Urlaur Abbey Pattern (August 2014)

Homily (Mt 14, 22-36)

“When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake was battling with a heavy sea for there was a headwind.”

This is a beautiful place and a magnificent setting. All the more so when the sun is shining and the waters calm. The gospel we’ve just read however reminds us that all that can change, and very quickly. Storms come, bringing terror and fear, and leaving destruction and ruin in their wake.

St. Thomas Dominican Friary was set up here in Urlaur around the year 1430. It flourished in relative peace and tranquillity for almost 200 years. But in the wake of the Reformation in the early 17th century, the property was confiscated and handed to Viscount Dillon, a local loyal landlord. Perhaps because he was Catholic, the community didn’t disappear immediately. However decline set in. The Prior Dominic Dillon, for example, was amongst those martyred in 1649 by Cromwellians at the siege of Drogheda. And the last friar of Urlaur, Patrick Sharkey, died in 1846, “possibly of a disease contracted during the famine” Fr. Liam Swords comments in his history of the diocese.

So storms came here too and lasted a long time. Yet the ruin in which we stand today is beautiful in its way. A sacred and cherished place particularly to you the local people. This annual event testifies to that fact. Perhaps that is what gives the place its beauty most of all.

I’m conscious on this beautiful day and in this place of tranquillity and peace, that on this day 100 years ago Britain declared war on Germany.  We were part of Britain at that time. Thousands of young men rushed to join up – the promise of a pay packet perhaps, but also of adventure, and idealistically for many, to defend small nations. It all seemed to be the most noble of causes. But four years later, 16 million men were dead from all over the world, but mostly from that part of the world that saw itself as civilised, Europe. Listening to the news this morning about all the commemorations of that Great War, but also to what is happening in Gaza and in Iraq, things have changed little. Ruination and destruction come so easily it seems to men and women and through us to one another.

Standing in the midst of these ruins, now holy ground, we have listened to God’s word and we are about to celebrate the Holy Eucharist – a serious business – a time of reflection, of prayer. In the Gospel, Jesus stepped out of prayer into raging waters and brought peace and calm. Peacemaking eventually cost him not less than everything.

So on this glorious afternoon, we are here to pray. In a lonely place, too. Fr. Swords says in his book that the friars continued to survive here right through Penal Laws and poverty because of its remote situation. They too no doubt depended on Jesus and knew him to be present with them, his Spirit in them.

He has made his home with us too, and in us. That we celebrate now in the Eucharist – our Holy Communion with him and with each other. So that we too can step out of this place of prayer back into a world that is not settled or at peace, and be peacemakers. By his grace, with his help.

So let the celebration continue: having fun, making sport, singing, dancing, enjoying each other’s company…peace-making requires all of that too. And may God’s blessing be on the rest of this great pattern Day!