“When Jesus, accompanied by a large crowd, drew near to Jericho, there was a blind man standing by the wayside, begging. When he heard the multitude passing by he asked what was the commotion about and they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. If that blind beggar man from Jericho had been standing at any kerb from the Cathedral to here in the last half hour and hearing the shuffle of feet anyone could have told him : ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by’”. Today like the people of Jericho we are saying that “Jesus Christ is passing by”.
Today we give thanks for the presence of Jesus Christ among us. The first Eucharistic Procession took place over 97 years ago and remarkably since then the Procession has not just survived but has been a feature of catholic life here in the City. It is a public demonstration of our faith and we should never be ashamed to be part of it. Jesus has said : “whoever is ashamed of me before people I will be ashamed of him before my Father in heaven”.
To understand what influenced this demonstration of our faith at that time we have to recall the situation in Cork city in 1926, the year the first procession was held. That year marked the end of a decade that began in 1916 with the Easter Rising. It was a decade of triumph and tragedy that brought about the Ireland that we now enjoy today. The Great War continued in Europe in which so many brave Cork people fought and died. Many more died at home during the War of Independence. The burning of Cork resulted in Patrick Street and the surrounding area being declared a building site and the burnt out City Hall would remain so for another seven years. During those troubled years Cork suffered greatly from poverty, poor housing, emigration and economic recession. The bitter Civil War resulted in many personal animosities lasting into the future.
Against this sad background of a ruined city, bitter divisions and social deprivation, something had to be done to unite the community. A group of business people approached Bishop Coholan with the proposal of a Eucharistic Procession that would involve all the civic and religious bodies in a peaceful demonstration of faith. The whole community showed its support for the event. In fact the timber planking for the altar was donated by a Church of Ireland family-owned building firm. This indicated their support for this initiative from the Church of Ireland that had suffered considerably, especially in West Cork, during the troubles.
Hopefully, there will be similar initiatives as we prepare to commemorate in a careful and sensitive way the events of 100 years ago. It will be a time for reflection not celebration. We visit our history not to find what divides us but what unites us. We must commemorate these events in a way that respects all past differences. There is a thin line between celebration and commemoration.
The Eucharistic Procession that we participate in today is a sign of unity and reconciliation. We all partake of the one bread when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. The Blessed Sacrament is the most cherished possession that we have on our journey through history. In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey through life.
In the beautiful words of Pope Francis the Eucharist is our ‘medicine of immortality’, our hope of joining with our loved ones in the eternal happiness of heaven. ‘It is a taste of eternity in time’. (Pope Francis) Jesus said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever”. We all need the Eucharist because we are all weak human beings and we need a higher power to sustain us in all that life may bring. The Eucharist also nourishes social love and helps us to reach out to those who are suffering in any way.
The Eucharistic Procession reminds us that we are all pilgrims on the streets of time and forces us to ask fundamental questions about the meaning of life. Why are we here? Where are we going? These are questions that have occupied the minds of people down through the centuries. A great Saint has given us the answer to these questions : “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts will not rest until they rest in you” In other words we are not people of time only but people of eternity.
Today therefore we give thanks to the Lord for his presence among us and as Pope Francis says we should not keep this joy to ourselves but like the father of the prodigal son reach out and welcome people who may have grown casual or careless in the practice of honouring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in their understanding of the Mass. We should gently say to them that this is the mystery of Christ’s love for us and that we should be generous with our time in going to meet him and that from him we will hear no words of condemnation or rejection, only words of understanding, acceptance and love. ‘The church has always been a refuge for the weak and not a home for the perfect’ (St Pope John Paul).
The Sunday Mass goes back to the Last Supper when Jesus said ‘Do this in Memory of Me”. For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, the Mass has been celebrated for every human need from birth to death and beyond. In Ireland love for the Eucharist is still strong and expresses itself in many ways. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and adoration are very much alive.
Mary Mother of Jesus is also with us today. She would have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians. We pray also to her asking her to look after our City.