Abbot Patrick’s homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Romans called our Island Hibernia, meaning ‘winter’ in Latin. It seemed to them, coming from Italy, to be the end of the world, dark and miserable with days of little light. At this time in our history on this island we are learning more and more about the darkness that is in us, and around us; the darkness of our recent history which corrupted our lives. We have to learn to negotiate these November realities with the help of God. ‘If a way to the better there be,’ Thomas Hardy suggests, ‘it exacts a full look at the worst.’ We must dig our way to the deepest reality of what we are this winter, as a people and as a person, and far from being overcome with shame, revulsion, or anger, let us place stones around the opening to keep it that way, an opening towards the light.

Our ancestors, five thousand years ago, or more, built a monument to this mid-winter season. ‘Without mathematical instruments, calibrations or any of our scientific tools, no compasses, set-squares, sextants or slide rules, these architects calculated that, each December solstice, the people of Newgrange would invite the rising sun to enter their tomb through the little rectangle of four flat stones above the door. . . . It had to be calculated miraculously.’[1]

Jesus Christ our Lord has also calculated miraculously. Every time we come together to celebrate Mass, Newgrange happens on the altar. By his death and resurrection he blew a hole through every tomb and every graveyard in the world. On the darkest days of the year we can build a passageway through depression, desolation, despair.

This Sunday marks a day of prayer for prisoners all over the world. As we remember them let us include ourselves, each one of us a prisoner

in one way or another to our circumstances, our oppressors or to our own addictions. Most of us at some point in our lives have had our own master or mistress of the dungeon who inflict on us a special kind of pain, whether from unrequited love, jealousy, or bullying. Let us ask ourselves whether we are the victim, or the cause, of any such suffering and pray for freedom from all such bondage.

Newgrange means a new place from which to feed ourselves. Grange like granary comes from the Latin word for a seed ‘Granum.’ Newgrange is wherever we feed ourselves with the finest wheat. We allow the golden sun to flood through our depression, our despair.

What we are doing at this moment here at Mass is building Newgrange on the stones of this altar. Every time we create this Eucharistic space together we invite the light of life to filter through to our world. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we ‘hold like rich garners the full ripened grain.’[2] We each of us become Newgrange.

‘There will be a time of terrible suffering in all our lives, the Book of Daniel tells us in the first reading this morning, ‘Things will seem to be worse than at any time since nations began.’ It may be the death of a loved one, it may be illness,  it may be the collapse of our last hope, or temptation to suicide. ‘But at that very time of suffering you will be saved.’ The light will shine through the darkness on the darkest day of the year, because you have come here to Newgrange and ‘your name is written in the Book of Life.’[3]

[1] Ireland: A Novel, by Frank Delaney, Time Warner Books, London, 2004, Pp 45-46.

[2] John Keats, ‘The Terror of Death’ Sonnet.

[3] From the first reading at mass: Daniel 12: 1-13.