Readings: Is. 55:6-9; Ps. 144: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18, R/v.18; Phil. 1:20-24,27; Mt. 20:1-16.
‘One of the great signs of renewal in our Church is the increasing and generous service and witness of lay people, and I know that this is a particular strength of this parish of Cúlmáine. … But to see the ministry of lay people as simply a way of solving a shortage of priests is quite wrong. It is, rather, the natural, rightful and necessary living out of the common priesthood of all baptised people, and a generous response to our shared baptismal calling.’ – Mgr Joseph McGuinness
We have just listened to the well-known parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. It is a story which speaks to us of the infinite generosity and mercy of God, who opens his arms to each one of us, no matter when we turn to him. But I must confess that, given the special occasion which we celebrate today in Ederney, the image of the workers, toiling through the heat of the day, put me in mind of the old grainy photographs of the building of this church – of the men preparing ground, or up on the scaffolding, or pausing for a moment to look into the camera. The fact that this only happened 60 years ago will mean that many of you will have memories of that time, or will have heard first-hand accounts of it, for many from your own families were involved in the creation of this lovely parish church.
It’s often the case that the building of a church is associated with the particular parish priest of the time – we sometimes hear people say that “Fr so-and-so built that church”, as if he was a master of construction and a multi-tasking genius. But it is often the truth that in times gone by it was the priest who was the driving force behind such projects and in Ederney I know that the name of Fr Felix McKenna will be forever associated with the building of St Joseph’s, and rightly so. But we have to bear in mind that churches are built first and foremost because people believe, and hope and love. Churches are a visible testament to a community’s faith in God, its hope in the endurance of that faith into the future and its love for God expressed in a unique gift to him and to future generations.
A church like this comes into existence, not simply through the will of a priest, but through the determination of a community whose minds imagine and create, whose hands labour and build, and whose hearts are generous in giving. From the initial donation of this land by James McKervey, through the generous response to Fr McKenna’s tireless fundraising and the dedicated labour of those who completed the building, this has been a church by the people, of the people and for the people. So today is a moment not only to give thanks for those who planned and built this church, but also those who have cared for it and maintained it over the last 60 years and those who continue to do so today.
St Joseph’s is truly, in the Irish expression, a Teach an Phobail – the House of the People as well as the House of God. For a church is much more than simply a building. It is a sacred place, dedicated to the worship and service of god. But it is also a repository of memories and emotions. It is intimately linked to the most important moments and movements of our lives – the joyful times of birth, of growth, of marriage and family, and the sorrowful experiences of failure, illness and death. St Joseph’s has also had the unusual distinction of witnessing the ordination together of cousins, Fr Joe McVeigh and Fr Seán McGrath, here in 1971. In such times of joy and in times of adversity, it is to the church that we come, to find in prayer and praise together, and in mutual support, a deeper meaning to our lives and a refreshment and renewal for our spirits.
On the occasion of the dedication of this church on the 17th of November 1957 by Bishop O’Callaghan, the sermon was preached by the late Fr Dan Duffy, then a curate in Carrickmacross. Dr Duffy spoke most eloquently about the struggles of previous generations to keep the flame of faith alive and the joy it was to see in the new church a great expression of the strength of faith which had been handed down through generations. But while rightly praising the great achievement of the building of St Joseph’s, he also sounded a note of warning, which in some ways may seem prophetic. He said:
“Do not be satisfied therefore, that you have built a beautiful temple and that your work is done. How tragic it would be if the faith of this generation, of the many who worship and will worship in this church, did not match the faith of those who went before you, who worshipped for hundreds of years without a chapel at all. Adversity is a test of faith and patience and resignation to the will of God. But prosperity is even a greater test. It gives a false sense of independence and well-being which could undermine our sense of dependence on God, that simple child-like faith which is the foundation of the religious life. That could happen. I pray it will not.”
If we look back over the 60 years which have elapsed since Fr Duffy spoke those words from this pulpit, we can’t but be amazed at how much the landscape both of church and society has changed. We live now in a different world. Some things are for the better, others less so. We do live in an era of relative wealth and prosperity, but, as Dr Duffy warned, this poses challenges to faith, and questions the values in life that we consider most important. What is it that the generation which has inherited this church wants to pass on to the next generation? In his sermon, Dr Duffy spoke of that day of dedication as “a day of resolution”. This, he said, means “a renewal of your faith as a parish, as a community which has lived and suffered and prayed in this locality for over a thousand years.” We, as individuals and as a church, are in constant need of renewal if we are to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ confidently and joyfully in our own time.
One of the great signs of renewal in our Church is the increasing and generous service and witness of lay people, and I know that this is a particular strength of this parish of Cúlmáine. As a people, you have been unafraid to take responsibility for building, not just a church, but a community of faith. This is especially important in a time when the number of priests is diminishing. When this church was built there were three priests serving in this parish – now there is just one. But to see the ministry of lay people as simply a way of solving a shortage of priests is quite wrong. It is, rather, the natural, rightful and necessary living out of the common priesthood of all baptised people, and a generous response to our shared baptismal calling.
As we celebrate today with joy and gratitude, I pray that the people of this parish will continue to bear the strong and faithful witness which was shown in past generations and which shines so brightly today. 60 years ago Fr Duffy implored the people in these pews: “Let the beauty of our faith match the beauty of our church.” May God grant us all that grace, and may the patron of this Church, St Joseph, be our intercessor and protector, that we may share in his wisdom, his strength and his love and devotion to the Son of God.
Notes for Editors:
1. The Parish of Cúlmáine (known also as Ederney) is based in north-Fermanagh, adjacent to the border with County Donegal. In terms of pastoral outreach, the parish works closely with the neigbouring parish of Pettigo. The Parish Priest is Fr Frank McManus PP. According to the 2015 Diocesan Census, Cúlmáine comprises of 449 Catholic families and has a Catholic population of 1,229. The non-Catholic population is 2,037, comprised of 833 families. The parish incorporates the villages of Ederney and Kesh.
2. St Joseph’s Church was dedicated on 17 November 1957 by the then Bishop of Clogher, Most Reverend Eugene O’Callaghan (Bishop of Clogher 1943-1969). The 60th anniversary has been marked by a number of parish liturgical events over the past weekend, including a Service of Reconciliation, School Mass and the Celebration of the Sacrament of Sick.