Re-opening of St Mary's Church, Clonmany
November 16 2019
Bishop Donal McKeown
It is good to be here in Clonmany to celebrate the reopening of the parish church. Clonmany has a long and distinguished history as a place of culture and faith, of struggles and creativity. The Columban monks must have known there was something special about the place. The míosach in the National Museum in Dublin shows that there was a monastery with a high level of artistry and skill. And then this present church, built in 1795, is among the oldest in the diocese of Derry, one of the first to raised after the Penal Laws.. The spirit behind the Clonmany Festival and the retirement village shows a huge level of resilience and local pride. In the Irish, a church can be called teach an phobail, 'the house of the people'. The history of your church here speaks not just of a God who lives in our midst but of a faith that is much bigger than just what happens within these four walls. It speaks of a people who are proud to be a community of faith, whatever the challenges.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem, shortly before he is killed. People are admiring the great building of the Temple. But Jesus not only knows that it will not stand forever – he also knows that faith is much more than a nice building. Charles McGlinchey's story in The Last of the Name suggests that, in the early 1700s there may have been one priest, a Fr McColgan, who served most of Inishowen. And he had no churches in those long years of the Penal Laws that followed the Reformation and the Plantation. We know that from recent centuries in Japan and Korea that, in those countries, a deep faith continued in the hearts of small communities, even when they had no clergy for a couple of hundreds of years. History suggests that good clergy can do great things and that poor clergy can do great damage. But Clonmany has consistently had a resilient people for whom faith and freedom, idealism and community have remained very important. When a people lose their self-respect, they lose everything. As Jesus realises, the building is an expression of faith, but not a substitute for it.
Our celebration tonight is a great credit to all involved, priest and people. You want to be proud of your work in the house of God and your 'teach an phobail'. But tonight is not the end of a journey. This parish community existed before this Church was built. The building is here for a purpose and something else will take its place in centuries to come. After all, Jesus did not come into the world as a landlord, to sit in a Church and greet visitors. God came into our midst as Emmanuel, the God with us, who carries our crosses and wants us all to know love, forgiveness and hope in our lives. He came to bring hope and salvation to those who felt most broken.
So, in a world where there is much despair and violence, and a lack of good role models, every week Jesus gathers his people for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Lord wants you to hear good news about who you are and what you can achieve with his grace. Jesus directed his message firstly to those who thought they were useless – because of illness or sin or social status. He dined with them, sought to heal them and reassured them that forgiveness was always available. Everybody wants to believe that their life is valuable and that it has meaning. So much of the consumerist message says that life is just a bit of craic and that the best you can expect is to be able to do what you want to. But that message of 'it's all about me' is a killer because it says that nothing is really of any beauty and value. We feed young people a message that 'life is too short to say no' and then we criticise them for taking that message seriously and failing to say 'no' to many dangerous things. Jesus wants to gather people here each day and each weekend to hear that we can all be saints and heroes – rather than self-indulgent and sad. That is whay his message is good news.
Secondly, the celebration of Mass brings Christ into our midst. The monks and prayerful families of Clonmany always believed in a God who was with them, in good times and in persecution. Weekly Mass tells us of a God who believes in us and who takes our bodies seriously. We share in the Body and Blood of Christ because our bodies, too, will be raised up on the Last Day. Our bodies may suffer as Jesus did on the Cross, but they will be share in Christ's Resurrection. That is why at the end of the Mass, you are invited to 'go in peace'. In Word and Sacrament, Jesus wants to help us make sense of our lives. We go in peace because we are messengers of hope and not slaves of despair.
Thirdly, this is a place where Christ calls people to be together. The culture may wish us to fragment into small groups and to seek entertainment in my own little electronic world. But the call to gather here at weekends is a statement that, together in the Body of Christ, we can do great things – and this community of faith has shown that down through the ages. We gather so we can recognise different members have different talents – whether we are special children or professionals. In God's people, none of us is as smart as all of us. That is why the involvement of the parishioners is not just a response to dropping clergy numbers. Each one of you is graced because you are part of this community of faith. You have something to contribute to building up the community in faith, love and hope. You have something to contribute to bringing good news, mercy and forgiveness to your neighbours who find it hard to believe in a God who believes in them. This Church is not a place where the holy gather in their little huddle to criticise others or to feel superior. This is a place where Christ gathers forgiven sinners to mould them into a blessing for the wider community.
Finally, in our second reading St Paul tells us something about leadership in the parish. God always calls people to be 'an example for you to follow'. The priest is not just a holy magician who makes Jesus present in sacraments. The priest is called to remember Paul's words - we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on any of you. That is not an easy way of life – but it is what we are called to do in imitation of Jesus. The world was saved by the Cross. It will not be saved today by trying to make priesthood easier and less of a strain. Young people will be attracted by the divine call to heroes and not by dumbing down the challenge to give up everything to follow Christ.
Tonight you give thanks for a long history of faith, going back 1400 years. You celebrate the work that you have completed in the building. Now you are challenged to build up in the faith community in the parish, in a way that is fit for purpose in 2019. If you do that, people will celebrate your faith long into the future. If you don't, you run the risk of being 'the last of the name'.