Follow the Lamb

Right at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, there’s an extraordinary passage, rich in spiritual insight. Having sailed further than anyone before, the characters in the story have reached the edge of the world, and are on the border with ‘Aslan’s Country’ (an allegory of heaven). There, in this strange, liminal space, they meet a little lamb on a beach, a lamb ‘so white they could hardly look at it’. The lamb addresses the children ‘in its sweet milky voice’, and while Edmund and Lucy dialogue with him, a transformation takes place: ‘As [the Lamb] spoke, his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane’. Aslan the Lion, who of course represents Jesus Christ, had been showing himself to the children in the form of a Lamb.

If you’re familiar with the Book of Revelation, this Narnian scene might ring a few bells. In Chapter 5 of that book, John is shown a scroll sealed with seven seals which no-one can open. John weeps because the scroll cannot be opened, but is then told: ‘Weep not; behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’. But when John looks up to see this great Lion, he sees instead ‘a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’. The Lion of Judah is none other than the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

This scene from Revelation is essential to understanding the nature of Jesus Christ and his saving work, represented so clearly for us in the apparition at Knock. John is expecting to see a great strong beast who will tear the seals from the scroll, but is shown instead a slain little lamb, the very epitome of weakness, who is nevertheless ‘worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals’.

This gets to the heart of Christ’s saving work. Jesus Christ was true God, he created the entire universe, and holds it all in being, yet he came among us as a defenceless child, as a simple carpenter’s son, as one who weeps, is hungry, is rejected, and finally as one who suffers and dies on the Cross. At any point in his earthly life, he could have shown his omnipotence and vanquished all his assailants, but he deliberately chooses not to: the great Lion of the tribe of Judah shows himself as a slain Lamb.

And yet, in this deliberately chosen weakness lies the invincible strength of Christ’s work for our salvation. It is by means of his suffering and death that he saves us from our sins. The slain Lamb rises, victorious over death, scattering light on those who approach him, opening up the way to salvation. The Lamb of God is not a frolicking pet; He is powerful enough to ‘take away the sins of the world’. He is, as we love to sing in Knock, the Lamb who conquers.

What does all this mean for us? If the Lamb who appeared in Knock all those years ago is also the Lion of Judah, if his meek sweetness is allied to iron strength, how should we seek to follow him? How should we imitate his curious mix of weakness and strength?

There are many in the contemporary world, and especially in contemporary Ireland, who relish the idea of a weak Church. Some point to a time in the past when the Church had too much worldly power, and propose that the time is ripe for humility on the part of the Church. Others go further and suggest that the Church should have little to no role in official Ireland: no schools, no universities, no hospitals, no influence in public life. Christianity is thereby nicely neutered, and becomes so meek and mild as to be easily ignored. Strangely, this attitude is not just prevalent among those outside the fold, but also among many followers of Christ who are, perhaps, keen to avoid conflict.

There are others, far less numerous, who hope the Church will return to worldly power. Especially in the face of the rise of Islam, one hears murmurings of ‘new crusades’ and ‘muscular Christianity’. Strongman politicians in both east and west make gushing promises about the return of the Church to the corridors of power. What the Church needs, according to this approach, is more money, more buildings, greater manpower, and a new boldness.

Each of these approaches falls short of what it means to follow the Lamb-who-is-Lion, and each is boringly predictable. One is all Lamb and no Lion, the other is all Lion and no Lamb. To follow Christ authentically means being willing to be weak even when strength is an option, and being willing to be strong even when weakness is attractive. Christ is not ‘tame’, he is not domesticated or predictable, he does not fit into our worldly or political categories, and neither should his followers.

In our own times, perhaps the greatest example of such a follower was St Teresa of Calcutta, who visited this shrine in 1993. Think of how she deliberately chose weakness by responding to her ‘call within a call’: God’s invitation to leave the solid structures of the Loreto Sisters and serve the poorest of the poor by living among them. Here is the lamb who was slain. And yet, what a lion she was when she received her Nobel Peace Prize, shocking her bien pensant audience with her ringing denunciation of the violence of abortion.

Following the Lamb, in other words, being a Christian, is not something we can plan ahead of time. We can’t always know in advance when to be defiant in the face of injustice, and when to suffer it meekly, when to denounce wrongdoing, and when to tolerate it, when to preach the Gospel with words, and when to demonstrate it in silent actions. As followers of the Lamb-who-is-Lion we are called, not to predictable security, but to adventure. This adventure can be unsettling, but He is with us.

Together with all the living creatures and elders and angels of the Book of Revelation, let’s take this day in Knock as an opportunity to kneel before the Lamb and to say: ‘Lord, I let go of my own plans and projects, of my limited ideas and tame dreams. I let go of all these things and I choose to follow You, the Lamb who was slain, the Lion of Judah’.

