Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A: 04.11.23
St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen
Mass at 6.30pm
Tenth Anniversary of St. Clare’s Hospitality
We gather on this the Vigil of the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, also known as ‘Prisoner’s Sunday’. It’s the Sunday where we are reminded of the gift of service we owe one another. It’s not about seating, about titles, about positions – its about reaching out in a non-judgemental way to those on the edges, on the margins, on the fringes.
In this Vigil Mass we are honouring ten years of St. Clare’s Hospitality. Can we believe it? Ten years of connecting with those on those margins, on those peripheries, on those edges, is what St. Clare’s has been doing. I commend those who had the vision ten years ago.
I am hugely proud of St. Clare’s Hospitality Food Kitchen, born out of the poverty that St. Clare herself espoused. Born out of the example of the simple life of the Poor Clare Community. Born out of a parish and its friends seeing a need and responding generously.
St. Paul reminds us to make “hospitality your special care” and that’s exactly what St. Clare’s Hospitality has been doing these past ten years and I have no doubt will continue to do so for many years to come, because the need is probably greater today than it was ten years ago. That’s the frightening reality.
We begin by acknowledging our past, recognising our present and anticipating our future in calling to mind our sins as we celebrate these sacred mysteries …
I was very moved by a few lines written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux when he heard that his friend St. Malachy had just died: “Was there any work of piety that Malachy ever failed to do? He was poor towards self, but rich to the poor. He was a father to the orphans, a husband to the widows, the protector of the oppressed. A cheerful giver, he never asked for anything and it embarrassed him to receive” . What a powerful testimony of the esteem one saint had for the other! What has been built, developed and enhanced over the bridge in Carlow town as a presence and outreach has become a powerful testimony of the care and concern for so many over these past ten years. I speak of St. Clare’s Hospitality.
For two millennia the Church has been reaching out to the poor, conscious of the poor, always been an advocate for the poor. I recall the words whispered by the late Cardinal Hummes to Cardinal Bergoglio moments before the announcement of his election as Pope: “don’t forget the poor”. That’s how he came to choose the name Francis, in his wish for a poor church and a church for the poor. And Pope Francis has never forgotten the poor and we shouldn’t. In fact in his message for World Day of the Poor 2023, which falls in two weeks’ time, he takes the theme from the Book of Tobit: “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor” , using the parable of the Good Samaritan to remind us, we can’t delegate charity to others, we must all, priest, Levite and Samaritan roll up our sleeves and get involved.
That’s what makes St. Clare’s Hospitality so attractive. It is founded on the simple fact that when the early Christians gathered, they shared what they had with one another. They rolled up those sleeves and basically mucked in! St. Clare’s Hospitality addresses those who are ‘food poor’. People who may have the means to pay their mortgage and utility bills but can only do so by seriously cutting back on their food. In October 2013 some volunteers who are still today with St. Clare’s Hospitality, aided by the local St. Vincent de Paul began the story of St. Clare’s Hospitality. From serving 30 food parcels per week in 2013, a year later that figure had already risen to 150.
As the hospitality developed, so too did the volunteers and has continued to do so. The idea of ‘St. Clare’s Hospitality Kitchen’ came to be in the realisation that there was a need for more than food parcels, people needed their dignity, to eat well, good healthy hot food, in a comfortable setting. None of this could happen without support from across the parish, from across the town and indeed much further afield. Inspired by Brother Kevin’s Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, with the support of Bobby and Mary Quinn a premises was secured and the kitchen opened its doors. I remember the evening well. Today anything between 100-160 meals are served every day, five days a week, while 80 food parcels are delivered every Thursday.
People fall on tough times for many reasons, ours is never to judge. It can be seasonal, the return to school brings extra costs, the expectations around Christmas can bite hard on too many pockets. St. Clare’s Hospitality respond and do so because it’s the right thing to do. The Synod in Rome just concluded a week ago. Before the formal proceedings began the delegates, those elected and nominated, attended a retreat delivered by the Dominican priest Fr. Timothy Radcliffe OP. In his third address he spoke of friendship. He said “we preach the gospel of friendships that reach across boundaries” . Those who eat their meals in St. Clare’s Hospitality Kitchen or receive the food parcels on a Thursday have become the friends of St. Clare. It is a service rooted in friendship.
In applauding the volunteers, the board, the goodness of local companies, groups, individuals and schools, there is always more to do. Keep the service in your prayer. May the Poor Clare’s be a constant reminder to us that God is love and He loves us no matter what or who we are, or the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Maybe in time St. Clare’s Hospitality might develop ancillary supports such as legal, medical, therapeutic, employment pathways and much more. In Matthews gospel, before the 5,000 were fed, they were healed. There is always more. And while tonight we justifiably celebrate, we should always ask ‘is there more we need to do?’ Returning to those words of St. Bernard about St. Malachy: “He was poor towards self, but rich to the poor” . May we in celebrating the tenth anniversary of St. Clare’s Hospitality remain always rich to the poor.