Reopening of the Church of the Holy Rosary
Parish of Ballinascreen, Draperstown, Co Derry
December 1st, 2019
Bishop Donal McKeown
It is just over ninety years since St Mary's Oratory was opened here in the town and 40 years since this building was first dedicated. That was just 100 years after Catholic Emancipation and 80 years after the Famine. Like the other churches in the parish of Ballinascreen, this new church was built at a specific time in history – with its particular challenges and opportunities. Then, in August 1979, Pope John Paul II was preparing to come to Ireland and the community was in the middle of those painful years of the Troubles.
So today we build on the energy of the past and we face the present with no idea what the future will hold. But the People of God have always walked with faith in God rather than with confidence in our own plans. God will give people of faith the grace they need for their time. So it is good that we can celebrate this opening on the First Sunday of Advent, as we begin a new walk through the mysteries of our faith – from the Advent yearning for healing and wholeness that we recognise before Christmas through until the reconciliation of all things in Christ the King, next November. In many ways it is a comparable journey that we follow in the mysteries of the Rosary – we begin with the Annunciation, going through the childhood of Jesus in the Joyful mysteries. We follow the public ministry of Jesus in the Luminous mysteries. The Sorrowful mysteries meditate on the events of Holy Week – and the Glorious bring us through the Resurrection of Jesus and the death and glorification of Mary, with whom we hope to share the risen life of her Son.
So, what is celebrated here in this Church is not just an event that we are supposed to get to, called 'Mass' or another one of the Sacraments. The People of God gather in this parish every week in order to celebrate what Jesus did for us on Calvary – and to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour. But we gather in this time and place, not so that the Church can be strong but so that we are fit for purpose in a worrying and dangerous time in history.
Firstly, we come here, not as individuals but as a community. Our culture has put huge emphasis on me and my right to choose. Indeed, we get the message that we should obey our thirst and that I personally can decide what is right or wrong, because my choice is infallible. A society based on 'my right to choose' in all matters will fail to serve the Common Good. Jesus was always more concerned about the needs of the weak rather than the wishes of the strong.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus saw people who were 'harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd'. (Matthew 9:36). I know that Ballinascreen has a great sense of community loyalty and identity. But young people are growing up in a world of many fragile relationships. Indeed, they are encouraged to believe that self-control and sacrifice are unreasonable. Apparently, in all matters, life is too short to say 'no'. Many of their role models have feet of clay – and apparently not much between their ears either! Jesus invites us to build community because it there that we can find support, for good times and in painful situations. Mother Teresa made a powerful comment:
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.
And a church community is not just a place where the young and the old are looked after. All who are baptised in Jesus and who share the one Body of Christ have the right and responsibility to be involved in discussions about the way forward. In an educated society, there is no future a parish where everything is left with the priest. Parish community is about welcoming the stranger and developing the members, male and female, old and young. A healthy parish works together to find a role for everyone so that you can discover its way forward.
Secondly, the first part of the Mass consists of the scripture readings. Jesus gathers us, not just to be together but to grow in faith together. A disciple is one who learns. If you come here for weeks on end and do not learn anything about your faith, then something is missing. Jesus the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles spoke in order to tell of the love, mercy and forgiveness of God. As we journey through the Church's year from this first Sunday in Advent, the Lord expects us to hear His word - and allow ourselves to be formed and informed by that word of God. in a society where we lose too many people for want of reason for living, there is an ongoing need for parishes that challenge young people to become saints and missionaries in this digital age. It might not make us all saints overnight – but at least we ought to better understand what Jesus came to teach about God and who we are as human beings. We are invited to have a childlike trust in the Father – not merely a childish faith in marginal issues. The world has been saved by Jesus on Calvary – not by fluffy stories about angels or magic prayers.
Thirdly, we hear the words of the Lord. But St John's Gospel tells us that Jesus is the Word who was there in the beginning. Our faith is in Jesus, the Word, not just in his words, however powerful these words may be. And in Mass we encounter Jesus in his words and in his sacramental presence among us in Communion. This church is a sacred place where Christ has gathered his people, has formed us with the scriptures and then invites us to be joined to him in Communion. The Eucharist is not just a 'thing' that we get. We are invited into intimacy with Jesus as we take his Body into ours. Like His body, ours will also be raised up on the Last Day because they have been baptised, anointed with the Holy Spirit and have become recipients of Christ's Body. That is the source of our morality about how we behave in the body. Other animals are not Temples of the Holy Spirit. Your gathering here is a statement about the dignity of the human body that is based on how God sees you and not on how shiny your hair is.
Much of that teaching is not welcome in modern culture – just as it was unwelcome in Jesus' time. In an increasingly lonely world use this Church building to gather and welcome people. In a world that doubts anything is worth believing in, ensure that this building helps people to grow in faith together each week. And in a culture that values only the body beautiful because 'I am worth it', receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist so as to help make Jesus known and loved.
I congratulate all who have worked on these renovations. This is day to celebrate your achievements. But this is also the day when you decide that this sacred place and space will continue to be used to let Jesus build a strong community of faith, facing the future with confidence. Belief in a God who believes in people is not a burden. It is the best Christmas gift that you can give your children every day of the year.