Homily of Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, for Saint Patrick’s Day 2012 – Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh
- Cardinal Brady introduces the new Apostolic Nuncio to the congregation and welcomes Archbishop Brown: “You come to our country at a critical time. Our island, north and south, continues to recover from dramatic economic set-backs after the years of the Celtic tiger. At the same time we search for another, more important recovery. It is what Pope Benedict XVI has described as the ‘recovery of our Christian memory’”
- Cardinal Brady to the congregation: “I ask you all to use the time between Saint Patrick’s Day and the beginning of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin this June, to pray for healing and for renewal in the Church in Ireland. That healing and renewal begins in our own hearts and souls.”
Lionel Messi plays football for Barcelona. Last week the Barcelona player became the first player ever to score five goals in a European Cup match. Just imagine – 5 goals – and against German opposition no less! By all accounts he is a humble person. Of course he knows he is a good footballer, but he also knows that his ability to score goals is a gift – a gift given to him by God, the God who gives good gifts to all of us. When he scored that 5th goal, what did Messi do? He blessed himself – reverently. He stretched out his hands and looked up to Heaven with a smile – as if to say – ‘Thank you Lord. You have helped me make a bit of history here today’.
Saint Patrick, the man we celebrate today, was also a humble man. In his famous writing, the Confession, he says, ‘….But this I know for certain: at one stage I was like a stone that had fallen into a deep bog. And He who is mighty, came and, in his mercy, picked me up and indeed lifted me high to place me on top of the wall.
Let us stop to think for a moment just how high up, in fact, the Lord lifted Patrick! Today, around the world, hundreds of thousands will go to Mass in Churches and Cathedrals dedicated to his memory. In every continent, people will dress in green and take part in parades in the name of St. Patrick. Today, some 1500 years after his death, St. Patrick will be celebrated across the world! What an amazing achievement. And yet this is the man who opens his Confession with the words:
‘I Patrick, a sinner. I am the least of all the faithful’. No selfish boasting here, no arrogance or parading his importance before others – just simple trust in the power of God to do wonderful, extraordinary things with his life!
And so, young sons and daughters of Armagh – citizens of Patrick’s own city – I want to ask you, as we gather to celebrate St. Patrick today;
- Do you believe that God can do wonderful, extraordinary things with your life?
- Are you willing, like the young St. Patrick, to put your trust completely in God?
- Are you willing, like St. Patrick, to play your part and spread the good news of God’s love in Ireland today?
- Are you willing to let God choose you and, like St Patrick, lift you up to heights of doing good and proclaiming the Gospel that you could never have imagined before?
I ask you this because I believe this is exactly what God is asking of every young Christian in Ireland today.
Today we are especially blessed to have with us the representative of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. He is not quite as young as Patrick was when he first came to Ireland, but as Bishops in Ireland go today, he is still a very young man. I know you will pray for him. I know how warmly you welcome him. I know how deeply you love and respect our Holy Father, Pope Benedict and how pleased we all are that he has sent such an outstanding ambassador, as a sign of his care and affection for the Church here in Ireland. Archbishop Brown, we are very, very pleased that you have chosen to spend your first St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland here in Armagh. We are honoured by your presence and we assure you of our constant affection, loyalty and support in your important mission among us.
Like the disciples in today’s Gospel, like St. Patrick himself, you have been sent to a new place to preach the Gospel to all creation. You come to our country at a critical time. Our island, north and south, continues to recover from dramatic economic set-backs after the years of the Celtic tiger. At the same time we search for another, more important recovery. It is what Pope Benedict XVI has described as the ‘recovery of our Christian memory’.
Today, while thousands gather around the world to remember St. Patrick and express their pride in being Irish, there is always the danger that we forget who St. Patrick really was. He was, first and foremost, a follower of Jesus Christ – a man on fire with the truth and hope of the Gospel. He believed that Jesus Christ and his Gospel could change Ireland for the better – and it did.
For more than fifteen hundred years, we have celebrated the fact that the Christian faith is a source of hope, strength and inspiration. Christianity has shaped our identity and heritage as Irish people in so many ways. Our celebration would be seriously impoverished if we ignored this Christian dimension of St. Patrick’s legacy.
That is why I asked our young people the questions that I did. You see if we are to ensure that St. Patrick is remembered for the message of Christ that he brought and not just as a symbol of Irishness, then we must follow the example of the disciples in our Gospel. We must rediscover, in our own hearts, the life and hope, brought by Christ. We must also share that life, that hope, and that love, with the people around us.
