are not independent beings but we are needy people. We need to put our needs before God to implore his help. That is what we are doing here today.
This Church of St Joseph was built in 1852, four years after the Great Famine. It was at once a time of great energy and activity and yet a time of great trouble and tribulation. In 1829 the Catholic Emancipation was passed in the British Parliament, thanks mainly to the efforts of the liberator, Daniel O’Connell. It restored to the people the freedom to practise their religion after centuries of penal laws and persecution. There followed a period of great building of churches. Let me quote to you what Monsignor Raymond Murray says about it in his History of the Archdiocese of Armagh. He says, “Everywhere a miracle of church building began which never lost momentum for the next fifty years. Sites were negotiated with landlords and these were sometimes recorded in newspapers: eg. in the Drogheda Argus of 6 December 1845, it was noted that Henry Chester had given Rev. Callan, PP, Termonfechin and Sandpit an acre, rent free, as a site for a Church. In the Newry Examiner of 10 June 1846, we read that Captain Sever had given forty pounds, and a site on his estate near Meigh, and that the foundation stone was laid on 15 June. On 26 January 1846, Archbishop Crolly wrote that in the previous ten years he had consecrated seventeen new churches, that five more were nearly ready for Consecration and that the Archdiocese would then have 102 churches. Then of course there was the building of the Cathedral, which had been planned around that time and had to be suspended, due to the famine. But that era was an era of darkness as well as light in the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland. It is dark because it is dominated by the Great Famine when the population was decimated by starvation and emigration. The famine is the story of the degradation of millions of individuals. All areas of our diocese suffered from famine and fever but South Armagh suffered in particular. The Mullaghbawn poet, Art MacBionaid, has vividly described the scene in a letter of 7 January 1846, I quote:
“I had days of woe and nights of lamentation which caused me to withdraw myself from the Communion of Men, finding myself in the decline of life, my strength prematurely exhausted by hard labour, my help quickly hurried away from me and the last spark of life threatened to be extinguished with hunger by the failure in the potato crop.”
Daniel O’Connell, the great Liberator, died on his way to Rome, heartbroken at his failure to convince the British Government to give more help to the starving people.
Today we pause in silence before all of those facts. We recognise the fact that, despite all of that adversity, within five or six years of the Great Famine this beautiful church of St Joseph had been built.
Finally let us be glad, let us rejoice in the protection of St Joseph, Patron of this Church, who obviously watched over the faith-life of this community down through the years. Let us rejoice and be glad for the people of vision, Fr Naughton and his colleague, Fr Mulvihill, and their committees who saw the need to have this Church restructured and refurbished and renewed. Let us rejoice and be glad for the architects and engineers, contractors and workmen, for their skills and talents and hard work and dedication. Let us rejoice and be glad for the generosity of people who backed this project, with their time, their resources, their energy and contributions.
Recently I was in Quebec for the forty-ninth Eucharistic Congress. The theme of that Conference was, Eucharist – Gift of God for the life of the world. It came home to me that it was because the people of this area realised the importance of the Eucharist for their spiritual life that they were determined to build this Church in the first place, despite the adversity and the hard times. I know that it is that same faith that convinced the present generation that the Eucharist was essential and central to their life. So let us rejoice in the fact that, yes, we build temples of stone, timber, metal and marble, but the real temples that are to be built are ourselves. We are the temples of the Holy Spirit; so we pray that when we gather in the Churches that our worship will be sincere and honest and faithful. We pray that we will always recognise the purpose of the Church. It is the place where we worship God and pray for the strength to live our lives as God would want us to live them. May we find the strength to transform the world into a world where justice prevails and peace is secure; a world built on solid foundations of truthfulness and fair play and honesty and solidarity where everyone pulls their weight and pays their share and gives to those who are in need.
I am always delighted when I hear somebody take the name Monnine at Confirmation. She is the great patroness of this parish of Killeavy. Just imagine, her memory is still alive and vivid fifteen hundred years after her death. She opened her Convent with eight maidens and one widow. We are told the widow’s child was called Luger and was fostered by Monnine and later became a bishop. Their life style was so poor that they lived at subsistence levels, we are told, but the fact is their name and their memory lives. The reason is that they heard the call of God, the call of the Holy Spirit, to dedicate themselves to a life of prayer and adoration and praise. Today, when we hear of Killeavy, many people think immediately of St Monnine. We have a year of vocation in progress at the moment. It is a year when the Church is inviting people to reflect on what God is calling them to be and to do. Whether we are single or married, God is calling each one of us to adore him. He may be calling some to lead that adoration, as a priest or as a religious. My hope is that your newly refurbished Church will be a great centre of adoration, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. As we prepare for the next Eucharistic Conference which will be held, please God, in Dublin, with your help it will be a great success. If you make this Church a real centre of prayer and adoration, that adoration will bring blessings on you and your children.
There is one other matter which, I think, on an occasion like this, we should advert to at least. There was one time the Lord got very angry. It is described in St John’s Gospel. Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons and the money changers sitting at their counters. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon sellers, “Take all of this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.” His Father’s house is not a market, it is a place of prayer. It is not a place we come to talk to each other but primarily we come to talk to God and therefore it is a place in which to be silent. The words, to be silent, are very important to create the right climate, the right atmosphere, where we really can talk to God about the deepest things, about the things that matter to us. My prayer is that through the intercession of St Monnine and St Joseph, St Joseph the silent man, this will always be a house of prayer, great prayer, deep prayer, where people can adore from the depth of their hearts. Be silent, in wonder and awe, and rejoice.
In the ceremonies this evening we use incense. You may wonder what is the meaning of incense. Let me quote you this passage from the Book of Revelation according to St John. “I John, saw in my vision another angel who had a golden censer and who came and stood at the altar. A large quantity of incense was given to him to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that stood in front of the throne; and so from the angels the smoke of the incense went up in the presence of God and with it the prayers of the saints.” You are the successors of those saints. As the incense goes up to the roof, so may your prayers ascend into the presence of God and may they be heard always.