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Feast of St. Colman – 24th November 2023 -Homily of Rt. Rev. Monsignor Anthony O’Brien, P.P., V.G.

Chapter Mass 24 November 2023

St. Colman 522 – 604. Colmán Mac Leinin. Patron of the Diocese of Cloyne.

St. Colman founded a church in Cloyne in 560. He also made a foundation in Kilmaclenine in north Cork. For over 1450 years, the people of the diocese of Cloyne have lived the Christian Faith in good times and in bad. We are beneficiaries of an enormous Christian heritage. Something to be cherished not ridiculed or abandoned as irrelevant.

History shows us that the church is constantly changing, adapting to the needs of the time. Catholics, lay and clerical, have been obliged to adopt huge adaptations after some church councils. Political turmoil, war, persecution and famine have also forced the church to adapt to new situations. Today we have to adapt to the challenges of secularism. This can be a difficult time for many people who wish to maintain the status quo and it can be a time of hope for others willing to accept the challenge to try to win the present generation for Christ. We are certainly living in a time of transition.

On this Feast of St. Colman, you and I assemble in faith with our bishop, William Crean, the successor of St. Colman of Cloyne, in this magnificent cathedral of St. Colman to celebrate Mass this morning.

Immediately prior to his Ascension, Jesus told his followers “Go TEACH all nations. BAPTISE them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and Know that I am with you ALWAYS.”

How can we as the diocese of Cloyne answer that command in 2023 and in the years ahead?

Pope Saint John Paul said that each generation is a new mission for Christ.

Throughout the Western world the number of people currently professing to be Catholic is declining, whereas in southeast Asia and Africa the church is very vibrant.

There is no template. It is incumbent on each one of us, baptised, to try and try again to witness to Christ in our daily lives, and to share our experiences with one another, parish to parish. Always open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

In handing on a lived faith, Christians in Ireland have always used the resources available to them, beginning with St. Patrick and the Shamrock right up to livestreaming recently. Look around the country. Stonework, metalwork and manuscripts. Ruins of medieval churches.

Our language. Dia dhuit. Dia is Muire dhuit.

The earliest presence of the church can be traced to the Stone beehive huts, Skellig Mhichil. Penitential.

The setting up of Monasteries and abbeys brought a completely new way of living Christianity. A period of Saints and Scholars. Prayer. Manual labour. Self-sufficiency. Books of Lismore, Kells, Durrow were written and copied. Visiting the National Museum in Dublin you will see the small metal Cross of Cloyne and St. Lachteen’s Hand from this diocese, along with the Ardagh Chalice and the Cross of Cong.

Before printing was invented, scenes from the scriptures were sculpted in stone on what became known as Stone Scriptural Crosses still to be seen at monasteries like Monasterboice, Durrow, Clonmacnoise, Castledermot. Over 1,000 years old.

The next major development was the establishment of parishes and dioceses in the 12th century. This brought enormous changes for clergy and parishioners.

The building of cathedrals and the setting up of Cathedral Chapters to sing the office. Church getting wealthy.

Then came the confiscation of our churches after the Reformation. Try to imagine how Catholics who were no longer allowed enter their own churches felt. That must have been horrific for them, but it did not stop them practising their faith. They found new ways. Soon they were celebrating at Mass rocks. Persecution.

As the penal laws were relaxed parishes began building churches during 19th Century so that nobody was obliged to walk more than 3 miles to Mass. Huge congregations.

The noticeable drop off in those currently attending Mass is leaving us with too many churches.

The Catholic church in Ireland has lost its trappings of power in society. We are a scaled down church. Reforming, hopefully synodal. We are challenged to return to the basic message of Jesus and live a lifestyle counter cultural to the prevailing secular society.

The change from one type of church to another doesn’t happen overnight. A period of transition. Uncertainty. Difficulty. Persistence.

Ruins of medieval churches are to be found in many old cemeteries. Visit your local ones and reflect on how those buried there handed on the faith from generation to generation, down to our generations today. Be thankful. Pray for them. Pray for the grace to use our current means of communication to hand on the faith to our young people.

Before the awful Covid lockdown who would ever have visualised Mass being said in a locked empty church. Soon practically every church was live streaming Masses. We did adapt. The internet can be used as a library to help us learn and live our faith. Keep up the momentum in our use of media in evangelising. We need the expertise of our young people to lead us.

How can I support and benefit from Catholic resources? Nurture little green shoots beginning to appear.

We are not the first generation to face challenge.

The church in Ireland in 2023 is very different from the church in 1923. The church in 1923 was very different from the church in 1823 and so on.

New wine, new wineskins.

May we TRUST. HOPE and PRAY for GUIDANCE and COURAGE through the intercession of our patron St. Colman.

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