May 12, 2017 – Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor at St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Whitehouse
ST MARY’S STAR OF THE SEA, WHITEHOUSE
12 MAY 2017
Readings : Ac 7.44-50; Ps 83; 1 Cor 3. 9-13, 16-17; Jn 4.19-24
I The Word of God, God’s dwelling places in time and spirit
The readings from the Word of God, chosen for this celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Whitehouse, gather us around the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist in faith and thanksgiving. They are New Testament texts, written in the light of the Resurrection. They evidence a growing appreciation in the young Christian communities of the mystery of Christ, of God incarnate in history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As texts they reflect emphases and touches particular to each author and their respective faith community settings. Aptly chosen for this occasion, as you will have noticed, these readings celebrate the key theme of God’s presence to humanity.
Taken together they trace the symbolisation of the Jewish sense of God and its development through the mystery of the incarnation in the Christian tradition. You will have noted that reference is made in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles to the “Tent of Testimony” (Ac 7.44), to its place in Jewish religious tradition, and then to the Temple, apotheosis of Jewish symbolisation of divine presence. The lines from St Paul (1 Cor 3.9-13, 16-17) and the extract from the gospel according to John (Jn 4.19-24) however move the symbolic focus for divine presence to another register, to a personal and inter-personal register, with phrases and statements, such as : “you are God’s building” (I Cor 3.9) and “God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4.24). In making this shift to the personal order, they transpose the Old Testament emphasis on the “otherness”, on the mystery of God, and bring it into the personal and inter-personal realms of experience, whilst also retaining the sense of God’s otherness.
Poised ever so finely between these readings, the poetry of the Psalm (Ps 83/84) with its imagery of sparrows and swallows expresses a poignant element of religious faith : the psalm depicts the birds as having nested in the crevices of the Temple façade, whilst the words of the psalmist also express the envious longing of its faith-filled author – and of us who pray its lines – for the birds’ closeness to and intimacy with the divine. And then comes that gentle, yet telling line : “happy are those who are dwelling where the song of praise is sung”. In this song of praise, the person, indeed the community of living faith, becomes the locus, if you will, of the new Temple. Thus, person, Christ and each believer, the faith community – that is, the personal order – are the beating heart of God’s presence in time, place, society and history. Persons, women and men, young and old, are the carriers of faith for themselves, for their families, for the neighbour and for the community. They are the carriers of faith in every generation. And each generation is called ever anew to evangelise itself in the conditions of its own time.
Thus the readings from Holy Scripture catch the Christian core of this historic anniversary. They speak of the permanence of the divine, of God, in the transience of time, history and sensibility. They pick up our Christian rootedness in the history of the Jewish faith and its development. The words of St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians and of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well set the Christian agenda and it reads: the divine-human relationship is a personal and inter-personal dynamic, surpassing buildings and systems, essential though they are to serve and symbolise that sacred relationship and to give expression to its public place in human affairs.
II St Mary’s Star of the Sea over a century and a half
For one hundred and fifty years St Mary’s Star of the Sea, here in Whitehouse, as mother Church for Ballyclare, Glengormley, and St Gerard’s, together with its parishioners and priests, has known the poignancy of these readings. Here parishioners have lived and witnessed to their prophetic call to surpass and transcend through living our faith in Christ the limits of stone, system and ethnicity.
The booklet commissioned and produced by John Leonard for the occasion outlines the living tradition and testing drama of the Christian life here over the years. From monastic presence on these shores to our own times, the tradition of this Christian catholic faith community has seen :
- the generosity of James Magill who sold the site for five shillings, growth in population,
- the mothering of other parishes and faith communities,
- the suffering of war in the blitz of 1941,
- sad and tragic sectarian acts of desecration,
- remarkable community endeavour to promote the building of Churches and the education of youth (the Offertory Promise Campaign) in the post- Second World War decades,
- the sectarian driven ethnic cleansing of the Troubles
- and in that very crucible the Christian ecumenical witness of parishioners and the ecumenical solidarity with the local Christian Churches.
Through the light, the shade and the darkness of these times the parishioners and clergy of this parish, together with, and also with the support of the Christians of our fellow Christian communities, have witnessed to the power of the gospel to sustain hope, to inspire reconciliation and to bear together in life-giving faith the burdens of history and of our own past.
The Christian community of Whitehouse, of which St Mary’s is a vital part, is indeed a lodestar in the ways of reconciliation and peace-building for both communities of faith and for civil society.
III “I see you are a prophet, Sir” (Jn 4.20)
Precisely in this key, consonant with the themes underlying the chosen extracts from the Word of God for this occasion and with the living tradition of the faith experience of this community, the members of the Parish Council and of the Sesquicentennial Steering Group have marked this occasion with a very creative note in commissioning by John Sherlock, resident in the parish, the stone sculpture and composition, with its seven symbolic motifs – the Cross, the spiral, the labyrinth, the 150 stones at the base, the Petrine and diocesan keys and the perforation, or hole, linking past to future. These symbols resonate with both universal and local significance. For parishioners and locals they speak silently of the continuity of faith through the centuries and through the morphing and transformations of the life of the Church and of this Christian community.
Through the eye of the perforation at the top of the stone, symbolic of the present, the field of vision is necessarily narrow. It is impossible for us to predict the future, and particularly the future forms of ministry in our parishes and diocese. Like the symbols on the sculpture, the Christian faith, the Christian community, ministries and offices, as known to us, will endure. The precise forms they take from one epoch to another may morph. And such change will test received and inherited religious sensibilities. Like the Samaritan lady, we have to keep our ears, minds and emotional intelligence tuned to that prophetic wavelength in the words of Christ : “believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn 4.21).
As we live in the present moment and shape the future, the work of our diocese, channelled through many initiatives old and new, to vitalise our parishes within the framework of Pastoral Communities is crucial to the pastoral development of our local Church in our contemporary cultural and societal context. The Loughshore parishes play a dynamic role in this initiative and I thank you for your path-finding spirit in these endeavours to read the signs of our times and to respond to them in faith.
I congratulate you the parishioners on the one hundred and fifty years of faith, worship, Christian endurance, forbearance and prophetic witness that it is your heritage and living tradition. I pray God’s blessing on every household in the parish and in the Pastoral Community, on the priests who serve you and on all who exercise ministry and service on behalf of St Mary’s Star of the Sea.
May this community and all its serves ever flourish in faith and know the power of the gospel to live in the hope of the Risen Lord, Christ, our Saviour.