Fr. Conor B. McDonough. O.P.

Jubilee Concert

On Thursday September 28th the Irish Dominican Province together with the renowned Irish born composer of great distinction and reputation Patrick Cassidy co-sponsored a concert in the National Concert Hall of Ireland to celebrate the Jubilee of the Order. The guest of honor at the concert was the President of Ireland, Dr. Michael D. Higgins, also present was the Tánaiste (Vice-premier). All branches of the Dominican Family were represented as were many of those who worship in our churches or study with us.

Two pieces by Patrick Cassidy, “Elegy Suite for 1916” and “The Children of Lír” were performed by Enchiriadis Chamber Choir with The Orchestra of Ireland both under the direction of David Brophy. The narrator for the evening was the acclaimed actor Patrick Bergin. Sibéal Ní Chasaide sang a haunting rendition of Mise Éire as her father, Odhrán Ó Caside, joined the orchestra playing both the violin and the uilleann pipes. During the performances Fr. Kevin O’Reilly OP gave a short talk on the role art plays in our appreciation of the transcendent.

This was a fitting celebration of the Order’s 800 year tradition of rejoicing in the beauty of creation with the music and songs of Ireland.

800 year Jubilee Celebration in the National Concert Hall

The concert “The Children of Lir” (composed by Patrick Cassidy), as well as some other well known pieces such as “Vide Cor Meum,” will be performed in the National Concert Hall on the 29th of September at 19:00.

The music is chosen to reflect the themes of resurrection and renewal in the context of the contribution of The Dominican Order to Irish culture over the past 800 years. The concert will be preceded by a brief lecture given by Kevin O’Reilly O.P. who will contextualise the theological and musical aspects of the evening. The event will involve all branches of the Dominican Order (brothers, sisters, nuns, lay men and women) and will be open to the general public. The event will be followed by a wine reception if feasible.

Tickets can be purchased through the National Concert Hall website.


Newtownards, Castlewellan and Carlingford

Led by Fr. Noel Mc Keown, O.P, assisted by Mr. Anthony Russell, teacher, lecturer, writer and historian, a bus load of interested people left the Dominican church in Newry on Sunday, June 12, at 9.00 a.m., heading for Newtownards, County Down. En route, information was given on places of interest over the bus intercom.

We arrived at the former Dominican Priory in Newtownards at about 10.30. Waiting to meet us was Mr. Martin Keery of the N.I. Department of the Environment who gave an excellent history of the site which began in 1244. The walls of the original church are still standing along with a side isle and bell tower which were added later. The tower has recently been renovated and full attention is being given to maintain the site as best as possible. We gathered from Mr. Keery that the local Anglican parish hold a service in the building every year on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Columba after whom the priory is named. Contact has been made with our Anglican friends and a warm welcome receved for the next service there.

The bus driver had ascertained on the internet that public toilets were available at nearby Comber, so we headed off in that direction where we found toilets in excellent condition with an attendant at hand.

Time to think of food !

Each person on the bus was given a copy of the lunch menu, orders were taken and phoned into Castlewellan. That was our next port of call, half way between Comber and Newry. Lunch was ready when we arrived at about 1.00 p.m. Everyone enjoyed the meal and it was all set for part two of the journey. The next stop was only a mile or so down the road! Retreating Irish forces had set fire to the priory in Newtownards to prevent it falling into the hands of advancing English troops. The brethren had to flee and ended up in a little whitewashed cottage on the main road from Castlewellan into Newry.

A photo of this cottage is in the possession the owner of a bungalow built on the site of the cottage. The latter was removed to make way for the new building.

There were two Mass rocks in the vicinity which would have been used by the brethren. Only one has survived.

From there, we hit the trail for Carlingford in County Louth. The Office of Public works of the Irish Republic has restored this 14th century foundation. Members the public can walk straight in. It is in very good condition. Given Irish weather and the fact that the church has no roof or glass in the windows, it was deemed advisable to say Mass in the nearby parish church. We were welcomed by the parish priest, Fr, Brian McRaois. Our visit to Carlingford also included a tour of the local heritage centre which had a feature on the priory.

St.Dominic’s Day

Bishop Kevin Doran, of Elphin, joined the Dominican Community of Holy Cross, Sligo, in celebrating St.Dominic’s Day. As the Order celebrates its 800th anniversary, Bishop Kevin took the opportunity to highlight the contribution of the Dominicans to the Sligo area down through the years and expressed his thanks to the Order for their generousity in the Friars’ past and present contribution to the life of the Diocese of Elphin.

After the Mass, 108 of those involved in the life of the Friary, as well as members of the local clergy and religious congregations, joined the Community in the Sligo Park Hotel for lunch.

