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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Scoil Carmel School Closing Liturgy - 24 May 2016 - St. Joseph's Church


In our liturgy today we do three things. First of all we say thanks as we think back on all that has gone on here since 1952. In the First Reading we heard of Paul and Barnabbas. After completing their mission they gave an account of all God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to many. So too today, we are here with one another to swop stories, relive memories, revisit the history. And, in giving our account like the apostles, we thank God and thank one another.

Scoil Carmel has been an oasis of loving mercy. How many acts of love and mercy have been performed here. How much light has indeed been spread from the sacred space of Scoil Carmel– yes, sacred because God has been present and at work in and through the school. It was a major corporal and spiritual work on mercy, on the part of the Mercy sisters as well as on the part of all involved in the school – teachers and the other staff of the school, management, but especially students themselves in their interaction with one another. How much good this school has done for the people of Limerick. I’ve said it before but I repeat it again today – how much Limerick owes to the Sisters of Mercy. They provided us with our first third level college, they gave us schools and initiatives for the less well off; they witnessed to God in communities of faith; and they continue to be so present to us, not least through the Bedford Row project and the Children’s Grief initiative. So we cannot but give thanks for this great work of mercy – Scoil Carmel. Of course, as we look back, I’m sure we’ll also acknowledge difficult moments. It is often these moments that make us understand more deeply as the apostles put it, that “we have to experience many hardships before we enter the Kingdom of God”. It is also in these moments that come to know God’s loving mercy, full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love, as our psalm put it.

Hand over. The second thing we do today is “hand over” this school to God’s providence. Its mission is now complete. After making the necessary arrangements, the apostles Paul and Barnabbas handed over their account of their first mission to the community of Antioch and then moved on to the next new plan God had for them. Jesus himself, when he completed his work on earth, the evening before he died, had to hand over to God his work, his disciples, his life’s project.

Handing over is not easy. But in entrusting to God this school, its history and its students, its staff and its significant impact, we can be full of the confidence because we hear in today’s Gospel Jesus say: “God has been glorified…God will in turn glorify”. Mary, Jesus’ mother, the Mother of God, the Mother of Mercy will help us in this moment of handing over Scoil Carmel as it closes. Just think how much Mary had to entrust herself to God’s providence as she saw the life of her only Son come to an end. In closing the school, we open our hearts to a greater belief that God can do almighty things when we offer him our works. Oscar Romero put it in a prayer, “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development…We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

As we entrust in gratitude this work of mercy to God’s providence, we know that it is God who spreads the fire of love. He will continue to spread the light that has been enkindled here in the hearts and lives of so many girls.

There’s a detail from Catherine McAuley’s life that I would like to recall here. Perhaps it sounds a little odd at first but it’s a great symbol. She died on November 11, 1841. The Mercy Sisters that had come to life around here were called the “walking nuns” as they had gone out visiting the poor, the sick, the dying. Early on the morning of her death she called for a piece of paper and twine and she tied up her boots and asked one of the sisters to take the parcel (the sister didn’t know what was in it) and burn it in the fire. Commenting on this, Sr. Mary Sullivan says, “This simple gesture of quietly burning her boots in the middle of the night stands as a remarkable symbol of Catherine’s final abandonment of herself to the providence of God. In this act of self-surrender she accepted the end of her walking, she relinquished her historical work as a Sister of Mercy, and she turned barefoot toward God”. Now we won’t be burning anything! But this little gesture was a great lesson – none of our works is absolute. As a school closes, we entrust it to God really believing the Almighty can indeed do great things.

This brings us to the third thing we do today: we set the compass again in our lives by being open to the new thing that God is doing. The past may be gone but today is a day to hear again the bigger plan that lay behind this school and set out compass in that direction. As our Second Reading reminds us so powerfully – 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. And he wants the new city 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. Ultimately this is what Scoil Carmel was about – in and through the Catholic education and ethos that characterized the school, it has contributed to bringing a new heaven and a new earth. Our best tribute to the school will be for us to decide to go forward from this closing liturgy, committed to spreading the light of mercy all around us, creating oases of mercy in our relationships with one another, and so letting God bring about new things through us in education, in family life, and in society. And for those involved in Catholic schools in our diocese, this means too a renewed commitment to the beauty, ever ancient, ever new that the Catholic tradition offers.

Jesus himself sets the compass for us today: love one another as I have loved you. By the love you have for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples. Yes, because faith and hope pass away, our charisms pass away, our works pass away… love alone remains. The love that poured into Scoil Carmel and the light that emanated from it so widely will live on in us if we remember that nothing is small if done out of love.