Feast of St. Dominic – 800th Anniversary of his death – 12.00 noon Black Abbey Dominican Church, Kilkenny
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Yr.B: 8th August 2021
It’s a joy to come among you this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time as we mark the feast of St. Dominic on this the eight hundred centenary of his death on August 6th 1221. Within four years of his death friars had already arrived in Ireland with foundations in Dublin, Drogheda and here in Kilkenny.
The official title of this abbey is the ‘Abbey of the Most Holy Trinity’. The alabaster sculpture that depicts the Trinity here dates back I’m told to the fourteenth century. For centuries it remained hidden in one of the walls. There is a similar alabaster sculpture in Callan and over in Durrow.
Today I am, all of us are, on sacred ground, on holy ground that goes back 800 years. Celebrating the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time in the only original Dominican foundation on this island, the oldest Catholic Church in Ossory diocese. I was delighted to accept the very kind invitation of Fr. Tom Monahan and the community, very conscious of the huge admiration I already hold for the Dominicans in Newbridge and from my days in Drogheda.
The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time continues to reflect on John 6 – the Eucharistic discourse – with the promise that the bread offered is His flesh “for the life of the world”. Not something like it, akin to it or similar to it, but His flesh – His body and His blood. As we gather on this the 800th Anniversary of the death of the Spaniard Dominic Guzman who affectionately we have come to know as St Dominic, let’s pause in this historic abbey as we call to mind our sins …
- Lord Jesus, you raise us to new life: Lord, have mercy …
- Lord Jesus, you forgive us our sins: Christ, have mercy …
- Lord Jesus, you feed us with your body and blood, Lord have mercy
May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life. Amen
In an original Netflix Series called ‘Virgin River’ there is a character called Preacher played by the actor Colin Lawrence. Basically he is a former marine who now works as a chef in a bar. Lawrence is the protector of the community who always has that word of advice, word of direction, word of caution. We expect the same from the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers that they too will have words to teach us, to heal us, to help us to grow in faith.
But what kind of world are we asked to preach in today? Let’s look to Elijah who was on the run from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, yes we’ve heard her name before! Exhausted, worn out, spent; he prays that God might take his life, but instead God gives him food and drink to allow him to continue the journey to Mount Horeb. It’s back to the testimony of St. Paul – ”for it is when I am weak that I am strong”.
Elijah gives us hope this Sunday morning. The fiery prophet shows a very frail side – that book written some years ago ‘Men don’t cry’ – well Elijah was not far from tears. Sometimes just sometimes things can get on top of us – how do we cope? Who can we turn to? Where can we find our furze bush to scream our head off? I love the statue of Elijah in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the muscular Alpha prophet seems to be flexing his biceps like any olympian competitor in this final day of the 32nd Olympiad. And yet the same Elijah is in a heap in the first reading. During these past two weeks we have seen some of our brighest and best equally in a heap when their game, their competition didn’t work out according to plan.
Preachers are invited to preach today in a world where people are disillusioned with leadership at every level. Throughout this pandemic there has been little appreciation of the spiritual dimension to the health of our society. New and ever changing recommendations have continually made demands on us. We have gone through periods of following ceremonies online to very restricted public worship. Two metre social distance in churches makes absolutely no sense when we see one metre distance in the hospitality sector. Our churches, our abbey’s, our places of worship are not vectors for the variant. There needs to be an urgent review of the social distancing norm that is still asked of us in church. We must wear our masks, we must keep our distance, we must sanitise, we must operate one way systems. As a letter in this weekend’s Irish Times puts it “most churches are large buildings, with too much, rather than too little, ventilation”. Perhaps the two metre social distancing norm might be addressed in the much heralded roadmap for easement or ending of restrictions later this month.
John 6 speaks of Eucharist. And we have heard a lot about First Holy Communion and Confirmation on our airwaves and across all social media platforms in the past week. Sacraments are occasions of encounter between God and His people. Parishes and families have patiently waited for the day when they will be permitted to take place. As I said earlier this week and repeat this morning. We have done much as individuals, as communities, as counties and as a country. Better days are, we all feel, within touching distance. In recognition of the great sacrifice we have all already undertaken, I am asking all parishes to continue to abide by current official guidelines. I very much feel we will be in a better place next month, a safer space next month. I understand and acknowledge the frustration of many as ceremonies are rescheduled and postponed for another date, but if it’s possible, if it’s feasible, it might be more prudent to wait just another little while.
Elijah’s story, St. Paul’s testimony must be preached in the context of Jesus’ Eucharistic dialogue in our gospel and even more so in the completeness of the text from Chapter 19 of the Book of Kings. When read as a whole we see Elijah drawn to different earthly experiences from violent winds to earthquakes to fires, but the prophet finds God and meets Him in the gentle breeze, in the silence. John’s gospel uses that phrase from the Lord repeatedly: “Come to Me”. Come to Me in the gentlest of breezes. Come to Me when you have nowhere else to go. Come to Me when you are broken like Elijah.
St. Dominic preached into a world that was similar in some ways to todays world. 800 years may have passed but the issues remain. Not undertanding the place faith plays in the life of good people like all of you is perhaps a lesson learned out of this pandemic. People of faith hunger not just for Eucharist – First, Second or Third – but for gathering, assembling, coming together. While the webcam and the livestreaming are welcome and very much a port in a storm, our faith calls us to physically gather, to actually come together. I am concerned that for some Sunday is not what it was – golf, cycling, mountain climbing have taken the place of Mass. Nothing intentional in these choices but we need to bravely and sensitively preach to this cohort who are such an essential part of our faith communities. Like Elijah we all meet the Lord so often in the gentlest of breezes; in the face of the angel who reassures us when that reassurance is needed most and ultimately in our receiving “the Bread of Life’ – the bread that has come down from heaven”.
+Bishop Denis Nulty