First Sunday of Advent – Year B: 03.12.23
We begin the opening sequence of our Advent journey.
I warmly welcome all of you who gather to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Cill Mhuire Church. A church that opened its doors on the 15th August 1983, todays celebration honours all who been baptised, married, confirmed from here and those whose Requiems were celebrated here.
But more importantly today is also about looking forward. Recognising recent renovations including the new Reredos and the Statue of Our Lady and other ancillary works. We are looking back in gratitude at what a generation did but also looking forward in hope to what God is inviting us to do as this community is called to give witness to its baptismal calling in the years to come.
This morning the sacred world steps marginally ahead of the secular world as a new Church Year dawns with the Season of Advent. Advent is at its shortest this year – 23 days leading into Christmas. They’ll pass so quickly we’ll find ourselves in the middle of Christmas with so much left undone. Advent offers us a template, a satellite-navigation for our journey to Bethlehem!
As we commemorate forty years of worship here, we call to mind the presence of sin that is part of all our lives …
Advent is always a short season, but it’s at its shortest possible this year! We need to go back to 2017 to find the last time Christmas Day fell on a Monday. So this year Advent lasts three weeks and one day. It sounds like a film that Hugh Grant might star in ‘Three Weeks and a Day’! Advent is all about preparing ourselves for the three “comings” of Christ. The first in history, the second right here and now and the third at the end of time.
In 1983, the year when Cill Mhuire Church here was opened, Christmas Day fell on a Sunday. 1983 is remembered for many things. I applaud the display ‘Reeling in the Years 1983’. What stands out for me was the opening of the 8km Naas Dual Carriageway, and I noted the comment “anything to avoid going to Naas”. I also vividly recall the footage of the kidnapping of Shergar from Ballymany Stud Farm over the way. It was a tough time economically in Ireland as we were in the depths of a recession and there were many tragedies on both sides of the Irish border. But there was also hope with the commencement of the New Ireland Forum in Dublin Castle, I always see that Forum as only reaching its conclusion in the Good Friday Agreement many years later.
Here in Newbridge there was a huge sense of optimism as a new church opened its doors in Ballymany. It was seen as a bringing together of the people of the immediate areas of Ballymany and Morristown. Of course in the intervening years many new areas have sprung up, very much part of the local communiy here. It was interesting to note that the homilist on the day, Fr. Seán Swayne made an impassioned plea for our need to reach out to those on the margins and to welcome those coming into the area for the first time. Newbridge has a proud tradition of this welcome, rooted in the ‘Newbridge Share Food Appeal’ and other such initiatives in these parts.
Local papers of the time such as the Leinster Leader, which in 1983 cost the sum of 38p, speak about the weather during that Monday afternoon ceremony. After a good dry spell for the week leading up to August 15th, the weather turned inclement on that day with rain drizzling all afternoon. It didn’t deter the many who stood outside as every seat in the body of the church was taken up, those outside depended on the PA System relaying them the Mass, Homily and Opening Ceremony. Bishop Patrick Lennon was the main celebrant, Fr. Larry Newman the Parish Priest and as mentioned Fr Seán Swayne from the Liturgy Centre in Carlow College the homilist. Terry McGoff was the builder, while John Delaney was the architect.
In the words of Fr. Newman that day “Cill Mhuire Church was a dignified building with a noble beauty, standing as a sign and symbol of heavenly things”. Ballymany translates as the ‘Town of the Monks’. I note myself that often Ballymany is used for the church as much as Cill Mhuire. I think on this fortieth anniversary it would be good for all of us to reclaim the name Cill Mhuire, Mary’s Church. What a splendid name!
It was on the Feast of the Assumption that this church was opened; it’s on the first Sunday of Advent we honor its fortieth anniversary. Advent calls us to be alert, to be ready, to stay awake. Forty years ago in his homily, Fr. Seán Swayne spoke of “a struggle going on for the soul of Ireland”; that struggle has intensified much more as the decades pass.
While its important to look back, Pope Francis often reminds us, we are not protecting some mausoleum, but a living vibrant church. Let’s renew our efforts to build up this parish community, and particularly this community around Cill Mhuire. In the recent Synthesis coming the Synodal Plenary in Rome, we are reminded the most important of all sacraments is baptism. How are we living out our baptismal calling?
While our eyes are drawn during this short season to an Advent Wreath, I always think Advent is also about an empty manger. Advent celebrates our preparation of the manger for the birth of Christ. What kind of Christmas will we have this year? What kind of Christmas will others have? It’s encountering people in the cut and thrust of life, in the “field hospital” image of Pope Francis, where we are all invited to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in. This is finding God in the here and now, this is a full response to our baptismal calling.
So let’s all sit with our empty manger these three weeks and one day that Advent lasts. Don’t rush to fill the manger, to crowd the space. Let Advent unsettle us. Let it allow us to linger in hope, in longing and in waiting for Him whose coming was foretold, whose coming is realised in the lives of those around us and whose coming will happen at the end of time. In the words of St. Mark’s text, on this fortieth anniversary of Cill Mhuire Church, to all of you I say: “stay awake!” fully alive to our shared baptismal calling.