Cardinal Seán Brady’s sermon for St. Patrick’s Day Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh

15 Mar 2008

15 March 2008

Cardinal Seán Brady’s sermon for St. Patrick’s Day Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh

Once upon a time the preacher stood up on St. Patrick’s day and said:

“St Patrick was one great saint. I was baptized in the Church of St. Patrick,” he said, “educated in St. Patrick’s College, Armagh, and ordained a priest in St. Patrick’s, Maynooth. I volunteered to work with St. Patrick’s Missionary Society. They sent me to Nigeria, where, surprise, surprise, I found myself in St. Patrick’s Parish. Eventually I came home to St. Patrick’s Dundalk. I salute St. Patrick”.

Today we all salute St Patrick. Today, Irish people, across the world celebrate the blow-in saint who brought us the Good News of Jesus Christ. Today, because of Patrick, millions of people are proud to say: “I am Irish”.

St Patrick has no hesitation in telling us Who he is and where he is from.

“I, Patrick, a sinner” he writes – “a most simple country man, the least of all the faithful, am held in contempt by many. I had for my father the Deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest who belonged to the village of Bannavem Taberniae”

Nowadays most scholars agree that Bannavem Taberniae was an early Christian settlement in modern-day Britain. Patrick came from Britain. It is worth remembering.


There, in his native Britain, Patrick received his early education. From his father and mother, and grandfather, he learned those virtues which would help him all his life. They enabled him to endure his captivity and survive slavery in the Hills of Antrim. Patrick proves to us that our first, and often most important teachers, are our parents.
Yet, when Patrick arrives in Ireland, he has a confession to make. Despite his religious upbringing he had, in fact, turned away from God and wasn’t keeping his commandments. It is a humble, honest assessment of his situation. Yet, by the time he escaped back to Britain, some six years later, there had been a complete change in his life. Listen to his own words again.
‘There in my captivity the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, I might remember my sins and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God’.

Then, in words remarkably similar to what we heard from the prophet Jeremiah earlier, Patrick says God did five things for him.

  • God took note of his humility, took pity on his youth and his ignorance.
  • God was watching over him before Patrick even knew God.
  • God strengthened and consoled him as a father consoles his son.
So, Patrick, makes a remarkable discovery.
  • Even when he did not believe in God, God had continued to believe in him.
  • Even when he was living his life carelessly, God was all the time caring for him. Patrick might have given up on God, but God certainly hadn’t given up on Patrick.
Sometimes we underestimate the capacity of young people to know and love God. Yesterday I was visited by a group of sixty pupils from De LaSalle Secondary school in Belfast. They told me that they were part of a Prayer Group which meets twice a day to pray. They were not afraid to say what prayer means to them and that God loves them. They are just some of the many, many fine young people I meet around this country all the time. We have much to learn from the young. Ireland has many reasons to hope because of her young people. But, an Ireland which undervalues the Christian faith in its culture and public life, is really undermining hope, eroding an essential source of meaning and betraying its young disgracefully.

The lesson of the young St. Patrick is that we can all make the journey from forgotten faith, to repentance, to friendship with God. Patrick reminds us that God is forever young, forever open to each one of us and full of compassion.

My hope, on this St. Patrick’s day, is that more and more Irish people, who have lost their connection with the faith, will rediscover it and rediscover what St. Patrick called: the joy and love of faith.

This year we have a rare occurrence – St. Patrick’s Day comes at the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week parishes in Ireland will he holding services of reconciliation. These services will give all of us the opportunity to make our peace with God by going to Confession. If we do so, I am quite sure we too will discover a God who takes pity on us and who consoles us and who will help us to turn back, with all our hearts, to the Lord our God.

I want to make a special appeal to young people to renew their faith in God’s mercy and to take up this unique opportunity to be enfolded in God’s grace by availing of the opportunity for confession. Have no doubt, God will welcome you with open arms. Don’t let a busy life or disappointment with the Church, or the fear of coming to confession, after many years keep you away. Yes we have the enthusiasm to celebrate the life of Patrick, do we have the courage to imitate his humility? Patrick said: “I, Patrick, a sinner”. Do we have the courage to say the same?

Where are we from? We are from Ireland but we are also from God. God is our first beginning. But what is our final destination? Yes, of course, we rejoice in our culture and heritage, but we also rejoice in the fact that our names are written in Heaven. Faith, brought by Patrick, tells us that Heaven is our real homeland.

The events we celebrate in Holy Week have opened the road for us to our real home, Heaven. May St. Patrick help us all to travel that road to our real home, now and always.



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Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
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