This year’s Advent/Christmas Carol Service in Dalgan was themed ‘Living in the Spirit of Hope’. Fr Pat Raleigh gave the following address to Columban supporters, friends and family who attended the occasion on Friday 14 December 2018.
- On behalf of all of us here in Dalgan I sincerely thank you for honouring us with your presence here tonight for our annual Advent/ Christmas Carol Service. Your presence is very much appreciated.
- We have been very honoured to have with us tonight St Mary’s Parish Choir, Navan, under the Directorship of Gabrielle Harte.
- It is very appropriate that this Service of Music, Song and Prayer takes place during the season of Advent.
- A Service like tonight, with St Mary’s Parish Choir and yourselves gives each one of us the opportunity to quietly reflect on why we are gathered here, what we are celebrating – the coming of Jesus into our midst, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
- In our preparations for Christmas any one of us can get caught up in the razzmatazz of shopping, buying gifts, filling the shopping trolleys with so much food and drink as if there were no tomorrow.
- Many of you will want make Christmas a memorable time for your children and grandchildren and that is a very noble thing to do, At the same time it can be overdone. In no way do I want to be like Scrooge.
- Advent is that time in the year when we are once again invited to make/create a home for God in our hearts, homes, communities and our world.
- It is a time of preparation for one of the loveliest feasts in the Christian calendar. It is a time to step back from the frenetic pace of life and consuming and to concentrate on what really matters.
- During each day of Advent we are invited in the readings from Scripture to make every single day a new beginning. We are invited to Stay Awake, which is central to the season of Advent.
- The Advent Wreath, a very familiar sight in our Churches and homes, this small wheel of green with its five candles, is a symbol of light in the midst of the darkness of winter. It is a symbol of hope at a time of so much suffering, human tragedy, brokenness, wars and violence.
- Each of the Advent candles holds out for each of us the hope and the promise that the birth of Jesus represents,
- In the person of Jesus, our gracious God pursues humankind with a love that is tireless, a love that refuses to allow hatred, bitterness and indifference to dominate.
- While Advent helps us to prepare with joy for the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, we cannot nor should we allow him to remain the innocent child of the Crib.
- It is important to remember that he walked the roads of Palestine seeking out the lost, the broken and the wounded.
Living in the Spirit of Hope
- This year we have chosen as our theme: ‘Living in the Spirit of Hope’.
- On the back of your Programme I have quoted a text from the Prophet Isaiah which is very appropriate for all of us on our journey of faith and hope; ‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar as with eagle’s wings, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and never tire’.
- Jesus came not among the entrepreneurs and the conquerors but among the poor. By and large it was the poor, the fragile and the vulnerable who received his message.
- This is beautifully brought out in the recent documentary ‘Walking the Walk’. Some of you may have been fortunate to see it.
- The story ties in very much with the Advent/Christmas message. It relates the story and journey of the charismatic Dublin priest, Fr Tony Coote, who was diagnosed in March of this year with motor neurone disease. The diagnosis came as a huge shock to this very lively and energetic person.
- He speaks very movingly of his own vulnerability, his fragility, his humanity, his outlook on life where nobody should be cast aside. He very movingly portrays his genuine faith in the person and message of Jesus.
- He decided to raise awareness of the condition of motor neurone disease by embarking, with a group of dedicated supporters of family, friends and volunteers, on a 550 km walk from Letterkenny to Ballydehob, on condition that the funds collected would be given to the further research of motor neurone illness.
- Fr Tony, in one of his interviews says: ‘Life is fragile, grab it with your two hands. Hold on to it – it is all we know and treasure it. Even with my illness now, I shall treasure what I have. It is a different kind of life but I still treasure it. It casts me in this relationship with God where I am asking God what is going on and at the same time asking God for help’.
- Like Fr Tony, there are many people in our world and in Ireland today who feel very fragile. Here tonight some of you may also feel a tiredness and a fragility trying to come to grips with the ever changing realities, pressures and demands of modern day living.
