Homily for the Golden Jubilee of St Bernadette’s Church, Sunday, 29 October 2017
Over the past liturgical year we have looked at the relationship between the Chosen People and God the Father; we have looked at the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus; we have looked at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We have seen these three threads stitched together on the Feast of the Trinity.
Over recent months we have looked in close up at the teachings of Jesus. On today, the 30th Sunday of the Year, we are reminded of that message which we hear so often – love of God and love of neighbour and how the two are intertwined.
Today we are drawn to and could profit by looking at St Bernadette and Mary providing another route to the message of Christ.
Today is a day for a certain amount of nostalgia. While we are called to live in the present – in the here and now – it is also, not least for the older ones among us, a day of ageing.
Over fifty years ago I was about to embark on my first appointment as a priest of Down and Connor. On Monday, 6th September I was due to go to Dunsford and Ardglass.
My first contribution to the parish there was to telephone the parish priest and ask him if it would be alright to postpone my arrival to Friday, for I was due to take part on the 8th September in a ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation-stone of St Bernardette’s Church, here in what was at that time my own native parish.
So that was to be my first ceremony in the diocese as a recently ordained priest and initiated a great relationship with the second church of my native parish.
Later came the Opening Mass for the new church in 1967. For the next few years when I was teaching I came on Sundays to celebrate two Masses, one in Holy Rosary and one here in St Bernadette’s. I was privileged then to come under the pastoral influence of Father Liam Mullan as he embarked on the building up of community at this end of the parish – at a time when civil unrest was increasing, not least in this part of the city. St Bernadette’s, as a part of the mother parish of Holy Rosary, was what our Presbyterian colleagues now describe as a Church Extension, where the mother church gives assistance until the new church is ready to fly off on its own.
I do not intend to spend today listing chronologically all those, lay and clerical, who helped this parish community to grow, but just a few memories: Fr Liam Mullan was to leave here to establish another new church in St Luke’s, Twinbrook, with the help of Danny, his first sacristan.
Even in the midst of civil unrest this church and its congregation were to play their part in inter-Church activity in the Ballynafeigh Clergy Fellowship.
I can remember clearly the enthusiastic participation of many young people. I won’t cause embarrassment by mentioning any names but I can clearly recall four young people, establishing in the St Vincent de Paul Conference Room, what was virtually a crèche to enable parents to attend the second Mass on Sundays. 50 years later I suppose this would be the nucleus and a fore-runner of a Children’s Liturgy group.
This was a fine example of what our diocese wishes to build up as a living Church, a Church of vision, a Church of joy.
Whatever our connection with St Bernadette’s today, be it lay or clerical, whatever our reason for being here this afternoon, we can remember Baptisms, Marriages, Confirmations, Ordinations, Anointings of the Sick – perhaps in the case of the older ones amongst us – even a greater number of Funerals. We hope that those who played their part in those memories are now playing their full part in the Communion of Saints.
A couple of years ago on our own diocesan pilgrimage in Lourdes I referred to another group of pilgrims who had produced a lovely Children’s Mass leaflet – on the cover a drawing of St Bernadette pointing to Mary, pointing, in turn, to the Basilica in Lourdes. It is the role of a saint to point directly or indirectly towards Jesus. That is our role to the present day. Yes, today we have the messages of love of God and love of neighbour and this combination we can always see demonstrated in practice in Lourdes – the first home of St Bernadette.
Indeed a Golden Jubilee is a day for looking to the past. But it is above all an occasion for renewing our commitment in the future, our commitment to facing up to the realities of joy and sorrow in our lives. Bernadette experienced pain and physical suffering in her ill-health as she undertook what she described as the job of “being sick”.
Mary also knew what sorrow was about. From that moment of the Presentation in the Temple, when she was told by Simeon that ‘a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart’, she saw Jesus, accepted and rejected, all the way to the foot of the Cross. But she was to move through joy and sorrow to eventual glory.
In the words of the Preface of the Mass of Mary, Mother of the Sick we pray:
“For in a wonderful way, you gave the Blessed Virgin Mary
a special share in the mystery of pain.
She now shines radiantly
as a sign of health, of healing and of divine hope.
To all who look up to her in prayer
She is the model of perfect acceptance of your Will
And of whole hearted conformity with Christ,
Who out of love for us
Endured our weakness
And bore our sufferings.”
Today we thank God for the past; we live in the present; and we pray for the future and all those whose lives will be touched by this church as we try to be links in the chain of the history of salvation and those who remember Father Liam Mullan would remember one of his favourite phrases in his sermons: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link!
Notes for Editors:
The Golden Jubilee of the Dedication and Opening of St. Bernadette’s Church, Rosetta Road, Belfast
Anniversary Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Anthony Farquhar this afternoon, Sunday 29th October at 3pm.
The Golden Jubilee of the iconic fan-shaped St. Bernadette’s Church is being celebrated this year, with its highlight being the Anniversary Mass taking place on 29th October – 50 years to the day since the building was dedicated by Bishop William Philbin.
Very extensive renovations have been undertaken to the church (which is a B+ listed building) over the last two years in anticipation of the Jubilee, most notable of which is the restoration of the striking stained glass windows which trace the colours of the rainbow and follow the path of the sun through the day, centred on a vivid cross. The church is also very well known for Dame Elisabeth’s Frink’s nine foot high sculpture of Christ which floats above its altar, and for its many other items of fine modern art.
Chief celebrant of the Anniversary Mass will be Bishop Anthony Farquhar, who took part in both the laying of the foundation stone and the Dedication Mass, and has since returned on many occasions. He will concelebrate with Parish Priest Fr. Paul Armstrong and many of the priests who have served St. Bernadette’s over the years.
Images are available upon request from Philip O’Rawe (07803 018891)