This is what Pope Benedict has asked us all to do when he calls us to play our part in the New Evangelisation, to play our part in telling the Good News of Jesus Christ. One night St. Patrick had a dream. He heard the voice of the Irish crying out: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us”. His family were begging him never to leave them again. And yet, Patrick did decide to leave because he felt, called by God, to return to the land of his captors so that they might accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
Today we are all called to do the same – to live our faith with new confidence in the Ireland of today. Patrick, being a humble and honest man was well aware of his own limitations. But being humble and honest means giving God his rightful place in our own lives and in our life as a people. It is important that we do not let our human weakness prevent us from professing the faith, taught by St Patrick and from proclaiming it in our own lives. We need people, in all walks of life, to give humble but confident witness to their Catholic faith. I believe that this is the challenge St Patrick would want us to face today. It is certainly the task set out for us by Pope Benedict in the Year of Faith which will begin in October.
The Gospel we have just heard was very dramatic. Jesus promises that believers in his word will have the power to drive out demons in His name. If they pick up snakes or drink any poison they will not be harmed. Actually it reminded me of some of the traditions associated with St. Patrick. You know Patrick was said to have chased Satan out of Ireland. It is even said that Satan tore off a piece of rock as he fled, leaving behind the mountain called Devil’s Bit near Cashel in Co Tipperary. There is also the story of an enemy trying to kill Patrick by putting poison in his drink. But, fortunately, before the saint could drink it – it turned to ice. Then there are the two best known traditions of all – the snakes and the shamrock.
Saint Patrick gets the credit for having banished all the snakes from Ireland into the sea. It is something which all our visitors, including, I am sure, the new Nuncio, find very reassuring. The legend draws on the image of the serpent in the Garden of Eden to teach a vital message. It is this: when we believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and are baptised, we are set free from the snares of evil and sin.
It is not now very fashionable to talk about evil or sin. Yet they are realities that face every one of us every day. Saint Patrick knew that evil and sin are real. Even as a sixteen year old, Patrick was a lad of incredible honesty. Listen to his own words: ‘I had neglected the true God. For we cut ourselves off from God and did not keep his commandments!’ Patrick does not name whatever it was that caused him to neglect the true God and cut himself off from God. The important thing is that later on in life he came to see the danger he was in, that this neglect of God was the road to disaster. Not alone that, but Patrick came to understand just how deeply God loved him.
Lent is a good time to ask ourselves hard questions about our relationship with God. Have I been neglecting the true God? Have I been keeping the commandments? Do I realise how deeply God loves me and am I attentive to what he is calling me to do?
I ask you all to use the time between Saint Patrick’s Day and the beginning of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin this June, to pray for healing and for renewal in the Church in Ireland. That healing and renewal begins in our own hearts and souls. We are asking all Catholics to use this opportunity to renew their faith in God’s mercy and love by going to confession, especially during Holy Week.
Today at the end of Mass we will bless the shamrock. Archbishop Brown, Bishop Clifford and I will then distribute shamrock to the Scouts, Beavers, Cubs, representatives of various youth, social and sporting groups including
Saint Brigid’s Camogie Club, Cúchulainn Hurling Club, Armagh Harps, Pearse Ogs GAA and the Order of Malta.
I thank all of you for your presence here today and I know that you will all wear this shamrock proudly and with due reverence and respect this day. The reason I ask you to do so is because of what the shamrock represents. Yes, we wear a shamrock to show that we are Irish and that we are celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. But there is another deeper reason why we do so. The shamrock has three leaves on one stem. Saint Patrick chose the shamrock to show that he believed in one God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As Christians we believe that God is love – a community of love – Father – Son – and Holy Spirit. We are called to mirror that love in our relationships with one another.
God is everlasting happiness. The Good News is that God wants to share that life of love and happiness with each and every one of us. That is the plan of God’s loving kindness, a plan drawn up by the Father before the foundation of the world. As you wear your shamrock today, you are, in fact, saying: I know I am called to be part of God’s plan. I want to play my part.
So, as you wear your shamrock, wear it with pride and confidence yes, but wear it with reverence and respect – reverence and respect for oneself and for other. Above all let us remember that any violence or anti-social behaviour would be a total contradiction of all that Saint Patrick stood for. If you honour the symbol you wear and live out what it means in your own life, you too will discover that incredible things do happen when you put your trust in Jesus Christ. You will also make Ireland a better place for all.
Happy Saint Patrick’s day to one and all.
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