17 March 2011
Homily by Cardinal Seán Brady Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland – broadcast by RTÉ radio and online Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh – Saint Patrick’s Day
– Patrick’s advice still holds good today: ‘Trust in the Lord my God and turn to Him with all your hearts since nothing is impossible for Him’
– We pray especially for those affected by what happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and those working so selflessly to prevent further damage and harm
– There is no contradiction between confident expressions of Christian faith in the public square and a society that is tolerant of other faiths and philosophies of life. Religious faith is very important to very many Irish people. This fact deserves due recognition and respect in public life and policy.
Sixty-three years ago – 1948 – two young Irish men, James Doyle and Joe O’Brien set out on a long journey from Navan, County Meath. Like the seventy-two others of today’s Gospel, they too had been appointed – for they were newly ordained priests. Like the seventy-two they too were sent – for they were missionaries. They travelled east and came to a particularly beautiful land – a land of high mountains and shallow rivers, of spectacular volcanoes and the most beautiful gardens in the world. They came to Japan – the land of the rising sun.
Obviously some people made them welcome because the following year they opened their first church in Japan. Because they had come in the spirit and faith of Saint Patrick, they named it Saint Patrick’s Church.
Today that Church, located in central Tokyo, is part of a vibrant parish, made up of people from more than twenty countries. This morning, through the wonders of the internet, I send greetings from all here in Armagh to the parish community in Saint Patrick’s Tokyo on this Saint Patrick’s Day.
We want to express our deep concern and spiritual closeness to you in the midst of all your sufferings. You are in our thoughts and prayers.
We pray for all those who have been killed or injured. We feel close to those who lost loved ones and treasured possessions. We pray especially for those affected by what happened at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and for those working so selflessly to prevent further damage and harm.
Yesterday I spoke, by telephone, to the parish secretary – Ken Hiraga, at Saint Patrick’s, Tokyo. I assured him that on this Saint Patrick’s Day, Irish people across the world, would be thinking especially of the people of Japan. I asked him to let his parishioners know that we would be united with them in this Holy Mass. I invite all those listening today on radio and online to offer their prayers at this Mass, with me, for the consolation and hope of all the people of Japan.
Today the Catholics of Saint Patrick’s Tokyo are deeply grateful to Father James Doyle and Father Joe O’Brien and to the other thirty Columban priests who brought the faith of Saint Patrick to their parish over the years. Today when other Irish people come to Tokyo, appointed by their Government or sent by their local councils, the people of Saint Patrick’s welcome them. That same gratitude to Ireland is expressed today in many places for the thousands of Irish men and women who left the love and beauty of their own land to bring the love and beauty of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world.
That gratitude is shown in many ways – in parades and processions, in meetings and Masses, in banquets and concerts. To this day Ireland continues to benefit from the legacy of respect and goodwill generated by generations of Irish missionaries across the world.
Today when Irish people go abroad – whether in search of employment or investment – they are often welcomed precisely because they are seen as the sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle. When Irish people are received and honoured around the world on Saint Patrick’s Day that is in no small measure due to the network of goodwill already created for their beloved homeland by Irish missionaries over the centuries.
That goodwill has also been created by people who left Ireland for various reasons. Some left to make a living and give their labour and sweat to make a home and found a family. They became celebrated ambassadors, community builders and social entrepreneurs. But others went as religious sisters, brothers and priests to teach and to nurse and to pray. They too are remembered today with affection and gratitude.
I sometimes wonder what Saint Patrick himself makes of it all now? He once described himself, with typical humility, as a sinner and a most uncultivated man, greatly despised by many. He said he was like ‘a stone that had fallen into a deep drain – and He who is mighty came’.
They are the words of Patrick himself: ‘and in his mercy picked me up and indeed lifted me high to place me on top of the wall’.
I imagine that Patrick is pleasantly surprised. But I imagine that his surprise would soon give way to praise and thanks. In his own declaration of faith he said “I cannot remain silent about the great favours and graces which the Lord deigned to grant me in the land of my captivity”.
Today, unfortunately, the historic link between the Christian legacy of Patrick and Irish identity is often ignored, if not out-rightly denied. This is evident in the increasing disconnect between so many Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations and the faith and hope which Patrick came to bring. It is part of a wider European problem. Despite the fact that the roots of European and Irish culture are profoundly Christian there are those who would prefer to deny this reality.
Of course there is no contradiction between confident expressions of Christian faith in the public square and a society that is tolerant of other faiths and philosophies of life. Religious faith is very important to very many Irish people. This fact deserves due recognition and respect in public life and policy.
Yes, in Ireland confidence in many institutions – including the Catholic Church has been profoundly shaken in recent years because of our failures. We must continue to try to rebuild that confidence.
For the Church this means a humble discernment of the path to renewal.
One year ago Pope Benedict encouraged the Catholics of Ireland to “remember the rock from which you were hewn”. For Patrick that rock was his personal immersion in the compassionate and faithful love of Jesus Christ. In his hour of need on the slopes of Slemish, Patrick discovered that love through prayer. “More and more” he says “the love and fear of God came to me and faith grew and my spirit was exercised until I was praying up to a hundred times a day”.
Patrick’s message to the Church in Ireland today is clear: genuine renewal will only come about through a deep and intensely personal renewal of our faith and love of Jesus Christ. Yes, debates about the structures of the Church are important – nevertheless, genuine renewal will always take us back to this message of Saint Patrick. His fervour and zeal were hewn from his intimate and personal love of Jesus – a love learned through suffering, sacrifice and prayer.
Patrick’s advice still holds good today: ‘Trust in the Lord my God and turn to Him with all your hearts since nothing is impossible for Him”
Martin Long Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, 00 353 86 1727678