It’s a joy to be with you in Clonaslee this vigil evening, as we mark the Second Sunday of Advent. I know like me, you are all delighted that Fr. Tommy is back among you. At the end of Mass I look forward to launching his latest publication on Clonaslee, his ‘lockdown’ project. But I want to thank all of you for the care you take of your parish here in Clonaslee, of Fr. Tommy and of your church, St. Manman’s. A Church that dates back to 1813, called after the seventh century Saint of these parts.
John the Baptist enters our Advent journey this evening. His call then and now remains challenging: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight” … as these December days get shorter and darker, the Baptists message continues to uproot us out of our comfort zones. It was Edith Stein who said “The darker it is the more we need to open our hearts to the light that comes from above”. Darkness is more than the absence of light, it’s also within our very skin, our pores, like this virulent pandemic we are continuing to live alongside, with it’s disturbing strains – Delta and Omicron.
The preciseness and clarity of the gospel passage positions the Baptist’s prophetic words into an historical context. Mention of the names Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas seem more at home in the Passion of Christ – it shows even in His birth Christ was being prepared for His death.
As we gather on this dark night in Clonaslee with many joining in on the webcam, around the second flickering candle on our Advent wreath, we also consciously prepare a way for the Lord in the muddle and melee of our own lives. Let us call to mind our sins …
I’m not sure children get Advent! Delivering the customary Advent Calendars in school during Advent in Drogheda some years ago now, I tried my best to explain all about Advent and waiting for Christ’s birth to a senior infants class. And then a little girl put her hand: “But, Fr. Denis, Jesus was born last year!”
Advent isn’t easy for us adults either. Lent is a much simpler concept, because in Lent, we give things up or we take on a discipline or diet, how often we’re asked: “what are doing for Lent?” The answer is simple … “off the drink, not smoking, going to Mass more often, helping a neighbour”. If someone asked you “What are you doing for Advent?” you might look at them twice! Advent comes at a frantic time when deadlines seem to loom large, we haven’t the time to do anything – “how many days is it?” “how many sleeps left?” So much yet remains undone.
Advent is a time of renewal. The word of God during these days offers ongoing reminders of God’s plan to lead his people into a deeper sense of peace and contentment. The Covid pandemic which I think will define our generation has taught us that the fast lane, the quick buck, isn’t always what its made out to be. Maybe the pandemic teaches us a lesson on relevance, on prioritising, on valuing whats important in life.
In John the Baptist the prophetic voice that has been silent for centuries comes alive again. He has much to say to todays space when we search for hope, when we reach out for reassurance. John the Baptist is a man of God, a man who has been touched by God’s mercy. The word ‘Advent’ itself means “coming towards”, and it specifically refers to the journey of Christ from Godhead into humanity. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, wrapped in whatever Mary or Joseph could lay their hands on. God became man; God became one of us. This is something way beyond our imagination, our control, but what lies within our capacity is our journey to Christ. And all who accompany us on that journey.
St. Paul offers us on this Second Sunday of Advent some timely advice on how we must behave on this journey to meeting Christ. We must remember when Paul writes, he already has met Christ and secondly when Paul sets out on a journey, the longer and more arduous it is, the better. Paul expected the Second Coming any day and he writes with this urgency in mind.
The waiting that is typified in Advent is not a hanging around, lounging or lingering around type, but something urgent and goal centred. The goal is God becoming Man in a stable and the greater goal is seeing the face of Christ in those around us. In these pandemic times we have become more familiar with Facetime. Advent offers us face-time with Christ. And recognising the face of Christ in one another. The forensic detail that roots the Baptist in history, as recounted in our gospel, equally roots us historically in our Advent journey. As another child might ask: “Are we there yet?” We’re not, but the Second Sunday of Advent reminds us we’re getting that bit closer!
Launch of Fr. Tommy O’Reilly’s second book on Clonaslee
It was in November 2013 that Fr. Tommy invited me here to Clonaslee to launch ‘Talking Memories’: Life in a Small Village’. It was the story of 25 people coming from the older generation. Unfortunately I couldn’t travel, having picked up a bug after the so called ‘Baby Bishops Course in Rome’. And Mgr. Brendan Byrne represented me.
When Fr. Tommy spoke with me recently during his stay in Our Lady’s Manor, he told me by the way that he had written a follow up, the story of Clonaslee told by the next generation. He told me this second book on Clonaslee was his ‘lockdown project’. The rest of us were counting steps, Fr. Tommy was typing pages, telling stories, talking memories!
It is said that history cannot give us a programme for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves. All history starts local. All stories start at crossroads. I love the quote from Kavanagh: “The bicycles go by in two’s and three’s – there’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight”.
This is Fr. Tommy’s fourth book – Severino (a play translated and adapted from a poem) – An Acre Sown (his story of mission and ministry in Brazil – Talking Memories, Life in a Small Village and tonight:
I love Noel McMahon’s painting on the front cover of Clonaslee – St. Manman’s Church is at the centre of the village, the community, the parish.
Of course the story of a village is best told by those who have lived here and love and know the place well. Fr. Tommy lets their voice speak so beautifuly in these pages. On a week when the An Post book of the year is to be announced next Wednesday, here beside me you have a prolific writer, a producer, a playright and a priest. Clonaslee, the gate way to the Slieve Blooms, has a history that is told best by those who live here. And you know I think there might be a third book where we will hear the voice of the younger generation. May the Lord bless Fr. Tommy and all of you this night.