Centenary of Sacred Heart Church
10 October 2010
My dear friends,
To-day’s Scripture Readings speak to us strongly about the power of God in overcoming situations which appear to be without hope and the power of gratitude.
One newspaper commentator recently described the last twelve months as “the year all hope died.” He was referring to the frightening economic crisis, rising unemployment, international failures to deal with global warming and the intractable war in Afghanistan. Then take fax machines, music cassettes, personal cheques, Yugoslavia, the polar ice cap, smoking in public places, the western black rhinoceros – all apparently gone or on the way out.
The characters spoken of in our readings to-day could be described as people for whom all hope had died. As lepers, both Naaman in the first reading and the ten lepers in the Gospel faced a bleak life: an incurable disease, physical pain, reduced to begging and living in wild and desolate places away from contact with the rest of human society. It would be no surprise if hope had died for them.
In desperation Naaman made the long journey from Syria to find the prophet Elisha and encountered the healing power of God. Jesus himself always reached out to people on the margins of society – sinners, those who were poor or sick, foreigners. It is these people who seem to be most open to the message of hope that he brought. The spirit of thanksgiving expressed by Naaman and the leper who returned is a sign of an even deeper healing. They had been touched by God’s healing power in a profound way. They were made whole in a way that was not just skin deep. Their faith saved them and their hopelessness was turned into thanksgiving.
Over twenty years ago, on visits home to my mother, I noticed that her hearing was disimproving and she did not always hear the phone ringing, especially if the radio or television was on. She was into her eighties and living alone. A friend alerted me to the possibility of someone of her age living alone having an entitlement to a stronger bell tone for the phone. So next time I was in Sligo I called into the Eircom office, met a sympathetic man and filled in a form.
Things improved greatly in my mother’s relationship with the phone and on my next visit home, she related to me how this nice mannerly young man had come to install a bell for the phone, how he had worked so tidily and taken a pan and brush to sweep up the shavings and had asked my mother if there was anything else he could do for her before leaving. She was relieved and thrilled because she would have been depending on a kind neighbour to do the sweeping up.
Next day, back at base, I said I must ring the office and thank the person I originally met. I did so and asked him to specially compliment the young man who had done the job and shown such consideration and kindness to an old lady living on her own. There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then I heard a surprised voice say “I’m thirty years in this job and have done favours for many a person but this is the first time someone called back to say thanks.” It shocked me to hear a modern confirmation of the Gospel story and taught me a lesson. The power of gratitude.
The American writer Henry Thoreau said once “Most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Each of us carries our own personal wounds and need of healing. We may struggle with mental health issues, we may carry the burden of looking after a sick person, live in a loveless marriage, work in what we regard as a dead-end job, or have no job or money at all. It can seem that there is no hope for us. Often it is through the experience of hardship and real struggle that God can reach out and touch our lives with healing. To-day’s readings challenge us to live our lives in hope, not despair. They invite us to sing our song of trust in God, to give thanks for God’s healing and blessings in our lives.
This is what you, the people of Devenish parish, have done so beautifully over the past week. Under the inspiration of your priests, with the help of many parishioners and local committees, as well as the assistance of outside preachers and artists, you have celebrated with thanks one hundred years of God’s healing action in your community centred around the Sacred Heart Church. You have prayed, given a special place to the sick, embraced the young, accepted God’s healing in the sacrament of reconciliation, dipped into the treasures of your tradition in the faith, added to the artistic patrimony of your community in your much admired Centenary Garden and unveiling the Wall Hanging of the Townlands of Devenish Parish. What a splendid and memorable week and what a worthy response to God’s actions in your community and in your lives! I warmly compliment you and I congratulate your hard-working priests, Fr. McGourty and Canon Timoney. You will not go to the grave with your song still in you. You have sung your song quite beautifully and there is nothing the matter with God’s hearing. May the Sacred Heart Church flourish for at least another 100 years as a centre of God’s grace for this community.
May God bless you and your children and raise up priests and religious from among them to serve our people. May He touch our woundedness and enable us always to be people of hope and gratitude.