Urlaur Pattern Day

On August 4th, the traditional Feast Day of St.Dominic, the people of the Parish of Kilmovee (Achonary Diocese) in Co.Mayo, gathered at the old Dominican Church (known as the ‘Abbey’) on the shores of Lake Urlaur to celebrate their Pattern Day, which has being running since 1915.

To mark the 800th Jubilee of the Order, Fr.Vincent Sherlock PP invited the Dominicans of Sligo to attend this Mass to commemorate the area’s long time connection to the Friars. Present at the Mass was the great-grand niece of the last Prior of Urlaur, Fr.Sharkey OP, who is buried in the grounds of the Abbey.

Fr.Joe Bulman OP joined with Fr. Sherlock PP, Fr.John Maloney CC and Fr.Dominic Towey for the concelebrated Mass. ‘Pattern Day’ in Urlaur starts with the concelebrated Mass in the Abbey and then the rest of the day is filled with music, sports, novelty events, food and concludes with the Parish dance. Though sometimes overcast, the day did remain dry and was a great event.

Sligo “Jubilee Commemoration Day”

On 2nd July, the Dominican Laity in Sligo hosted a commemoration day in hour of the 800th anniversary of the Foundation of the Order.

Members from the Chapters in Carlow, Kilkenny, Galway, Cork, Dublin and Tralee attended. The day began with light refreshments followed by Morning Prayer. The rest of the day was spent visiting the historical Dominican Foundations in Sligo – the Abbey – where the group received an informative and extremely interesting guided tour. Then onto Pound Street and from there to the “Old Church” on High Street. The group also went to Tobernalt Holy Well where Mass had been celebrated during the Penal Days. Throughout the day the group accompanied by the local Dominican Friars.
The day concluded at 5.00pm with concelebrated Mass in the ‘Friary Church’.

Sincere thanks is due to Joan Geraghty (President, Sligo Chapter) who organised the day.

Special pilgrimage to celebrate the 800th Jubilee

The communities of Portumna, Lorrha and Boula were visited on Saturday 6 August by a large group of Dominican followers from the Claddagh in Galway on a special pilgrimage to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Dominican Order. For the first time in nearly three hundred years a Dominican friar, Fr Donal Sweeney prior of the Claddagh Community, stood in the ruins of Portumna priory, a site associated with the Dominican Order since 1414.

A large crowd from each community gathered at all of the three sites to greet the group of pilgrims from Galway and to take part in the historic celebrations.

Sr Padraidin O.P. led the large gathering at Portumna Abbey in prayer and song and also spoke about the life of St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, who was born in Spain in 1170 and was canonized in 1234.

The group then headed to Lorrha Friary, built in 1269, where they were joined by a large number of local people.

The final stop of the day was in Boula where St Dominic’s Day Mass was celebrated in St Peter & Paul’s Church at 6pm by the Dominican Fathers for the first time in 117 years.

For this historic occasion, the large crowd gathered at Boula Hall from where they walked to the church symbolising the route used in bygone days. The church was full to capacity, people delighted to be part of this wonderful celebration. Fr Lawless welcomed everyone, including Galway city Mayor Noel Larkin who is from Boula and where he went to school. Mass was concelebrated by six priests led by Fr Donal Sweeney. The Choir, under the baton of Jarlath Keady added hugely to the occasion. Their solos and harmonies getting a huge round of applause from the congregation.

Following mass everyone gathered in Boula Hall where the committee, under the chairmanship of Patrick Donohue, and the community at large provided refreshments and food. It was a great social occasion and a testament to the strength of the local community.

The Dominican Fathers departed their priory in Portumna Abbey in the early 18thcentury to Boula, where they hoped to be free from observation. The place of retreat of the fugitive priests was soon discovered and a warrant issued for their arrest.

In 1830 the present Boula Church was built by Fr Taaffe, O.P. near the site of a small thatched Dominican Chapel which stood at the rear of the present National School.

In the spring of 1899 an order was made to the Provincial Dominican Council to close the smaller houses of the Order in Ireland, Boula was on the list. The sad news was received with consternation by the community. The third Sunday of April 1899, the Holy Sacrifice was offered in Boula for the last time by a Dominican. On the following morning amid scenes of profound sorrow the three Dominican Friars left Boula for St Xaviour’s Priory, Dublin.

Before their departure, the Dominicans presented to the Parish of Portumna their lovely Gothic church, free of all debt. And so ended the ministry of the Friars of Portumna, bringing to a close almost 500 years of religious ministry in Portumna. This exciting reunion 117 years later rekindled that link.



Jubilee Pilgrimage

As part of the Province’s celebration of the 800th Jubilee of the Order a number of the younger friars organised a pilgrimage to various places connected to the Order in Italy.

The group of 51, which included six of the brethren headed first to Rome. Rome itself of course is an incredible city and many of the group had never visited before. On the first day we visited Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls to go through the Jubilee Door of Mercy. Our next stop was to Santa Sabina for our first Mass together.  After Mass Fr Vivian Boland gave us a most interesting tour of the basilica and convent. Santa Sabina was given to St. Dominic shortly after the Order was established. A special moment was the opportunity to pray in St. Dominic’s cell.

