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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Mass on the Occasion of the 50th anniversary  of Abbeyfeale Parish Church - 16 June 2018


We are celebrating 50 years of a parish church. So it’s good for us for a moment to look back and be thankful. Obviously, I wasn’t here at that time, but my own parish in Dublin last year celebrated its golden jubilee and I recalled how, as a seven year old, I went to the opening and blessing of the church. I remember the excitement, the bell ringing, waiting for the Bishop to arrive, the crowds of people, the prayers, the atmosphere of mystery. I’m sure many of you here have memories of the new church being built, and the day of its blessing, and then the first years of its use. And since then, many, many of you have experienced significant family moments of joy and suffering, celebration and prayer. If the stones could talk they would have many a story to tell. And it would be good on this occasion to tell the stories to your loved ones.

And in telling the story, let’s remember the great story of the Church in Abbeyfeale going back to the 12th century and the Cistercian abbey. Over the centuries, like the seed mentioned in the Gospel, the Catholic faith has been alive and growing in this area. So while celebrating this 50 years of the church building, we remember today that ultimately, faith is a gift. It has come to us from God. And it was transmitted through many generations devoted also to Our Lady to whom this church is dedicated. I am grateful for the priests and religious who served here over all those generations. So, we are grateful for this past fifty years of a story that is centuries old and it comes to us as a gift.

Let’s look now for a moment at today. While the Church is a gift to us, it is also a task. A church building exists to contain the People of God. In Irish the Church is called “teach an phobail”. The building reminds us, yes, of God, of the saints, of the mystery in life. We are called together by the Holy Spirit whose image hovers above us here in the Church. But the church building also stands here to remind us we go to God together. It’s the People that makes the Church. We don’t go to God as individuals isolated from one another. The Holy Spirit forms us to be a family, the family of God. In a sense, if the parish is a family made up of many families, then the parish church is the place where the family of families meet, share, pray and encourage each other.

What should distinguish us when we come together is our love for one another. And here I would like to quote something Pope Paul VI who was Pope when this church was opened, said when he visited a parish church around the time this church was being built: “Are the faithful united here in love, in the charity of Christ? Then certainly this is a living parish. The true Church is here since the divine-human phenomenon that perpetuates the presence of Christ among us is blossoming here. Are the faithful gathered together merely because they are registered in the local area register or the baptismal register? Are they gathered together simply because they’re here on Sunday to hear mass without knowing each other even though they are sitting or standing right beside each other? If that’s how it is, the Church is not connected together; the cement that is to form everyone into a real, organic unity is not yet working…  Remember Christ’s words. They will know you are my disciples if you love one another; if there’s this warmth of affection and sentiments; if there’s this love vibrating (in the parish)….with that greatness of heart and the capacity of generating Christ among us…”

I congratulate you as a parish that you have a lively participation of so many people in the life of the community, young and old, music and liturgy, prayer initiatives and the many lay people in groups and your lay pastoral council and finance council, not to mention the work in schools in the parish. So thank God too for what’s going on today in this parish. Many gifts at the service of the community.

But let’s look now to the future. Imagine we are here 50 years from now! We know the Church is in a time of big changes. So our ceremony this evening is a chance for us to think about the future and recognise there’s a call coming to us from the future – perhaps from generations not yet born – to do our part to make sure the Gospel reaches 50 years on from now.

There are two directions we need to focus on. First of all, it’s possible there might not be priests in this parish in a few years’ time. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a parish community. Abbeyfeale parish has produced an impressive number of priests, religious and missionaries over the years. Today, as I say, I am struck by the vibrant participation of lay people, young and older, in the parish. This emergence of a laity more actively visible in the day-to-day running of the parish, will be very significant in the years to come. Today in the Church, everyone is co-responsible. We can’t afford to see the church as if it were a train with an engine with carriages being drawn along. We all have to be engines.

But the future isn’t just about how we’ll organise things. There’s a need today to rediscover our mission to go out in service of others. There’s an image on the stained glass behind me of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it’s not by chance it’s there because this church was built immediately after the Second Vatican Council and the then Pope, Paul VI indicated the image of the Good Samaritan as the picture that most represented what the Council was about – that in the world today, the Church is first of all a People that continues Jesus’ mission and teaching, reaching out to those who are wounded or needing healing in any way.

In a way, I think the whole Catholic Church is being asked to start again to live the Gospel is small but real and concrete steps of love. For instance, might the parish host a family of refugees on the new government sponsored community sponsorship scheme. 

 In that sense, taking the image of the Gospel, we can say that the message of the Kingdom of God that is preached in this building every day, every Sunday, is asked to take new little steps in reaching out. Maybe those steps won’t make the major headlines on our newspapers or social media. They might seem small, even insignificant, but what we’ve seen all over the world is that the Church as a community becomes like a great tree offering shelter to people of every culture and race. We need to make sure always our church expresses our living faith – to be a place where people can come and feel at home, feel welcomed, feel supported, feel inspired.

So I congratulate you this evening. I thank you and I wish you well for the future. May God bless you and may Mary Assumed into Heaven be a model to inspire you as you set out on the next phase of this parish’s journey.