In his final Christmas homily as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford quoted the autors Charles Dickens and Charles Kickham and their views of the festive season.
Kickham’s famous novel ‘Knocknagow’ referred to the ‘homes of Tipperary’ and the warmth of the people and that was something that Archbishop Clifford could acknowledge.
He told the congregation - “We notice that both authors had great time for the feast of Christmas. Dickens’ reference to “the veneration due to its sacred name and origin as if anything belonging to it (Christmas) can be apart from that” is very telling. There is a danger that we forget “the sacred name and origin” of the feast.
“We can be so distracted by all the fuss and preparations that we end up not seeing the wood for the Christmas trees! We can forget the One whose birthday we are celebrating!
“Charles Dickens emphasises generosity to the poor and goodwill to all as embodying the true spirit of Christmas.
“Charles Kickham, for his part, is true to the sacred name of the feast – “Christ’s Mass” literally, and the morning Mass takes centre-stage in the celebrations in Knocknagow but with the spirit of Christmas peculiar to Tipperary and rural Ireland of the 19th century. He celebrated the good neighbourliness or “muinteras” of the local community and, in the words of Nora Lahy who was welcomed into the summer sunshine by all her neighbours when she emerged from her sick bed one day, “God bless them every one, whatever be their faults the want of warm hearts is not one of them”.
And in personal capacity, Archbishop Clifford added - “After almost twenty nine years here I will endorse this verdict. I have experienced great kindness and genuine friendship in the homes of Tipperary in times of joy and sorrow”.
Referring to the importance of warm homes at Christmas, Dr Clifford reminded people of those who were still homeless - and the efforts made by two Tipperary people to change that. He said he had mentioned this at the 80th anniversary celebrations in Thurles of the Tipperary Association Dublin.
“Homelessness in Dublin had been brought to the attention of the nation by the death of a homeless man near Leinster House some days before. Then I pointed out that two Tipperary people were to the fore in seeking to assist the homeless, Minister Alan Kelly and Alice Leahy.
“Just as I mentioned her name, the door of the room opened and there stood Alice Leahy in person! What exquisite timing! I was about to say, “speak of the….” but I changed gears rapidly and upwards to “speak of an angel and she’ll appear!”
For many years now Alice is a ministering angel to the homeless with her own foundation ‘Trust’ and was a worthy recipient of the Tipperary Person of the Year sometime back”.
And Dr Clifford concluded with another reference to a welcoming home.
“Try to keep a time for prayerful reflection on the marvellous mystery we are celebrating today and for the next twelve days of Christmas. Don’t be distracted from the heart and centre of it all – the infant in the manger! “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.”
“So, in tune with St. Luke’s account of the events of the first Christmas and Charles J. Kickham’s Christmas sermon, I think we might ponder off and on the touching scene of Bethlehem since we are all invited;
“To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome,
To an end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home”.
G. K. Chesterton