I am delighted to be with you this evening to celebrate the Vigil Mass for the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting. In that context, it is appropriate to be joined this evening by the families of the Disappeared, nine families whose relations were killed and interred secretly in fields and bogs. Happily, six of these nine families have had their relations remains recovered, three are still waiting, praying and searching. Three of these bodies were recovered near here.
I welcome too Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Sandra Peake from Wave, the organization offering support to these families, as well others who have helped from across all sectors of society.
Homily for Mass celebrated by Bishop Deenihan
Today, we begin a new Church Year and, in doing so, find ourselves in the Season of Advent. Advent is a time of joyful preparation and waiting for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
That sense of joy is expected and, to some extent, obvious! The first candle of the Advent wreath is lit, Christmas lights are appearing and the Late Late Show’s ‘Toy Show’ is now over. It is only a matter of time before we are told how many sleeps are left!
In the Advent context, one could reasonably have expected the liturgy and the Church’s readings today to highlight or to emphasise the coming of Christ at Christmas but, as you will have noticed, they don’t!
In fact, the Gospel of today’s Mass talks of another coming, more somber and fearful! Matthew tells us to stay awake, for we do not know when the master is coming. That message has a somber relevance to our Mass tonight also for those who were killed during the Troubles and whose bodies were hidden and, in some cases, remain so. Their deaths were unexpected, unprepared for and unnatural.
The concluding Prayer today talks of ‘walking amidst passing things’, hinting of the end of time, the second coming of Christ and judgment. More fearful than joyful and, despite the beginning of Advent, more frightening than reassuring!
This eschatological or end of time coming of Christ is far removed from the unobtrusive birth of a child in a stable which, after all, Advent is a time of preparation for.
Liturgical lines seem to be crossed then in discussing the coming of Christ. While Christmas is about the coming of Christ as child, the readings of today’s Mass seem to concentrate on the Second Coming of Christ with overtures of judgment, power and glory.
In fact, surprising as it may seem as we start the joyful season of Advent, the Coming of Christ as a child is not mentioned in the liturgy until 17 December, just nine days before Christmas Day.
The special Blessing of today’s Mass states that ‘you have placed your faith in the First Coming of His only begotten Son and yearn for his coming again’.
How will Christ come again? Certainly, there is the Christmas Celebration, but on a more solemn note, we believe that after death, Christ will come to each one of us as judge. We are also expected to see Christ in our neighbour and, harder, act as Christ to that same neighbour. That is a point worth remembering in the context of the families of the Disappeared.
Maybe too there is a case for saying that Christ comes to us every day, in but not only in the Eucharist, but also touches our lives for the better through people, places and everyday occurrences. That will also be true during the coming weeks when many depend on our sacrifices, kindness and generosity.
When Christ was born in the stable in Bethlehem, it was not in any dramatic fashion. He came through childbirth. What could have been natural or normal for something totally abnormal.
Maybe, if we looked for Christ and Christ’s coming in the normal everyday occurrences, the run-of-the-mill sort of stuff, we would be making good preparation for Christmas and would be celebrating Advent well.
There is no great faith required in recognizing Christ if He came down from Heaven on a cloud. More faith was required to see Him as a helpless and dependent child in a stable.
Similarly, there would be no great faith required in seeing Christ in the many miracles that He worked, but we do need faith to see Christ in what Patrick Kavanagh called the ‘habitual, the banal’, the run-of-the-mill, ordinary, hum drum routine everyday existence. And if we are to be prepared to greet Christ when He comes again, be it as child, judge, Lord or Saviour, regardless of the manner or time of His coming, we must see and hear Him in our daily lives.
That, actually, is the challenge for all of us at Advent when we prepare ourselves and wait for Christ when He comes again. That aspect of waiting is also central to our Mass this evening, not just in the context of Advent, but in the context of the presence of the families of the Disappeared.
I welcome the nine families here tonight and the others who are also here and have supported them throughout the years. The McKee, Megraw, McConville, Simons, Wilson and Ruddy families with us tonight have found their loved one and that has been a huge consolation. They are here tonight to give thanks to Almighty God and to pray for those who assisted in that process and to pray also for the Lynskey, McVeigh and Maguire families who are here too but are still waiting.
Waiting is never easy. When the outcome is not certain, it is more difficult. These families here tonight have lost a relative during the Troubles. The relatives of Joseph Lynskey have been waiting to find his body since 1972, the family of Columba McVeigh, who was just 19 when he was abducted, have been waiting to find a body since 1975, that is 47 years ago, and Seamus Maguire’s family have been waiting since 1973.
These three families are also suffering the added pain of not having a grave to pray at. That is cruel. Indeed, when we read of accidents at sea, we always say a prayer that the body will be found. It allows a family the consolation of having a grave to visit and affords the deceased the dignity of a Christian burial.
As you know, during the Troubles, many were killed and buried in unmarked graves and fields throughout the country. It is also a matter of fact that some were buried near here. Some bodies, through the co-operation of those who had some information, have been recovered. Some are still missing. There is a belief that the bodies of some of those who were abducted and killed still lie near here in unmarked graves. That is why these families and I are here this evening. Time is passing. Some of those who may have some shred of information may also be getting old. Indeed, some of those who may have information or may have been involved may have died.
My predecessor, Bishop Michael Smith, came here previously and appealed for information. That appeal did bear fruit. That is important. Can I appeal to you again tonight? No family deserves not to have the consolation of a grave. No Christian, no child of God, no one made in the likeness of God, deserves to be abandoned in a field or bog. As people grow older and as some die, it may be easier for those who feel that they may have some scrap of information to come forward. That is our hope this evening.
This message is not just for this parish, far from it, but for the wider community. To that end, I welcome the journalists who are also assisting in this compassionate campaign and will broadcast this message further afield.
The Republican movement themselves are also working to resolve this issue.
It is important to point out that this appeal is not about justice or retribution. An independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains has been established. This Commission is independent of police and courts. My appeal tonight is not based on retribution or even justice but is based on compassion, decency and, simply, doing the right and honourable thing.
As November, a month for remembering and praying for the Faithful Departed comes to an end, we cannot but think of those who do not have the consolation of visiting a grave but only have the memory and horror of an abduction and a murder.
That must shatter any other feelings that we may have. It is a situation that makes demands of our faith. That pain cannot be ignored by any Christian or decent person. A simple humanity demands that anyone who can ease that pain would do so. That is my appeal and my prayer tonight.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains have worked extensively in Meath. This appeal is not unfounded or speculative. Three remains have been found near here, Brendan Megraw, Kevin McKee and Seamus Wright. That is important. There is a basis to the appeal. As I mentioned, the Megraw and McKee families are with us this evening.
The Commission is utterly confidential, a confidentiality that is enshrined in Irish and British legislation. If needs be, my Office can be contacted also.
At Funerals, we conclude the burial service with a prayer to the Mother of God, May Mary who stood by the Cross as her son was dying, comfort those who mourn and accompany all of us in our time of need. To have that hope, to have that consolation, surely, we need to show that compassion ourselves.
Advent is a time of waiting. A time for God to come among us, a time for comfort and reassurance. As we wait with joyful expectation for the coming of the Saviour and the fulfilment of our Christian hope, do remember those who are waiting for news of their loved ones, remember too their pain and, as we move towards the Feast of Christmas, let us remember them in our prayers and do what we can to end their painful advent and time of waiting.