Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland – Mission Sunday 21 October 2012 for Mass celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Church of Saint James, Grange, Cooley, Co Louth in the Archdiocese of Armagh
“Even though there are still 1,700 Irish missionaries who work in 84 countries today, there are many who see Ireland itself as mission territory right now … we are all called to grow in communiono with Christ” – Cardinal Brady
I am very pleased that the great parish of Cooley has organised such a splendid programme of events celebrating 250 years of worship here at this historic Church of Saint James, Grange. For the past 250 years people have gathered at this place to worship. In the words of today’s Mission Sunday Mass, they came, and still come, to tell among the nations, God’s glory and his wonders among all the peoples. I am delighted that for this 250th birthday party, you have got such an excellent response.
The date usually given for the original construction of this church is 1762 but I understand that local tradition suggests a much older building. In addition, there is clear evidence of much earlier religious activity in this area. Take the name ’Grange’ for example. The word ‘grange’ means an outlying farm house with barns belonging to a monastery. The grange in question here was a farm-house belonging to the Cistercian Abbey of the Green Wood – founded in Newry in 1144. When the Church was being repaired in 1994 the site was excavated and uncovered a system of water courses, or box drains, which is characteristic of the design of a Cistercian monastery. So we are standing here on holy ground – ground where people have gathered to worship God for more than 800 years.
This area is also linked to the Knights Templars – a military order of knights set up to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. They had a foundation in Templetown some seven hundred (700) years ago. So you, the people who pray and worship God here, are heirs to a great tradition of faith and prayer.
All of this suggests to me that the people of Cooley have long been European in their outlook and contacts. Long before there was talk of a European Coal and Steel Community, long before Brussels became the capital of the European Union, or Strasbourg the seat of the Council of Europe, Cooley welcomed Cistercians from Clairvaux and Templars from Burgundy, to guide and protect them, on the road to both the terrestrial and celestial Jerusalem.
It is good that this celebration takes place on World Mission Day. I will never forget the day I visited the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem. There we were treated to a wonderful concert of song and dance by an enthusiastic group of young people. It was really special to be there on the actual spot where, on that first Christmas night, the shepherds heard from the angel of the Lord:
“Listen, I bring you news of great joy: a joy to be shared with the whole people. Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord”.
Of course the problem is that this news of great joy has not been shared with the people of the whole world. The number of those, still waiting for the news of great joy, is immense. The number of those awaiting Christ is still immense. That is why October is the month of the Missions. That is why this Sunday is Mission Sunday.
It was not only the angel who said that this Good News should be shared with the people of the whole world. Christ said it. It was the very last thing He said before He returned to His Father. He did not just say it. He commanded that it would be done.
“Go make disciples of all nations – baptise them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – teaching them all that I have commanded you”.
So, World Mission Day is a very important day in the life of the Church. It aims to make us more aware of what Christ wants us to do in this regard. Ireland has a proud record of service to the missions. Today Ireland has 1,700 Irish missionaries who work in 84 countries. They, and all missionaries, are helped by your prayers, your sacrifices and your financial assistance.
Of course, in addition to sending missionaries to other countries, we here in Ireland have welcomed missionaries to our shores. The first and most obvious example is Saint Patrick. Patrick came to lead us into a life of communion and friendship with God. It is vitally important that we all go through the doorway of faith to share God’s life. That is why God created us. The haunting words of Saint Augustine say it so well:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.
In Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York there is a beautiful replica of a doorway from the Old Mellifont Monastery chapel. It was put there, no doubt, by a grateful Irish emigrant – probably from this county – grateful for the fact that before he left Ireland, his parents had taken him through the ‘Doorway of Faith’ at his baptism and so made him a member of the Church – the Body of Christ.
When Saint Patrick came and preached he obviously convinced lots of people with his preaching of the Word of God. Their hearts were touched – not alone touched but so transformed by the news of God’s love that they, in turn, wanted to go and tell others the Good News.
Recently I was in the City of Saint Gallen in Switzerland. It gets its name from an Irish man called Gaul. Gaul arrived there 1,400 years ago. He came there along with the more famous Columbanus. When Columbanus moved on to Italy, Gaul stayed on in Switzerland. What did he do there? He went up the hills to pray and he preached to all who would listen to him. Apparently not much happened at first but, nevertheless, he sowed the seeds and, in time, they bore fruit.
A great Abbey grew up and a famous library was founded containing some of the most precious manuscripts in the world which include the first surviving words in the Irish language. And so, 1,400 years later there are great ceremonies in the city which they named after him, to mark the arrival there of Gaul and the fact that he stayed there and obviously made a big impact.
