Exactly one hundred years ago, shortly before midday, the 1916 Easter Rising began, an event that many since then have recalled and celebrated, re-told and re-examined, criticised and acclaimed. But here today we recognise the involvement of Limerick people - the Daly family - Edward Daly and his sister Kathleen Clarke who married Thomas Clarke - lived in O’Curry Street within the confines of St Michael’s parish. Seán Heuston lived on O’Connell Ave for a number of years from the age of 15. Con Colbert was born in Castlemahon and the family later moved to Athea. Today at this Mass organized by the GAA, as we commemorate the 1916 Rising, our readings provide us with three pointers for reflection.
Our First Reading tells us of Paul and Barnabbas giving an account of all God had done with them. It reminds us that in reading events, let’s remember God is always at work in history. We might differ on specific analysis that we give to events, we might view them positively or negatively, but as Christians we do well to always believe that God’s love accompanies us, also in our history. As Pope Francis puts it, “Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of a new world… for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain.” God is always drawing good out of all circumstances, so on this centenary, whatever our verdict on the specifics of 1916 we can renew our belief that it too has become part of the narrative of God’s love for us. Again to quote Pope Francis, “May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!”
The Second Reading continues our first point by inviting us to focus on the bigger plan God has. While the past may be gone, it has been taken into the bigger plan that God is still unfolding with us and for us. This plan is nothing less than that of helping us create a home for all to live in. The 1916 Proclamation begins “in the name of God” and it places the cause of the Irish Republic “under the protection of the Most High God!” God wants to live among us; he wants to build a new city; he wants to make his home among us, he wants us to be his people at home with him and with one another. And he wants the new home he is bringing about to be beautiful. No more tears, no more mourning, no more death. This is the new heaven and the new earth that deep down each of us has a nostalgia for.
Many of the 1916 leaders were men of faith. They too harboured a nostalgia to see Ireland as a people where everyone would be at home. They knew that to build the Republic as a home needs more than an initial act of violence. And that’s what their memory challenges us to reflect on today. To build the nation as a home means actively fostering the bonds of neighbourliness, fraternity and solidarity. 1916 was one moment in a journey that had also witnessed great attention to these community-building horizons in the commitment to socio-political issues around land, housing and economics but also in the attention to the world of the arts, music, poetry, dancing as well as language and sport.
We know that by 1916, the GAA had become Ireland’s largest sporting organisation with more than 500 clubs affiliated across all 32 counties. It was to become central to the associational culture of Ireland. The 300 GAA club members who participated in the 1916 rebellion knew the value of sport in bringing people together. We know that this day one hundred years ago in Thurles, over 3,000 watched the hurlers of Clare, Cork, Laois and Dublin take part in a special tournament.
On this centenary, it’s good for us as Christians to set the compass again in the direction of God’s plans, the big horizons of his heart wanting to help us create a country that is a home of solidarity, fraternity and peace. And since many here are involved in sport, let’s thank God for the vast range of cultural and sporting initiatives that bring out such a tremendous volunteering and community-building spirit in our country. Community is one of the seven themes of the 1916 state celebrations. The best tribute to the foundations of our state comes when we commit ourselves to be guardians of authentic community-building values.
I cannot but recall today too the connections that have existed in the past hundred years between church/community and the sports county/club. With the decline in the number of clergy, perhaps inadvertently church community building and sport community building have become distant. That is regrettable when we think of many priests and religious who contributed so much to the development of sport – it’s enough to think of Archbishop Croke, the Capuchin Edwin Fitzgibbon (the famous cup is named after him and Mary Immaculate College won that cup this year!). Their impact on local playing fields dovetailed so smoothly with building up parishes and schools of which such fields traditionally formed an integral part.
Pray and play rhyme. They rhyme precisely because community building is so central to the life of the Church. I’m always delighted when I hear a young sports person on radio or television refer very naturally in an interview to the fact that on their way to a match or other sporting event, they went to Mass or said a prayer or that the team had Mass that morning. It’s a little symbol of the healthy link that exists in the life of one who prays and plays. We need to discover the link, precisely at a time when young people can come under tremendous pressure, especially if a ritual and community contact with the living God is absent from their normal routine. Some of us learned in school about Mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind in a healthy body. Mind means not just the head but also “soul”. We need to explore together, in honouring the ideals of the 1916 Rising, how we can best promote our community belonging in all its aspects, linking our sport community-building with the faith community-building. I am grateful to all young people who give witness to their faith while also being fully engaged in sport. They become leaders for others. I would invite them to dialogue with their local church on how best to integrate the community-building of the Church and the community-building of sport.
The third and final point in today’s readings that are guiding our reflection is the Gospel commandment of love for one another. Here we find the ultimate norm and basic premise of the community-building that transforms a state into a home. The immediate aftermath was a turbulent time, difficult to remain faithful to this norm. To its credit, we can note that the GAA held firm in this time of enormous upheaval during the years immediately following 1916. Sport can create solidarity over and beyond the rivalries.
But for us today, on this centenary, the Readings at Mass coincidentally (but is it merely “coincidence” on God’s part?) put us before the premise and ultimate norm of Christian faith: love for one another. It becomes an invitation, also in this Year of Mercy that the Catholic Church is celebrating all over the world, to live love for one another with eyes of mercy. We see this reflected in the final days of many of the 1916 leaders. We think of Michael Mallin, writing to his wife the night before he dies. Happy and contented after receiving absolution from a priest he asks forgiveness from his wife Agnes: “You have been a true loving wife, too good for me… think only of the happy times we spent together, forgive and forget all else”. And he looks with eyes of merciful love on those around him. “I find no fault with the soldiers or Police. I forgive them from the bottom of my heart”.
On this 1916 centenary, on a faith level, let’s remember God works in all things to the good; let’s recall how God’s bigger plan is for community-building that links all the aspects of our lives; let’s renew our commitment to the first Easter proclamation of love for one another.
 See David Bracken, The End of All Things Earthly: Faith Profiles of the 1916 Leaders (Dublin: Veritas,2016)