The Brokenness of our world – the immense sufferings of so many
- Our world and our environment today is also very fragile,
- Thousands of people have been forced to leave their countries because of war and violence. This time last year we prayed for the Rohingya people in the Rakhine State in Myanmar (Burma) who were forced to leave their homes in their tens of thousands and flee to Bangladesh. Their plight was very much at the heart of Pope Francis’s message for the New Year. Has life changed for them? Not really. Their plight is an example of ethnic cleansing. Today, regrettably, we do not hear so much about their plight because the media have moved on to other news items.
- Each day we witness the photos of men, women and children making their way out from war torn countries in search of a safe haven and a better future, all on a journey of hope.
- They are challenging us as individuals and as a society to match the hope in their eyes, a hope similar to that in the anxious eyes of Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus all those years ago.
- Pakistan, where Columbans are working, has been very much in the news with the recent acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who was wrongfully accused of blasphemy. Her acquittal has led to huge demonstrations by fundamentalist religious groups that she has been forced into hiding. This is also having repercussions for all Christians in Pakistan who are now living in fear that they will be the next ones to be targeted. Pakistan is a very volatile situation.
- Over the past year we have been witnessing an unprecedented persecution and martyrdom of Christians in many countries. Pope Francis in a recent message called on Christians to prepare for Christmas and not to be prophets of doom but to show the tenderness of God for all those who are suffering today.
- For the past number of years the people of Yemen have been experiencing unprecedented sufferings. So many have died and have been killed and many will die of malnutrition.
- We are also experiencing the unprecedented destruction of our planet and Ireland has not don very well in the recent findings. It is our duty as Christians to do everything we can to make our earth our true home and to care for it for future generations
- Here, at our own doorstep in Ireland we are witnessing a huge divide in Society with the increasing number of people and families who are homeless or are becoming homeless. Tonight, I would like to pay special tribute to the many different organizations who are reaching out to them and who do make a difference.
The Miracle of Christmas
- Were it not for the extraordinary and miraculous event of the birth of Jesus you and I would not be gathered here tonight.
- It is so important that we never forget the humble surroundings in which Jesus came into the world and into our midst.
- May the wonder of the Christmas story be a constant reminder to us of God’s love and tenderness, so badly needed in our world today.
- I hope that the three readings that we selected for tonight will have given us some food for reflection as we prepare for the birth of Jesus.
- In the first reading ‘Christmas Lights’ the late Columban, Fr Gerry Hurley recalls his childhood in Kilcrohane, Co Cork where his father used to take them out for a walk to see the lights, very different to what we see today. They were the candles lit in every window of every house to make sure that Joseph would find a welcome and indeed the stranger.
- The second reading, Gracias, Mama Noel, Anne Goulden tells the story of her visit to a sick prisoner in jail in Peru, She was advised not to visit a particular man whom the guard said was a bad man. Visit him she did though it was not easy. At the end she said: ‘No one is beyond help. Each one of us has something to offer. Jesus who became human all those years ago reminds us that there is always a good seed in everyone’.
- The third reading, ‘The Little Camel by Maggie Pearson’, illustrates that Small is Beautiful. The little camel was only a hindrance in the eyes of the three well fitted out camels and they scoffed at him. The kindly King Balthasar, speaking softly to the little camel as he helped him to stand up, said, ‘None of us would have made it without the little camel, who carried our water and maps’.
Who is being excluded?
- The child in the crib whom we welcome on Christmas morning is the visible face of God’s love and tenderness for all of us.
- Tonight through music, story, song and prayer we have been truly enriched by God’s love for each and all of us.
- As we leave this Holy space in a little while and as you return to your homes and families and prepare for Christmas, it might be worth asking ourselves who is being excluded today in Society?
- May we be large in our loving, in our welcome for the stranger, the migrant, the refugee, the homeless and those who are different.
Words of Thanks
- On your behalf, I sincerely thank you St Mary’s Parish Choir, Navan, under the directorship of Gabrielle Harte for honouring us with your presence tonight.
- 2018 was a very special year for the Missionary Society of St Columban (Columbans) as we celebrated our Centenary, 100 years of Columban Mission. It is very fitting that you St Mary’s Choir are the ones to bring our Centenary year to a very reflective and prayerful conclusion.
- you have called forth in each of us the inner child and you have encouraged us once again to wonder and rejoice at this most ancient feast which never ceases to engage and inspire us.