On the second day we visited the Vatican where Sr Emmanuela from the Missionaries of Divine Revelation gave us a tour of the Basilica.  The Missionaries of Divine Revelation, wearing a distinctive green habit, were specifically founded to give guided tours of the Vatican and Rome. So many tours only focus on the historical detail the sisters feel called to give a more comprehensive spiritual input in addition to the normal historical tours of the various Holy Places.  During the pilgrimage lunch times were generally free to explore more of the city and to get something to eat. In the afternoon we celebrated Mass in Santa Maria-Sopra-Minerva and visited Saint Catherine of Siena’s tomb.

The third day we started with Mass in San Clemente, the home of the Irish Dominicans’ in Rome. San Clemente is also a historical gem.  Excavations under the 12th century basilica have revealed a 4th century basilica as well as first century Roman houses and a Mithraic temple. Fr. Thomas Mc Carthy, prior of the community,  opened for us the amazing story of the excavations.  On leaving San Clemnente we visited the basilicas of  Santa Maria Magggiora and St. John Latern, taking in on the way a visit to the Holy Stairs. The rest of the afternoon was free to explore the city at our leisure and pace.

The fourth day we started to travel north towards Siena with a stop in Orvieto to see the Cathedral and have lunch. We then made our way to Montepulciano where we celebrated Mass  in the church of St. Agnes and visited her tomb. Late in the evening we finally arrived in the beautiful city of Siena.

Early on the fifth day we began with a visit to the Dominican Church for Mass. This church was the place where St. Catherine came to pray and in which she became familiar with the Order. The relic of St. Catherine’s head is kept in this church. Later that morning we visited her family house. In the afternoon we continued our merry to Florence.

Our  sixth day of pilgrimage was spent in Florence where we visited the convent of San Marco, which houses the iconic frescos of  Fra. Angelico. The experience of visiting the cloister (now a museum) in a prayerful way shows how the spiritual is connected to the natural beauty of this world. It brought tears to many eyes to spend time contemplating the various depictions of Gospel events painted in the numerous cells. After lunch we celebrated Mass in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and in the evening we celebrated the birthdays of some of groups’ members.

Our pilgrimage reached its culmination when on the last day we visited Bologna and celebrated Mass at St. Dominic’s tomb. The General Chapter of the Order had concluded two days previously and our provincial, Fr. Gregory Carroll OP,  had remained in Bolgna so that he could be with the group and travel with them back to Dublin.  Fr. Gregory celebrated Mass at the tomb bringing this wonderful experience to a fitting conclusion.

As we left the final resting place of our Holy Father, all of the brethren realised that they must return home confident of spreading the Gospel faithful to the vision of St. Dominic.

Jubilee Pilgrimage to Lough Derg

This week the Irish Province of the Dominican Order undertook our penitential pilgrimage to Lough Derg. (Lough Derg is an island in Co. Donegal. It has been a place of pilgrimage for well over one thousand years. Some claim that St. Patrick himself spent time doing penance on the island).

Part of the biblical theology regarding a Jubilee year involves the people asking for mercy while acknowledging their sins. We in Ireland have a unique opportunity within the Order to make this aspect of the Jubilee very concrete. No other province has a place like Lough Derg. (The pilgrimage takes three days to complete. During those three days one is only allowed to eat dry bread and drink black tea of coffee once each day. The first thing you do on reaching the island is to remove all foot wear. You walk bare footed for the three days. There are many other  penitential practices during the days and night. One is not allowed to sleep for one 24 hour period as one keeps vigil).  Therefore when arranging the Province’s year of the Jubilee of the Order, especially during this Extraordinary Year of Mercy for the Universal Church, we decided to have a Pilgrimage to Lough Derg.

On Monday the 13th twelve brothers joined together to undertake the pilgrimage. We joined over 150 other pilgrims, who were already on the ‘Station Island’ or who started their three day pilgrimage at the same time as us.  Some especially came in an answer to our call to join us in prayer and penance as part of our jubilee celebrations, among whom was a parishioner from St. Vincent Ferrer parish in New York City, she saw the pilgrimage advertised while holidaying in Ireland and decided to join the friars.  

No one who has undertaken the three day pilgrimage on Lough Derg would be expected to say that it is a joyful occasion. It is a unique experience to share time with God and the others pilgrims, and the fruits of this brave enterprise are manifold. It was an excellent time of prayer, community and friendship and while the merits for the individual, the Dominican Order and the Church as a whole cannot be measured, we trust in God that they will be bountiful.

It was an unique way to celebrate the jubilee.

Please find some photo’s of the pilgrimage below: