Bohola Parish Church 150th Celebration
HOMILY (Gospel: Mt 28:16-20)
The dedication on the great stained glass window here in the sanctuary of this church of the Immaculate Conception and St Joseph reads: “Of your charity pray for the good estate of P Taaffe Esq., who founded this church to the glory of God 1858”. Phillip Taaffe, a Catholic landowner, gave the site and the money to build this church. It was by any standards a remarkable act of generosity, and particularly at a time when the people who would worship here were for the most part extremely poor. It is a reminded to us that genuine Christian faith always inspires generosity and self-giving and sharing what we have with people who are less fortunate.
And here we are celebrating 150 years of Phillip Taaffe’s church. It stands today, in great repair, and quite magnificently so, because the people of the parish took up what Mr Taaffe had begun, and have generously and selflessly given of their resources and of themselves over the generations. This celebration itself is happening because that spirit of generosity lives and thrives amongst you today: people have worked together and given long hours to planning and arranging all the events that mark this celebration. It’s all part of building community, building up the body of Christ.
That spirit of selfless generosity images the Eucharist we are now, very appropriately celebrating: ‘This is my body given for you’ Jesus said to that first community gathered with him in the upper room the night before he died. ‘This is my blood poured out for you’. Everything about the holy Eucharist speaks generosity and self-giving. We celebrate it so that we may become like Jesus, generous as he was generous, giving as he was giving, and thus transforming our world.
This evening we celebrate the vigil of the Ascension. It’s one of the major feasts of the Church. It marks the handing over of Jesus’ own mission and project to us. As the first reading tells us today, He ‘was taken up to heaven’, entrusting his mission here on earth to the apostles upon whom he would now confer his own Holy Spirit. ‘You will be my witnesses’ he told them, and you will ‘make disciples of all nations’. And that is what happened…
And that mission is our mission today. Not just the Pope’s or the clergy’s mission. Jesus trusts all of us, no matter what our gifts, ability or education, to be his disciples and missionaries. The people who over the centuries built at least four other churches prior to the building of this one in 1858 to 1864, they were on a mission for Jesus. As we are today when we remember, and celebrate as we are doing.
‘Know that I am with you always: yes, to the end of time’ with us in each and every believer and in the community of believers. We gather in faith on the Lord’s Day as we do now to remember this and be renewed in our recognition of this great heritage and responsibility, this trust that Jesus himself has placed upon us very directly and specifically at the moment of his Ascension.
‘With us always’. That is what Church is about that is what our church means: It stands to remind us than Jesus has not left us orphans and he never will. He is with us, really and truly present. This is our faith. This gives us our deepest identity as a people and community: as Jesus was Son of God so are we: sons and daughters of God, God’s people as the Vatican Council loved to say.
Today is also ‘World Communications Day’. Churches are all about communication as well as communion. Here it is we hear God’s word; here it is we experience his love, in Jesus giving us his body and blood. All reminding us and challenging us that it is our relationships that matter: with each other, with God.
Finally, I love this Gospel passage for what it tells us about that first community to whom Jesus handed over his mission. It was no perfect community, but rather a broken and imperfect group, much like ourselves when we gather in this or any church. They should have been twelve, but they were only eleven. One had walked away. Taken his own life. The terrible effect that must have had on them! The story also tells us that ‘They fell down before him’, before Jesus, ‘when they saw him, but some hesitated’…was it doubt, cynicism or what?….and yet it was to such a human, flawed community he entrusted everything the Father had entrusted to him!
So we must take heart. Our sinfulness is not a barrier to God or Jesus: he continues to trust us. Let us never reject each other either, but work together with all our failings and brokenness: we remain God’s great hope in this place…
This church building stands as a visible sign that he is with us, and that we are his people in spite of all our imperfections and oddities. It gathers us together so we keep walking and working together, getting beyond the hiccups and fallings out, rejoicing in each others gifts, celebrating as we do this weekend.
And above all, being thankful, grateful. That is what celebrating 150 is about above all else. It’s why we are here tonight. It’s why we celebrate Eucharist. It’s why you’ve put such great effort into these celebrations. We have wonderful roots, a heritage to be treasured, in this church and all it signifies of faith and hope and love and belonging to the body of Jesus Christ over long years, and this community in being true to all of that need have no need to be afraid for the future, for the young….The spirit of generosity and faith that inspired the building of this church 150 years ago lives on, thanks be to God, as strong and radiant as the church building itself. So, with the psalmist in today’s liturgy, “all peoples clap your hands and cry to God with shouts of joy”!