- Through music, song, story and prayer you have guided us in our Advent preparations to welcome into our hearts Emmanuel, God-with-us.
- At the end of his public audience on December 12, Pope Francis greeted a delegation of Austrian members of Parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of ‘Silent Night’ whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.
- Pope Francis said that ‘with its profound simplicity. This song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the Saviour, born in Bethlehem. Reveals to us the love of God the Father’.
- In addition to thanking the choir, I also thank our Organist, David Bourke and trumpeter, Francis Duffy for enriching this evening’s Carol Service.
- In spite of the inclement weather I thank you all for making the great effort to come this evening. I do hope that in some small way this Advent/Christmas Carol Service will have given us the space for quiet reflection.
- To our readers and those who led us in the Prayer of Intercession, to the Committee and to all who decorated the Church for this occasion and for Christmas, many thanks.
- A special word of thanks to Olivia Clinton for preparing the Programme for this evening and to Excel Print, Navan for printing it under a strict deadline.
- To the unsung heroes of the night who braved the cold weather, the stewards –David Kenneally, Derry Healy, Joe Fitzsimons, Vincent Whelan, Seamus McCabe and the volunteers from Kilmessan, many thanks.
- To all who worked behind the scenes in decorating the Church, seating arrangements, many thanks.
- As I already mentioned 2018 has been a very special year for us as we celebrated our Centenary. Throughout the country we held many events including events here in Dalgan, particularly the Family Day event on Sunday the 1st July in glorious sunshine. We sincerely thank you for your participation and for joining with us in giving thanks to God for 100 years of Columban Mission. It was very appropriate that the theme of our Centenary was ‘Sharing Gospel Joy’.
- To all our benefactors and supporters, including many of you here, who continue to support our work as Columban Missionaries, many thanks. I also thank you for subscribing to the Columban Magazine, the Far East.
- At this time of the year there are so many groups collecting for very worthy causes, including very worthy causes here in Ireland – St Vincent de Paul Society, Focus Ireland in their outreach to the homeless, Simon Community, The Capuchin Day Care Centre in Dublin who provide wonderful services to the poor. One would love to be able to give something to each of these worthy causes.
- The Committee had to make a choice. We have decided to share the proceeds from tonight with the following:
- With our fellow Columban Missionaries working with the very poor in a very volatile situation in the province of Sindh in Pakistan. I hope to visit there in 2019.
- With Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders for their humanitarian work in War torn Yemen where so many thousands of people have already died, many from malnutrition. You will have seen a report of their extraordinary work on RTE News last night.
- Ordinary people are bearing the brunt of an increasingly brutal conflict in Yemen. The dire needs across Yemen have led MSF to massively scale up medical operations. Heavy ground fighting and aerial bombardments are threatening the lives of thousands of people.
- MSF have been working in Yemen for the past ten years. They run 13 hospitals and support another 20 medical facilities.
- MSF do extraordinary work not only in Yemen but in many other countries such as Iraq, South Sudan, Bangladesh with the displaced Rohingya people, Ethiopia, Niger, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and others.MSF bring a glimmer of hope to so many and the hope is that they are restoring some dignity to a long suffering people.
- As you leave tonight there will be members of the Committee at different locations with Donation buckets. Please give generously in the spirit of Christmas for these two very worthwhile projects.
- May the blessings of the Christmas season come to all of us and especially to those who have least among us.
- May the bells ring out and remind us that when we look at the Crib that Christ was born for all especially for those who feel excluded, forgotten and alienated – the aged, the homeless, people fleeing war, women being treated as slaves, families grieving for a loved one who may have gone astray and committed suicide, the refugee and the migrant far away from home.
- May the Star of Bethlehem which shone brightly over the first Crib fill each one of us here tonight and our families with the light of Christ, with peace, tenderness and hope.
- May each one of us, as we prepare for Christmas, radiate God’s compassion, tenderness and love. May we bring the light and hope of Christ to others.
- May you all have a safe journey home and thank you for being with us tonight as we Columbans give thanks to God for 100 years of Mission.
- I now invite you all to stand as we join the choir in joyfully singing Adeste Fideles – O Come All Ye Faithful.