Bi Centenary Mass
St. Patrick’s Corracrin,
23 October 2011
Brother priests and brothers and sisters in Christ,
Many years ago a Major Fawcett journeyed down one of the magnificent rivers of the world, the Amazon, to trace some of its uncharted tributaries. When he came back, he seemed extremely uncomfortable, even speechless, when people asked him what he had discovered. How could he begin to describe the breathtaking beauty, the sounds and the silences, the mystery of dark waters and towering trees, the thumping of his heart from fear or excitement? His response was “go and see for yourselves,” and he drew them a map. Then one day he went back in and never came out. The people treasured the map. They said it helped them know better the shape, turns and twists of the great river. But most of them never actually ventured into the river’s mysteries.
When Sr. Fergus Kennedy died inWestern Australia, she was 89 years old. She left a Mayo parish in 1927 when she was 17 years old. She already had two half-sisters nuns inAustraliaand was later joined by two more younger sisters. What inspired five young Irish girls to undertake such a journey and mission? They must have had a strong sense of how precious and important is faith in a loving and caring God. They wanted to share the gift of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Good News is that God loved us so much that he sent his Son among us to conquer the power of sin and evil and open for us the way to happiness, even when our days in this world are over. To know and believe that is to give meaning and direction to the often confused and complex and unpredictable lives that we lead. Irish Missionaries have left family and friends and place and travelled to the other ends of the world to share this precious gift with others. They have drawn a map for us even if we don’t venture into the river’s mysteries.
Terri had two small children and lived in an abusive marriage. She fled one day, moved into an apartment and started a new life for herself and her children. She came home one evening to find her key no longer worked in her apartment door. She broke a windowpane and got in, only to discover that all her possessions were gone – everything! The police showed up shortly after. Terri was arrested for breaking and entering. It transpired that her roommate had taken Terri’s rent money but never paid the rent with it. She had been evicted that day by the landlord, and when she moved out, she took all of Terri’s belongings with her.
Terri was understandably in shock. She and her two children were now homeless. They had lost all they owned. Terri took what cash she had and bought them something to eat. Then she drove to the park to spend the night there. As the girls fell asleep, Terri noticed other people drifting into the park. They were homeless, dirty looking and down and out; not the kind of people she would ever associate with. She was frightened, very frightened.
Next morning Terri found a phone in the park. She called her boss and explained her plight, asking him for an advance on that week’s pay cheque. He did not believe her. An hour later, as she tried to compose herself, one of the dirty-looking and unshaven park squatters shuffled towards her and said”ma’am, me and the fellas took up a collection for you and your little girls; it’s not much but it’ll help a little.” He shoved some cash into her hand. She began to cry again, this time because she realised that these men whom she had written off were showing her a love she could not imitate.
Terri later said, “As long as I live, I will never forget that day, when God showed me what true generosity and giving meant. He showed me love comes from the most unexpected places, often in the most unlikely way. These park squatters will live in my heart and memories forever, as the richest people I ever came across because they had enough love to share with a mother and her two daughters, who would not have given them the time of day
The next time a sunrise steals your breath away, a meadow of flowers makes your spirit skip, a spouse’s sacrifice drops your jaw, a child’s hug warms your heart, a stranger’s kindness blows your mind, a neighbour’s thoughtfulness leaves you speechless – say nothing, pause a moment and listen as heaven whispers “God is alive.”
Parents are normally the first missionaries. But then, Terri’s experience reminds us that any of us can be. Each one of us has the capacity to open up the precious gift of God’s love to another. Some chart far-flung rivers and mountains, some do their mapping without leaving home. We can all be breakers of the bread of God’s life for those around us. The God of Jesus shown in the Gospel incident does not condemn people in their misery; he feels their pain and brings forgiveness and healing. He asks his followers to imitate him as ministers of these gifts. In God’s kingdom, neither sin nor illness has the last word and Jesus today proclaims this as good news.
My dear people of the parish of Donagh, today is a very special day for you. Your Church, St. Patrick’s, has been in a sense a stone owl observing two centuries of our people’s history from the early days of emerging emancipation after the penal laws, to the beginning of a school system and the building of churches, the horrors of famine years and wholesale emigration, to establishing a form of independence with our own parliament and constitution, coping with a civil war, creating a modern state, living in a spin of apparent wealth and now waking up to start coping with reality again.
Through all that time this building has housed and offered to your people the Book of the Word of God and the table of the Lord’s Body and Blood. In this building, your children have been received into the family of parish; you have experienced signs of forgiveness and have been nourished in mind and heart at the Lord’s table. In this Church your young people have welcomed the Holy Spirit and committed their lives to each other as they began married life with the Lord’s blessing and river map. You came here to pray for your dead and laid their bodies to rest in consecrated ground. The owl’s eyes have wept, been startled, frightened, at times joyful and never without a smile of affection, compassion and hope.
You have treated your Church with great affection and respect. It is a fine tribute to the priests who have served in this parish, not least to Fr. Hubert Martin, the Parish Pastoral Council, the Parish Finance Council and you the people of the parish. I compliment you on your booklet and on your preparations for today’s liturgical celebration of two hundred years. I share your spirit of celebration and I join in your hopes for the future. With God’s blessing, may St. Patrick’s Church continue to be a place of grace and inspiration, where God’s love will touch your people’s minds and hearts in such a way that future generations will live in peace and harmony, in a spirit of mutual service. In thanking God for the blessings of the past, we ask his favour for the future. We pray that in missioning to one another, as he has mapped out for us, we may find happiness that extends to eternal life.
+Liam S. MacDaid