HOMILY FOR CROAGH PATRICK 2004
BY THE MOST REVEREND MICHAEL NEARY DD ARCHBISHOP OF TUAM
“Many false voices are heard that conflict with the word of God”
Twenty-five years ago at Knock, addressing Our Lady in a sweeping prayer
Pope John Paul II put all facets of Irish life before us, “help this land
to stay true to you and your son always”. May prosperity never cause Irish men and
women to forget God or abandon their faith. Keep them faithful in prosperity
to the faith they would not surrender in poverty and persecution. Save them
from greed, envy, from seeking selfish or sectional interests, help them to
build a just and peaceful and loving society where the poor are never neglected
and the rights of all, especially the weak, are respected”.
That prayer presented us with a challenge for the future. Ireland has changed
dramatically since then. We need not dwell on the tired litany of our failures
as a Church or a nation over the last quarter of a century. Knowledge garnered
from victims’ experiences and from tribunals has revealed the extent of the pain
and the suffering which as a society we tried to push out of sight and therefore
out of mind.
Faith in the structures of the Church, in the institutions of state, and even in
God himself has grown weak in the face of one scandal after another. So many different
voices assail the Christian in today’s wonderful but complicated and demanding world.
So many false voices are heard that conflict with the word of God. They tell us that
truth is less important than personal gain; that comfort, wealth and pleasures are
the true aims of life.
Sadly these words depict many aspects of Irish society today where there is an absence
of the sense of eternity. Too often truth has been sacrificed on the altar of
expediency or has been declared an irrelevancy in the never ending march to riches
and the building of an earthly heaven. Our world today is wealthy in delusions,
but truth still remains priceless.
All the time the timeless word of God reminds us in the heart of all our preoccupations
“man does not live on bread alone, but on everything that comes from the mouth of God”
Could Pope John Paul ever have guessed on that September day in Knock that our land
would discover a new prosperity which has not healed many of our anxieties but in
many cases has added to them? Television documentaries pry open the secret world of
drug dealing and abuse and take us into a world of sex and its exploitation. Often
too they point to the endless abuse of the elderly, the exploitation of the immigrant
and uncover greed in many areas of modern living. All of this leaves us with a feeling
of helplessness; for the promised land of a wealthy nation was an illusion. There is
still a hunger in the heart which cannot be eased by material things. An Indian writer,
Tagore, summed it up: “set the bird’s wing with gold and it will never soar again in
It is good to remember. There was a rich expression of faith which previous generations
have bequeathed to us. There was a deep trust in God during times of hunger, poverty
and endless emigration. There was deep love of family given expression in self-sacrifice,
in care for the sick and the elderly. All that has been kept in the mind of those who
go on caring for the poor, the broken, the homeless and the stranger in this land of
Quietly, beyond the glare of the media, thousands of men and women, young and old care
for the poor in their own parishes, reach out to drug addicts in their sense of hopelessness,
seek to house the homeless on city streets, visit the prisons and support the elderly in
their loneliness and fear. These are new expressions of faith where the motive is in caring
for the “least of the brethren” as Christ commanded.
In an age of space exploration we cannot be but impressed by the quality of the pictures
beamed across the millions of miles between Mars and Earth. It is part of a quest
searching for life on other planets. If however, we turned our telescopes to earth
we would find life and bare existence on this planet. Across the globe we would still
see starving peoples depending on manna from heaven in the relief planes which drop
some hope. We see generations weakened by AIDS, where world debt cripples the advance
of healing and, in the last year, we have seen women in Iraq powdered by the dust of
destruction, having their salvaged hopes in old prams lost in the harsh words of war.
We see too in our own land the generosity towards all the support agencies, a generosity
unsurpassed anywhere. We see men and women risk life and health to go to the lands of
poverty and want, to bring food, healing and hope. We have not totally forgotten our
Speaking last year about the Christian roots we must not forget in the drawing up of
a new EU Constitution, Pope John Paul said “a society forgetful of its past is exposed
to the risk of losing the power to understand the present and, worse still, becoming
a victim of its own future”. An eclipse of the sense of God leaves people disorientated,
fearful, uncertain and without hope. An echo of all of this was heard from Pope John
Paul in Knock 25 years ago.
In the Knock address the Pope went on to speak of the lack of vision which taught that
justice may be achieved without any personal involvement by the Christian; that violence
can be a means to a good end; that unity can be built without giving up hate, “we cannot
stand back and do nothing, for evil will always thrive if good men and women remain silent”.
We must be a support to all who work for justice in our communities; we must seek the
Kingdom of God in its justice.
One theme that has run through the recent writings of the Pope is the Christian theme
of ‘hope’. It would be too easy to lose our way forward in the face of the many
adversities of today. We could lose heart in face of falling numbers, in half empty
seminaries, in the winding down of many religious orders and houses. We might only
see the dark side in the growing number of priest-less parishes and the seeming allergy
of many young people to religion. But the God in whom we believe in is one who does
not make empty promises for the hereafter, nor does He trivialise the present darkness,
futility and meaninglessness, but who Himself, in the midst of that darkness, futility
and meaninglessness invites us to hope. The power of God is capable of finding hope
when hope no longer exists and a way where the way is impassable.
NOTES TO EDITORS
– Archbishop Neary will led pilgrims and start to climb Croagh Patrick at 7:00am
on Sunday July 25th 2004 from Murrisk village in Co Mayo. Archbishop Neary will
celebrate Mass at 10:30 am in the Oratory in the summit.
– This pilgrimage combines faith with having fun. It is associated with St Patrick
who, in 441, spent 40 days and nights fasting on the summit, following the example
of Christ and Moses. The name ‘Reek Sunday’ comes from Patrick’s ability to
Christianise many pagan customs including the festival of Lughnasa, which previously
had heralded the start of the harvest festival honouring the ancient pagan god Lugh,
whose name is encompassed in the Irish word for August: Lughnasa. This festival’s
tradition became absorbed into the new Christian beliefs and locally become known
as Domhnach na Cruaiche (Reek Sunday).
– Pilgrimage has been carried out uninterrupted for over 1500 years. Croagh Patrick
has over 100,000 visitors annually with up to 30,000 people expected this weekend.
It takes between one and two hours to reach the summit.
Director of the Catholic Communications Office Martin Long 086 1727 678