Bishop Denis celebrated Mass with the relics of Saints Louis & Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux & to mark the Closing of the Presentation Convent, Kildare in St. Brigid’s Church, Kildare on December 31st, the Feast of the Holy Family.
As part of his introduction Bishop Denis remarked “The image of the Holy Family may seem at some remove from the lived experience of ordinary, regular family life – hardly much of the turkey and ham left at this stage, creative cooking is the order of the day; the Christmas wrapping stuffed in the over-filled recycling bin; the house understandably a little upside down. Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia reminds us “every family, despite its weakness, can become a light in the darkness of the world”.
This afternoon’s feast gives us great hope, a light to illumine our path, our journey. A journey that sees us on the threshold of a new year, 2018 and 233 days away from the biggest event celebrating family life in the world next August, the 9th World Meeting of Families in Dublin, where hopefully Pope Francis will lead us in prayer and speak to us and with us about family. I am also conscious this afternoon that after 188 years the Presentation presence will be no more here in Kildare parish. The many generations of families who have been educated over the years by the Presentation Sisters have great reason to say thanks and show appreciation today.
While the Holy Family have given us an example to strive, one family above many others who worked hard at being family were the Martin family from France – Louis & Zelie and their five daughters, one being St. Therese of Lisieux. The parents became the first spouses in church history to be canonised saints in 2015 by Pope Francis. This afernoon we are honoured, thanks to Pat, to be in the presence of the relics of St. Louis & Zélie, later we will hear more about the relics and have time to venerate them.
Pope Francis also reminds us in his seminal document that “families are not a problem, they are first and foremost an opportunity”…
I like radio diaries. Very few radio presenters can carry it off well – Ollivia O’Leary is always worth listening to, as is Marie Louise O’Donnell. I still think of her column on RTE Radio’s Sean O’Rourke programme last year on the Christmas Tree farm in Brannockstown outside Naas, you could smell the pines as she spoke. I am also always intrigued by Myles Dungan’s ‘On This Day’ Drivetime column. I was delighted to get the gift of Volume 2 of his work this Christmas. I notice that his column this time last year celebrated the Waterford Scientist Robert Boyle. He gifted us ‘Boyle’s Law’ which we should remember from chemistry class at school, all about a fixed amount of gas being kept at a fixed temperature! If you know the rest meet me at the end of Mass for a prize!!
If Myles Duncan was to research back fifty years ago from this afternoon’s Feast of the Holy Family in this Diocese, he would find himself reading accounts of the enthronement of a new Bishop in Kildare & Leighlin – Bishop Patrick Lennon, who succeeded Bishop Thomas Keogh. Bishop Lennon was the Bishop responsible to implement the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. Changes that spoke in liturgy, how Mass was celebrated now in the vernacular, no longer in Latin; changes that involved co-responsibility and collaboration, priests and lay faithful together; and changes that underpinned our understanding of church no longer a building or institution but “the people of God”. The Nationalist and Leinster Times of the day, forty years ago reminds us of some of the text of Bishop Lennon’s address: “we in Kildare & Leighlin are a particular Church, a local church, with our own loyalties and traditions. There are no overtones, however of isolation or independence, for we are part of the universal Church of Christ …”.
In 233 days time we will be celebrating the Ninth World Meeting of Families in Dublin. This is a mammoth event, the largest world event, marking the family this year. On this the Feast of the Holy Family, we are reminded of the Holy Family as a template, as a marker is full of encouragement for those who struggle especially in family life, just like Louis & Zelie Martin and their family in Alencon, in France – Pope Francis seems to remind us that true riches lie within our relationships and how we relate, and not in what we have materially. When we see the amount of waste in recent days and still realise the numbers homeless are astronomical, we all get suddenly pinched into reality. A family need a home, access to a home is central to living a family life.
The Presenation Sisters have being very much at home in Kildare town since the year that saw Catholic Emancipation – 1829. While this church was dedicated in 1833, the same year as the Cathedral in Carlow, I understand Daniel O’Connell breakfasted that day in the Presentation Convent. I also have learned that it was the generosity of three Suncroft farmers who suggested and supported the establishment of the convent here. Originally the Sisters lived in a house on the farm; the earliest children on school rolls were taught in stables. Three sisters formed that first community here, back 184 years ago – two from Carlow, one from Portlaoise.While the Bishop might sanction the establishment of a convent; it was you the local people who made the sisters welcome and will miss them most as they leave. Nano Nagle, who founded the Presentation Sisters in Cork in 1775, realised in penal times that the way out of poverty was for people to be educated. When I came to the Diocese in 2013 there were 12 communities, convents or houses; today there are 9. The Presentation family landscape is changing but the Sisters would be the first to acknowledge the song must not stop with the Sisters; a dance must evolve out of a wake. We are in a different place, there is no going back. The friends of Presentation; the associates; the co-journers; the Presentation past pupils must continue to kindle Nano’s lantern and sing Nano’s song. That’s what family do when the chips are down.
Simeon and Anna meet the parents as they enter the temple – one larger than life Simeon; the other, Anna, in her eighties who as Luke’s account reminds never leaves the temple night or day. They are the two who represent all of us looking on the face of Jesus. Take Him into the bits and pieces of our wounded worlds, where the laughter’s and tears of family life are lived. Someone’s Top-Max smart watch was the wrong colour on Christmas Day; the mini drone crash landed onto the floor; someone’s jumper was two sizes too small; someone’s book was one they already got two months ago.
Simeon prays the prayer I prayed with my father as he died eleven years ago: “Now Master, you can let your servant go in peace …” and now I pray it with every dying person. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms – we need to take Jesus into our hearts, into the hearts of our family life. Anne Thurston, the writer reminds us Simeon seems to understand as this child grows, we diminish. Birthdays lay down a marker for our death days! And that’s not to be morbid.
Someone wrote recently: “it’s good to have the Christmas season. It reveals to us a hunger, shared the world over, for being a family”.
Christmas doesn’t cancel the harsh realities of life, but equips us to meet and overcome them. The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us Jesus is born into a family first and from there into the world. I think of the ceiling in a friends home, there are apparently 139 tiles in place, but there is one missing. As we gather, as we do at Christmas, we often speak about the missing tile, must fix it for next Christmas, usual promises made in good faith. If we keep fixated on the missing tile, we risk missing all the others that are in place. For all that irritates us around family, there is so much joy, goodness and love, lets celebrate family, on this feastday.
Mary, mother and guide, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, father and protector, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, pray for us.
Saint Thérese of Lisieux, pray for us.