Homily for National Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick
28 July 2001
Archbishop Michael Neary – Homily for Croagh Patrick 2001
On the occasion of the National Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick this year I would like to begin by focusing very briefly on the issue of communications.It would be helpful and perhaps even necessary today to distinguish between talk and communication. Technology now permits us to talk with people around the globe. Contact can be made with them rather easily through text messages, internet and email. It appears we can have instant contact with anybody, anywhere in the world, at any time. We do not have to wait.
Technology, however, is unable to bridge the ever-widening gaps within our own families, between husband and wife, parents and children, young and old, church and world. Human communication between people was probably never so problematic. Successful communication is not only increasingly difficult,intricate and costly, it is also increasingly important.
An analogy might be made with the climbing of Croagh Patrick. With modern technology it would be very easy to get to the summit by helicopter but in so doing we would miss the experience of the step by step effort that has to be made. In walking each step one gets to know the mountain, to acknowledge ones strengths and limitations, and appreciate the other pilgrims with whom we journey. There are moments of excruciating pain, breath taking beauty and great support on the pilgrim path. Even though we don’t choose our companions on a pilgrimage there is a sense of solidarity, of being together with a common purpose.
Real communication, like climbing Croagh Patrick, demands time and effort, walking step by step with others in pain and beauty and becoming aware of ones own gifts, strengths, shortcomings, weaknesses and our need of others and of the Lord. It would be a mistake to think that technology alone would make communication easier.
It is significant that some of Jesus’ most profound messages were delivered either from a mountain top or in the vicinity of a mountain. On the occasion of our pilgrimage this year we have an opportunity to reflect on the value which is to be found in walking slowly step by step on the mountain and in our communication with each other. The communication which Jesus had with people was a communication in depth. Unless we, like him, listen to the Father, to others and to our deeper selves then we will have nothing of significance to say to the world or to each other.
The prayer of Jesus provides us with an insight into the relationships which he had with the Father and with others. His prayer invites us as disciples to become involved in a relationship of family intimacy, of speaking to God as a generous father with the quiet assurance of a child who has nothing to fear.
Mountains and other places of pilgrimage are situations which remove us from the commerce and busyness of everyday life, which lift us above the mists and clouds which obscure the infinity of space and communication. We can be alone on a mountain and discover how small we are and how dependent we are on the God of infinity. When a child takes its first step there is a longing to be away from the small world of the play-pen, and a longing to explore a world of mystery out there somewhere. When we leave the world of our limitations and take up a pilgrim’s staff to face the uncertainty of this ancient mountain in Mayo, we too have the longing to see what is beyond the ordinary of every day.
Prayer and pilgrimage should enable us to make sense of life. Every pilgrim who steps out upon the rugged side of Croagh Patrick is on the long search of making sense of life and finding some purpose in death. As pilgrims we are continually in pursuit of greater good than mere day to day existence. Those who have faith in God know that they have come from God and are going back to God with every passing day of their lives. The past, the present and the future are gathered in him. So pilgrims pausing and looking back on the journey taken, are still; listening to the silence and looking out on the distant horizon, reaching for the place where the veil between heaven and earth is almost drawn back. There is risk involved in making this pilgrimage, for it will always invite change. The risk will always be the possibility that the pilgrim will not be the same as the person who sets out for this encounter with God.
Pilgrimage also involves pain. Without this pain ingredient, without some hardship, the journey could become closer to an outing or a holiday. Indeed the pain, undertaken at a time when we continually search for ease and convenience, may become a stimulus towards spiritual growth. Pain has always been written into this reek pilgrimage.
There is a sense of mystery at the summit of the mountain and we know in our bones that this place transcends distance and space and time. This place is holy, but not just because it is associated with St Patrick, but because it bears the imprints of the feet of our ancestors who climbed this mountain in search of God or to seek his forgiveness for sin in their lives. A people, long since dead, who could never have imagined the Ireland of today, struggled against the elements of this last Sunday of July in the hope that they could hand on to following generations a lively faith which did not shy away from sacrifice or suffering. This place has been made holy by the murmured prayer of broken hearts and the prayers of those who carry with them the needs of the sick, the separated, and the marginalised.
As Irish people we were never satisfied with hugging private piety at our own fireside. Unsure how to approach God in prayer at times we removed shoes and socks, walked stone beds, climbed mountains, lifted up our eyes to the hills and felt the presence of an understanding God. If, this day we feel burdened beyond our strength, if we feel totally isolated and on our own, if we feel rejected, if family has failed us and even if faith seems to be failing, Jesus is our walking companion. He has known all this pain before and has overcome it all. Only with his support can we climb this mountain, only with his presence, inspiration and example can we make our journey through life.
Fr Martin Clarke 087 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm 087 233 7797