Fourth Sunday of Advent, 18.12.22, 11.30am St. Patrick & St. Brigid’s Church, Clane
This Fourth Sunday of Advent is an exceptional Sunday this year! Normally there are only a few days to go before Christmas as we find ourselves lighting the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath. Indeed I recall one year, the Fourth Sunday fell on Christmas Eve, we celebrated the Mass of the Fourth Sunday in the morning and Christmas in the evening! Not this year, we have a full week to go, and don’t we need every bit of it!
I’m delighted to join you for this official recognition of the Parish of Clane & Rathcoffey as a designated ‘Church of Sanctuary’. I warmly welcome Veronica Crosbie who will speak with us later. The award made by ‘Places of Sanctuary Ireland’ is very appropriately given at a time when we commemorate how Joseph and Mary searched out for a place of sanctuary two thousand years ago, and experienced many doors that were closed in their face.
I understand four churches are being recognised over these days under the theme: ‘No Room at the Inn’, in recognition of the serious strain on availability of accommodation and other services for refugees and those seeking international protection in Ireland. Every one of us has the capacity to make life better for others, there is more we can all do; there is more that can be done at systems level, internationally and institutionally.
For the moments when we closed the door to those seeking help; when we turned the other way to those seeking support and when we ignored those seeking companionship, we pray for God’s love and mercy …
When a church, a parish community, a faith community recieves the ‘Place of Sanctuary’ designation, it is an affirmation that the community is one in which hospitality and sanctuary are woven into their life and explicitly stated, so that those looking for a welcome will know they will find one there. You the parishioners of Clane and Rathcoffey responded three years ago to the Syrian crisis by warmly welcoming Kahil, Noor and their little girls among you. They are now embedded in the life of the community of Clane. More recently you have very generously given over your Parish Hall to offer a home to an extended Ukrainian family of nine.
This public recognition today by ‘Places of Sanctuary Ireland’ is an encouragement to continue to reach out beyond your parish borders. The theme of the working document for the Continental Stage of the Universal Synod journey comes to mind, taking the words of Isaiah “enlarge the space of your tent”. This is exactly why you are being recognised and affirmed today. You, as a parish, have enlarged the space of your tent.
Matthews gospel offers us a nativity account, it is very different to the more familiar text from St. Luke which we use on Christmas night. Matthew focuses on Joseph. Allowing us for a few moments to walk in his shoes. To live with his confusion, to experience his dream, to carry out what that dream entailed.
Joseph, the wood carver, the carpenter, is never the star of the Nativity, he would never be nominated for an Emmy or an Oscar; and yet while not the star, his role is crucial. An image of Joseph that struck me very forcibly on a Christmas Card I received this week was of the manly Joseph holds the baby while Mary grabs forty winks. It’s the image from a stained-glass window in St. Joseph the Worker Church in Ozark, Missouri.
Maybe the biblical character who best typifies the very opposite to the Places of Sanctuary theme is the inn-keeper in Luke’s text. Those powerful words “because there was no room for them in the inn”, the inn was seen as the upper finished room of the house, so they stayed in the cold unfinished lower part of the house where the animals were kept. The inn-keeper has got a bad press for two thousand years, some suggest he was a relative of Joseph. We must remember while he closed one door, he opened another, it may not have been the most comfortable, the cleanest, the warmest but it was somewhere.
Parallel with todays recognition of the parish as a place of sanctuary, I’m also delighted to be here to present the Pope St. John Paul II Award to participants of this diocesan programme from Scoil Mhuire here. The last year wasn’t an easy time to do the Award programme. The group from Scoil Mhuire, Clane are among 209 recipients being awarded this year. We are still emerging out of the pandemic. Each of you, young people, are to be commended.
I notice this year more and more of the awards are embedded into the fabric of parish life, this is to be commended. I notice that among the activities noted by some of the participants include ministry in church; sanitising; making St. Brigid’s Crosses; being involved with Meitheal and going on pilgrimages. Some took part in the parish synod group and more are members of parish councils. Some are very involved in coaching underage teams, supervising homework clubs, volunteering and organising multicultural days in school. Much of the involvement was around welcoming and including those from other lands. The ‘Pope St. John Paul II Awards’ demonstrates the creativity, the adaptability, the resilience in the face of the pandemic that is in the DNA of our young people. The ‘Church of Sanctuary’ award is a recognition of the creativity, the adaptability and the resilience that is in the DNA of this parish community of Clane and Rathcoffey, in the face of world unrest. This is to be hughly commended and I’m very glad to be here.