Bishop Denis celebrated the Bicentenary of St Brigids Church in Milltown in the parish of Allen, Co Kildare on Sunday 21st May.

In his introduction Bishop Denis commented  “It is so fitting that we celebrate at this very spot, Comerford’s history talks about “a portion of the east gable of an older church of the penal times still stand near the Church”, it is at this very spot we gather this day, where we stand is very much holy ground. Fr. Liam Lawton’s composition comes to mind: “this is holy ground, in this holy place, where God’s love is found, we come to seek his face …”.

This new altar is dedicated to the honour of St. Brigid, I now bless the altar.

I am aware todays celebrations are just a part of a year long celebration that began on St. Brigid’s Day last. I very much thank Fr. Willie Byrne and Fr. Eddie Kavanagh and especially Betty O’Shea the coordinator of the celebrations and the members of the local committee for the invitation to join with you today.

I welcome all the priests who served here in the past and return for this celebration, I also welcome neighbouring priests and religious and local politicans and dignatories who grace us with their presence this day. But most of all I welcome you the people from the Milltown end of Allen Parish who show such great pride in your place, in your community and in your church…”

Homily:

I mentioned that this afternoons ceremonies are merely a continuum of what began here on St. Brigid’s Day when the bicentenary celebrations began with a huge involvement of the local community. On that day there was a procession led by the flame of Brigid including First Communion and Confirmation candidates. All the school formed a guard of honour for the procession through the school grounds singing a hymn in honour of St. Brigid. Joe Byrne rang the bell, just as he had done for the past 60 years and his father before him for 60 years!

Milltown obviously gets its name from an old mill, in this case one that dates back to 1540, the ruins are still there. Bishop Ross MacGeoghegan produced a list of church sites and his list in 1640 included Milltown (Ballymuillen), the ruins of that church were evident apparently until the 1970’s, so the story of faith and worship goes back centuries in these parts.

The inscription on this present church reads: “This chapel was erected, Anno Domini 1817, by the Rev. John Lawler PP and the subscriptions of the faithful”. A priest can’t build a church without the hugely generous support of parishioners, this is evident in every parish in Kildare & Leighlin. I wondered who was this Fr. John Lawler? Dr. Doyle in his report on the parishes described him as: “of a robost, active and athletic frame … his books of piety are literally worn out with use, while the rest of his library is eaten with moths, or has been removed by some of his friends, who supposed they did him no injury by depriving him of some of what he seldom used”. Obviously he mightened have been an avid reader but he had tremendous vision and foresight. Doyle continues in his Visitation Report: “he often rails at his people, who return him the compliment; but he never inflicts a wound which he does not run to bind up and heal”.

Today’s letter from St. Peter began: “reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have”. These bricks and mortars dating back two hundred years are only part of the story of this reverence. Like every church, St. Brigid’s Church in Milltown is a house of God and a house of God’s people – teach an phobail.

Any church building and particularly older ones that are deeply rooted and cared for, points to something more profound – they symbolise God’s presence and the place that welcomes and embraces God’s family. Every element in a church building is geared towards one purpose – to unite us more closely to Jesus Christ and through him to each other. A key question for every one of our 117 churches in the Diocese is how much they bring people closer to Jesus Christ, who in John’s gospel today promises never to leave us as orphans.

I wrote a pastoral letter two weeks ago for Good Shepherd Sunday: ‘Facing the Changes and Challenges Together’. There have been deanery gatherings of priests looking at the implications of the letter and the pastoral reality they see more than anyone everyday. In the coming weeks and months, you the lay people will become very involved in this reflection with your priests. It has been many times commented that the Diocese has been here before with Challenging Times and clustering conversations, but the need I believe has never been so acute. That is why todays bicentenary celebrations are so necessary, celebrations that have been led by lay people working alongside the priests – the way forward has to be a greater sharing of the maintenance and mission of parish life. There is always the temptation to be complacent and lethargic, I think we should try to resist this temptation, not the Bishop alone or he and his Consultors, or the priests and parish secretaries, but all of us together have a shared responsibility for the vitality and fruitfulness of our church and our Diocese into the future.

The Church is much more than bricks and mortar, even those dating back two hundred years, the church is living stones … all of us … all part of the one body.

In this regard the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) comes to mind:

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now but yours”.