And so, down through the centuries missionaries have come and gone from Ireland. After the damage done by the Vikings, Saint Malachy brought Cistercian monks from France and they were welcomed in Mellifont. In later centuries tens of thousands of Irish missionaries poured out of Ireland to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth – from this parish and from every other parish. Some returned in their old age to retirement. I think of the Medical Missionaries in Drogheda and the Franciscan Missionary Sisters out in Mount Oliver.
And, even though there are still 1,700 Irish missionaries who work in 84 countries today, there are many who see Ireland itself as mission territory right now. We have missionary priests from Nigeria working in Ardee, Dundalk and Newry. There are Sisters of Saint Clare who have come from Australia to build a new convent in Faughart. We have the Missionaries of Charity of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Armagh.
Recently I attended a meeting in Italy of a Movement called the Neo-Catechumenal Way. It was a meeting of some 85 Presidents of Seminaries and Houses of Formation from all over the world. They are preparing candidates for the priesthood to take part in what is called the New Evangelisation. One of those houses is located here in County Louth and it has eight students. Hopefully they will be ordained in the next few years and then they will be available to help either here in this diocese or on the mission fields abroad.
Why this sudden need for a New Evangelisation – even here in Ireland you may ask? I think Pope Benedict has put it well: “There is a need for people to discover again the journey of faith so that they can really experience the joy and the enthusiasm of meeting Christ.”
The Holy Father says the Church must do its utmost to lead people out of the desert of unbelief towards the place of life, towards the Saviour of the world, towards the only one who can really give us life – life to the full.
That takes us to the Gospel we have just heard. There Jesus says that He has come, not to be served, but to serve and to give – give His life – as a ransom for the whole world in order to set the world free.
The background to this is important. He had just told His disciples, not for the first, not for the second but for the third time – that He was going up to Jerusalem to be handed over to His enemies – to be condemned to death, to be mocked and spat upon and scourged – and put to death and after three days to rise again.
The Twelve reacted differently at different times to this: Peter was scandalised – he protested but Jesus told Peter, in no uncertain terms, that he was totally mistaken.
James and John seemed to be focused on the glory of the Resurrection and secretly – and sneakily it would appear – made a pitch for seats of honour on His left and right. Jesus gently, but firmly, told them also that they simply didn’t get it. They were thinking of prizes and triumphs. He was calling for strength and courage to face the suffering and the shame – and to drink the chalice which He was going to drink.
The ten (10) were not any better. They were highly annoyed at the idea of James and John going behind their back to pull a fast one.
So, it all goes to show that Jesus did not choose perfect human beings to help Him found His Church. He faced the problem head on and He challenges them to grow in communion with Him – to do as he did.
He challenges them to really get to know Him and grow in appreciation of His healing love for them. He appeals to them to imitate Him in this compassionate love which He was going to show for them by dying for them. When James and John say they can drink the chalice of suffering that Jesus is going to drink, Jesus takes them at their word and gives them the strength to do so. Of course, James was, in fact, the first of the Twelve to suffer the martyr’s death – beheaded by King Herod in Jerusalem around 44 AD. What a transformation that was!
Then Jesus turned to them all – and said: “You know that among the pagans the so-called rulers Lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt”. He was talking about the society of His day, where power, prestige, popularity, influence, self-glory and superiority were the things that really counted. But He warns them: “This is not to happen among you”.
Today the thirst for power is still around but may be seen in different ways – in a spirit of competition for example.
Do the business!
Win at all costs!
Be the biggest and the best!
Expand and grow – no matter how!
Tragically, the uncritical acceptance of such attitudes has taken its toll – intolerable pressure all round, too much stress on family life and personal health; unfortunately, that is what can happen when the law of the jungle prevails – the survival of the fittest and the weakest come to the wall. “This is not to happen among you” Jesus says! No, anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.
Humble disinterested service is the only way to authentic greatness. Service leads to a real identification with Christ who came to serve. It leads to genuine identification with Christ and real communion with God the Father – which is the only true greatness.
So, what was the result? Let us look back for a minute. Do you see how imperfect the disciples all were? First the two brothers tried to have preference before the ten, and then the ten were jealous of them. But let us look at them afterwards and we shall see that they are largely free from all these inclinations. They rose to the challenge which Jesus put to them and, with his help, they established the Church. They did indeed drink the Chalice of the Lord and became friends of God. As a result, their sound has gone out to every land and their words to the furthest boundaries of the earth. They grew in communion with Christ and we are called to do the same.
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