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Rededication Sermon

Homily by Bishop McAreavey on the occasion of the Rededication of St. John’s Church, Gilford

I have read the historical notes in the booklet for today’s ceremony. I see that Dr. Michael Blake consecrated the first church on this site in 1850. On that occasion a collection was taken up in the parish and members of the other churches in this area contributed to the collection. I read that Fr. John Byrne who served in this parish for 33 years also built the Parochial House in Laurencetown and adjacent outhouses; he also rebuilt St. Colman’s Church, the Clare and extended the cemetery there. He also built the primary school in Laurencetown. He is described as ‘a man characterised by shrewdness and tact, thorough in organisation, dedicated and above all diplomatic. These fascinating historical notes document the various works carried out over the years to provide and maintain churches, cemeteries, schools and parochial houses.

It is noteworthy that people from the parish who had emigrated to USA contributed generously to the parish. Now that the Parish of Tullylish is linked through its parish website to the whole world, I hope that people from the parish will continue to support what is being done in this generation.

Today we are adding a new chapter to the history of the parish with the re-opening and re-dedication of St. John’s. The beautifully prepared booklet will be an historical record of what this generation has done.

This newly refurbished church is a tribute to the faith of the people of this parish and, particularly, to the people of Gilford. Its refurbishment is also a challenge to a new generation of young parents to hand on the Catholic faith to their children.

What makes this building important in the life of this parish is that the faith community or Church is built on the foundation of God’s word, on the sacraments and on the ministry of charity, represented both by the ministry of the parish priest and the solidarity and support of parishioners for each other. Within this church, the assembled people will be nourished in faith, hope and charity.

In the scripture read at Mass today, God speaks to us most powerfully. In the OT reading, we find Isaiah in the temple where he has a vision of the throne of God, where the angels join in praising God and celebrating his glory. Aware as he is of the holiness of God, Isaiah is filled with a sense of deep unworthiness:

What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked upon the King, the Lord of Hosts.

At that moment one of the angels takes a live coal from the altar and touches his lips, saying:

See now, this has touched your lips; your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged.

Then when the prophet hears the voice of the Lord asking, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger? he finds himself saying ‘Here I am, Lord, send me’.

There is a similarly powerful moment of conversation in the Gospel story. Here Simon and his companions are not in a place of worship; they are at the lakeside in Gennesaret, having just spent a fruitless night on the lake. Jesus joins them as they are washing their boats; he sits down in the boat and listens as Jesus teaches the people. This is an important moment – the image of Simon listening to God’s word. Here, if you like, Jesus turns fisherman, Simon is the fish! However, it is only when the miraculous catch of fish happens and Simon realises what has happened, that we see this relationship clinched completely. At that moment Simon is ‘hooked’, in the presence of the Holy One, the sinless Son of God, Simon realises his own unworthiness, his own blindness, his own lack of faith. He throws himself at the feet of Jesus, saying, ‘Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man’. It is at this moment that Jesus commissions Simon, with the words, ‘Do not be afraid, from now on it is men that you will catch’. Peter, following his experience of ‘being hooked’ by Jesus, left everything behind him; the Gospel tells us that ‘then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him’.

Each of us who is baptised shares in the mission of the Church: to spread the Gospel, to lead others to Christ, to witness others to the love and forgiveness of God our Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. What does this mean in practice?

I recently read the following answer to this question:

The word of God, as incarnated in Jesus, needs to take on real flesh in our bodies and live and be the body of Christ on earth. Like Jesus, our lives must be our message and our lives must be speak of and give real flesh to truth, justice, peace, love, holiness and fidelity. When people look at our lives, what they see must enable them to trust and to give themselves over in trust. The word needs to continue to have flesh in our lives. This is our mission.

(R. Rohlheiser, Secularity and the Gospel p74)

In other words, the vocation of the people in this parish is to be the Church, not just people who ‘go to church’ or ‘attend church’. However, what will enable you to ‘be the Church’ will be the power of God’s word, the grace of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Holy Communion, the forgiveness of God that we experience in the sacrament of Penance.

This parish has a strong community of faith over the generations. It has sent forward men to serve the Church in the priesthood and men and women to serve God in the religious life. I am thinking of people like Sr. Bernadette Duffy, Sr. Eithne Synott, Sr. Vianney, a Mercy in Lurgan. My prayer today is that this parish will continue to produce men and women of faith for the building up of the Church, at home and abroad.

The links of respect and solidarity between this Catholic community and the other Christian Churches are long-standing and mature. In today’s world where the choice is often between faith and no faith, it will be all the more important that the Churches can witness together to their shared faith in Jesus Christ.

 

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