HOMILY FOR ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Saint Patrick’s Day – a National Celebration of Irish Identity
Lá thar laethannta í seo ’chuile bhliain agus muid ag ceiliúradh féile Náisiúnta na hÉireann in onóir Naomh Pádraig, Aspal mhór na hÉireann!
Today is a joyful day of celebration for Irish people at home and abroad! On this Saint Patrick’s Day Irish women, men and children across the world will gather to celebrate their identity in places from Mayo to Moscow, Boston to Birmingham, Singapore to Sydney. Our identity will find expression in two ways. Songs of emigration and homecoming will ring out wherever the Irish gather. Many of our people have experienced dislocation, disorientation and exile in a very profound and personal manner. For those at home there can be similar experiences as we celebrate our National Saint’s Day and we look to Patrick, himself a migrant, to give life, hope and renewal to our faith.
Saint Patrick’s Day – A festival that celebrates the gift of Faith
Inter-twined with our Irish identity on a celebration like today we try to breathe new life into the faith in which we have been nurtured, a faith which St. Patrick brought to our shores. He lit a flame which has continued to provide light and hope for people in our own country, a light which our missionaries and exiles have carried over the centuries to the ends of the earth. Perhaps it is worth reflecting on the relevance of these ideas in the life of Patrick and in our Church today.
Saint Patrick – A Man with a Mission to Ireland
You are familiar with the story of St. Patrick. In his writings The Confessions he describes his upbringing in Britain. Though he had been baptised he acknowledged that he was lukewarm in his Christian faith. Captured and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was sixteen years old, he was sent to herd livestock on the side of a mountain. In exile, away from family and friends and deprived of the status he enjoyed as a free-born son of a Roman nobleman, Patrick discovered God and entered into a deep relationship with Him. This exile situation of forsakenness and forgotten-ness prompted him to recognise that God does not forget or abandon him. He acknowledged “the Lord opened my unbelieving mind…… And he kept me safe and comforted me as a father would his son”.
The Theme of Exile
The theme of exile plays a central and significant role for the people of God whether in biblical times, or for us in Ireland today. When the people of God were led into captivity in Babylon away from their home and their temple they were sorely tempted to abandon their faith and resort to despair. Surprisingly it was there in a foreign land that the people began to deepen their faith in God and enter into a more meaningful relationship with Him.
The Challenge of Today
In our country today many people experience a form of dislocation and disorientation which is akin to exile. They now find themselves in a situation where their most treasured and trusted symbols of faith are trivialised or dismissed, not unlike the experience of the people of God at the time of the exile to Babylon. This can result in a certain fatigue among Christians, leading frequently to a defeatist attitude of doubt, depression and a failure of nerve. However, if our faith history tells us anything, it is that in order to live the Christian life – in other words to truly walk in Christ’s footsteps – we must continually expect to be challenged in our daily lives.
The Legacy of Saint Patrick – A Beacon of Hope
Patrick’s life underlines for us the fact that the Lord can work in and through our experiences of captivity. Patrick’s story reminds us that the Lord continues to work powerfully in what might seem to be unwelcome and unpromising situations. Christ’s gospel when truly lived is a beacon of hope and joy in our world today.
St. Patrick – The West of Ireland
Along the Western seaboard we are most fortunate to celebrate regularly the enduring spiritual legacy of St. Patrick. We do this in places like Croagh Patrick, Máméan in the Maamturk Mountains and St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Loughderg. Thousands of people each year come to these unique sacred locations to pray, to worship, to do penance to bring their heartfelt concerns to God in imitation of St. Patrick, our Father in faith.
The Joy of the Gospel!
Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, which the Holy Father published for the benefit of the whole world, acknowledges that the problem of our time is not so much atheism but rather one of idolatry. Consumer values seduce us and reduce everything to wealth and security. In this culture a counter-identity calls for courage, resolve and faith, which are rooted in God and capable of resisting the idols which are worshipped today. Pope Francis states that in this desert situation people of faith are needed, who by the example of their lives, point out the way to the promised land and keep hope alive.
The Gift of Saint Patrick
I believe that Patrick is one such Saint for the Ireland in which we live today. Unassuming in nature, undaunted in spirit, of unflinching zeal and courageous conviction, Patrick had the humility to acknowledge his total dependence on God for everything. When we find ourselves in similar situations, adrift in unfamiliar territory, unsure of the future and with regrets about the past we can take courage from Patrick as we acknowledge our own unworthiness, our mistakes and yet remain open to God’s forgiveness. Patrick has joy and pride in his ministry and is grateful to God for the gift of the golden thread of God’s loving providence woven into his life.
The Mustard Seed
In today’s gospel, the parable of the ‘Mustard Seed’ which contrasts the very small unpromising beginnings of the kingdom with its full and fruitful expansion, offers a word of encouragement to all of us. This is the work to which Patrick gave his life and which we are challenged to continue. And, guided by Pope Francis, we should do so with “joy” in our hearts!
Beannachtaí agus Focail Scoir