Sr Edel O.P was asked to preach the homily on Baptism Sunday to share her reflections of her faith development in her home parish.
Sunday, January 13th , 2013 , The Baptism of The Lord, St Michael’s Parish
Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. There are three mysteries which celebrate the Lord’s Epiphany, the Magi’s arrival to the infant Christ, John’s story of the changing of the water into wine at Cana and Luke’s story of Jesus baptism by John. In this week’s gospel story the people are waiting and wondering if John is the Messiah. John assures them that he is not and asks the crowd to direct their attention to another who would be mightier and whose baptism would be in the Holy Spirit and with fire. Luke draws our attention to the spirit life of the Church. In the gospel story we read the people were being baptised there, Jesus was baptised too and, while he was in prayer we are given an account by Luke of a divine manifestation, a manifestation which includes the opening of the heavens, a descent of the Holy Spirit and a heavenly proclamation.
As Luke draws our attention to the spirit life of the Church it is the spirit life of this parish during my years while living at home here in Dun Laoghaire that I recall. I am not talking about a pious element but rather a life that unites people and calls us to be responsible to one another, without judgement. Last year I attended a prayer service in this Church involving the religious communities of the parish, including Glasthule now. Mons Dan that evening described my vocation as the parish’s very own home grown one!! And this it is. While faith at home, the local community of Dominican sisters and various members of my family played a part in influencing my decision to become a Dominican, it was my mother’s involvement in this parish that always stands out for me. For most of my years that influenced my growing up here Fr Chris Mangan was PP, his curates were Frs Brian Connolly and Brian Power, their working together as a team was in itself an example. It is that spirit that I often recall as I reflect on how I should live my baptismal call. The spirit that is the creative source of Jesus’ mission. By their inclusion my mother had no doubt that as a baptised person not only had she an obligation to participate in this parish and was empowered by Fr Chris Mangan to do so, but she felt she too had something to offer and contribute. She wasn’t of course the only one as the involvement of many was great. So the parish as I remember didn’t just involve coming to the Church but the Church living out among us. We, and I say we, because it didn’t seem one person’s thing, all were included, we were building the Kingdom of God among us not an empire for a select crowd. In an article of the newspaper reported by the Irish Times, Wednesday March 14, 1979 it states: “St Michael’s Church in Dun Laoghaire has a certain quality about it that really draws the crowd. Over half of the people who go Mass there on Sunday morning come from outside the parish. Maybe it’s just force of habit, or that they like the contemporary layout, but it probably has more to do with the friendly atmosphere, the community spirit which seems to permeate the church. And the man who has done so much to foster this spirit is the parish priest, the Rev. Christopher Mangan.” The article was written by Frank McDonald.
This, the newspaper’s article reports, was Fr Chris Mangan’s dream- “My whole objective”, he said in this article, “when I came here was to make the whole parish a caring Christian community”. The parish community to him was not about attending mass.
This is how I experienced the parish: scripture groups were in people’s homes, led by the laity, supported by the priests, concerns in relation to the drug scene on the streets and the work done especially by Fr Power, people sleeping rough in the boats down in the harbour, these were always kept in the awareness of our minds for those who wished to hear, the coffee mornings in the Boylan Centre for people to chat and take from the feeling of loneliness, visits to home, youth groups, the choirs, missions, discussion groups, the religious together prayed in the Church once a month, corpus Christi procession, the crib at the side where food parcels were left, visiting speakers at mass, minsters of the Eucharist and Word, sale of work at Christmas in the Boylan centre, all of these are memories for me of only some of what went on and last but not least the preaching of Fr Brian Connolly- who even had the sacristan ring the bell after 10minutes in case he would keep us too long- how human is that! But his preaching was thought provoking. A Fr Gerard Vann , Dominican, who died 50 years ago this year , wrote in the 1950s in England on how numbers were falling at church attendance and he believed it was due to the bad catechism that was being thrashed out to the congregations. Bad catechism seemed to be what Fr Chris Mangan deliberately planned to avoid, He brought in the best lecturers to give courses in scripture and theology. He was educating us laity to be Church.
And my adult life to be back teaching for a few years in the primary school a great revival of community spirit returned with Mons Dan visiting the children in the school and being present to all the staff members, I don’t think this can be underestimated. It is the ordinariness of being present to people, it is a great bonus to have a chaplain who can support the educators in a nourishing manner.
And so as Luke draws our attention to the spirit life of the Church we ask ourselves how do I contribute, be I ordained or not, how do we support one another so that people in our community don’t feel lonely or isolated, so that our young can be led in a manner which speaks of the dignity of the human person, where our elderly feel safe, where our members receive good catechism, where we preach Jesus Christ to one another, where we include and take risks to do so, where because of our support for one another we receive the courage to call ourselves Christian and live the life of a Christian- be we priest, religious, married, single, young, old- as baptised members we all share in the priestly, prophetic and royal functions of Christ and his mission. We, as baptised members, need to play our role and support our church leaders who allow it- what a church we would have!
As in the second reading of St Paul to Titus we are reminded to have no ambition except to do good. Paul teaches of the kindness and love of God that Jesus revealed to us- that he was only concerned with his own compassion for us and how God renews us with the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday’s gospel calls us into a new priesthood, a new commitment to our baptismal call. Within the Christian community Baptism is the first of the three sacraments necessary for full Christian initiation. Baptism gives us a new birth as children of God. Through baptism we become participants in the salvific mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
I will now finish in the words of the Dominican, Fr Gerard Vann O.P. It summarises how, in my opinion, the late Fr Chris Mangan planted seeds of a caring Christian community in this parish during my years of growing up here and how he truly showed how God is manifested and communicated to us through Christ our Lord. He wrote:
“The way to become like God is to love God; and to love one must learn, and to learn one must look- not just a fleeting glance, a partial awareness, but a long and deep concentration of awareness. The Church gives us many moral lessons in its effort to make us good, but its primary task is to make us good through helping us to look at, learn, love and live with God- and in particular, God as manifested and communicated to us through Christ our Lord.” (The Son’s Course).