HOMILY FOR THE OPENING OF THE NEW CHURCH AT KYLEMORE ABBEY.
Welcome to Kylemore Abbey, the home of the only community of Benedictine nuns in Ireland. They came to Kylemore castle, former home of Mitchell Henry, M.P. in 1920, having fled from war torn Ypres in Belgium.
The history of the Benedictine sisters in Kylemore Abbey is a fascinating story. It is the age old Catholic story of struggle and frustration, of success and failure, of life and death. The Benedictine Sisters have so much of which they can be justly proud.
What no history can adequately tell is the faith of the Sisters, their trust in God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. They have laboured for almost a century to make our Lord’s priestly prayer extend to this area of Connemara that weds the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane, joy in the Lord and a share in the Passion of Christ: “that they all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. (John 17:21). Such was the faith, the hope and the love of those who worshipped here in this Abbey since 1920. Without them our lives would be quite different and perhaps even less Catholic, particularly in view of the attraction which this place holds for peoples of other Christian denominations.
What of Kylemore today? Many stream here from distant parts because they are drawn by love. As so often happens in the history of the Church the Lord who delights in making all things new has blessed this community with fresh hope. For fifty years the Sisters have sought a monastic Church. As one door closed another opens. The closing of the school meant that the gymnasium became available. Mother Máire and the Sisters recognised the opportunity to transform this area into the beautiful Church which we have today.
Living in a culture which had hoped to find a shortcut to happiness during the boom years we now recognise that we have to search much deeper for God’s plan and for the peace which he promised. People who have become disillusioned with the promises held out by economic theory recognise that we have here no lasting city but we have God’s promise to journey with us and be available to us as we cope with fear, frustration and false promises. Here we can listen in the tranquillity of Connemara to God’s word, to music and liturgy that’s life-giving and inspirational. Someone said that “where men and mountains meet, mystery is disclosed. The religious imagination and the breath-taking beauty of the area point us towards God.
It is hardly a coincidence that we dedicate this Church on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The reading from the Prophet Ezekiel is very striking. The lead-up to today’s reading is not only an indictment of the unworthy “shepherds” of Israel (Kings, priests and prophets); it is an abiding warning to the leaders and guides of the people of God. There is something frightening in the assertion that God will “rescue” his flock from his shepherds. But that assurance provides hope and promise for the people. Jesus had this Chapter in mind when he presented himself as the Good Shepherd in John, Chapter 10.
Ezekiel wrote against a background of despair and disillusionment when the bottom seemed to have fallen out of the Israelites’ world. Ezekiel’s hearers were exiles in Babylon convinced that all their hopes in God’s protection and of eventual rehabilitation were vain. To them Ezekiel brings the promise of renewed hope. Though their rulers had failed, the ultimate shepherd, God himself, does not abandon them. It is the same promise as that of second part of Isaiah. God will reunite his scattered people in the Promised Land and bring them healing for their ills.
In the Second Reading from the Epistle to the Romans Paul strikes a note of hope and consolation. All of that can be translated into our world today enabling us to interpret the despondency and disillusionment which hangs around us, reminding us that what God does is to reconcile us to himself while we were yet sinners.
In the Gospel reading Luke has given a credible setting for the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The tax collectors and sinners (outcast by Religious standards) were flocking to Jesus and listening to him; Pharisees and Scribes were scandalised by this. Jesus defends his conduct. He consorts with sinners precisely because he knows that God is a loving Father who welcomes the repentant sinner. God does not regard sinners as outcasts but follows them with love and receives them tenderly when they come back to him.
Jesus tells of the Shepherd who went in search of a sheep that was lost and of his joy when he had found the stray. The love of the Good Shepherd is not based in any reciprocity, but is love that seeks to generate mutuality out of its own perfect self-giving.
The love of the heart of Jesus is relocated in the heart of God. God wants “to seek out his sheep himself”, to bring them home from the cloudy and dark places to which they have scattered.
The readings from Ezekiel and Luke portray God’s love for his people in vivid terms. Like the sheep in the biblical readings, we as God’s people are in constant need of care, defenceless and perhaps docile. We need the Shepherd as protector and leader. God is our true shepherd; he shows great love for his people. He will bring justice and strength to the scattered flock in exile in Babylon. This Feast of the Sacred Heart reminds us that we have need of rejoicing; as Christians we are to be a joy-filled people. God’s love is greater than ours, for he causes his wrath to be turned into friendship, sorrow into joy. He defends the defenceless and searches out the stray.
The Sisters here in Kylemore, recognising the way in which people, disillusioned by the disappointment of the so called economic boom, are now more open to hearing God’s voice speak to them as he spoke to the Prophet Elijah “in a still small voice”, have addressed this need by making this Chapel available to them. Here they may join with the Sisters in prayer, transcend the cares and worries of the day and rejoice in and be inspired by the beautiful liturgy for which the Sisters are so well known.
Of course, the Sisters, as a contemplative Order, are entitled to and need their own space and while maintaining that they have addressed the challenge to respond to God, to one another and to all who come in search of hope and healing.
This Church is united with the parish, which is part of our Archdiocese and in turn is related to the world-wide Church and with men and women who may not share our faith.
For the past number of years I have been encouraging this Community that because of its inner Benedictine charisma, its location here, that it has a potential to address the artist and the intellectual, the poet and the historian. Here they may experience an oasis of peace where they will feel at home and sense not only the presence of God but the presence of the Benedictine Sisters as well.
Dear Sisters in Christ: for your impressive past, I rejoice with you. On your present which is so rich in promise, I congratulate you; for the future which God holds in store for you, I pray that you will be a striking proof to all who come here that this place is alive with love, God’s love and your love.