Homily of Archbishop Michael Neary for annual Reek Sunday Mass on Croagh Patrick
“Looking down from the summit of Croagh Patrick today we can see again a beautiful country and a revitalised Church stretching her arms out to all who want to come home. This Mass will end with a blessing as the Lord sends us out on mission. May you be a blessing to others, welcoming them home” – Archbishop Neary
We get a different perspective on life and land from the top of a mountain. On this mountain of Saint Patrick in the year of the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland perhaps we might see the beauty in the rich inheritance of our faith despite the shadow of recent darker days.
Our ancestors were not gullible people who risked their lives as they made their way to some hidden glen to gather around the Mass rock. They felt deeply the need to celebrate the Eucharist. Their strength lay in their closeness to God and to each other. They learned their prayers around the fire and turned to God in those same words in days of joy and nights of pain, sorrow and loneliness. Words learned in small holdings here in the West of Ireland found voice in the city churches of England, America and Australia. Old catechism classes held in poorly heated classrooms found echo in the tropics and in the Far East as Irish missionaries brought the news of Christ to these distant shores.
The Eucharistic Congress held in Dublin in 1932 helped to bring unity, forgiveness and peace to a nation just emerged from the Civil war. We pray that the legacy of this year’s Congress, eighty years later, might be the gift of peace, forgiveness and understanding to this Church and this land of ours.
There is so much good here that has been swallowed up in criticism. There is still a vibrant faith expressed in the many people who trek to daily Mass, those who go out to care for the poor and all those who direct their energies to deprived children and the forgotten elderly. The Eucharistic Congress made us aware of the good that is being done by generous people. Many tributes have been paid to the courtesy and kindness of the volunteers. This generosity is replicated in every parish and community throughout the land. It finds expression in the availability of people for Boards of Management of Schools, in various ministries and Church-related, as well as community and sporting organisations. It is so much in evidence in local areas at times of difficulty when volunteers come to provide support as in the tragedy at Union Hall on the Cork coast earlier this year. Our people go on contributing through Trócaire in hard days at home, to the starving millions existing in desert waste famine lands.
We must begin again at home to strive for the restoration of strong neighbourhoods so as to bring back again the great sense of justice and courtesy to each other which in the past, marked the gentler side of this nation. In a world where strife and wars are the feature of all our news casts we must not forget that this country designed a peace process which is ranked among the best in the world.
At the heart of all this lies Christ, the peace giver, the same Christ who offers us table friendship with him at every Eucharist. A lasting contribution from the Second Vatican Council way back in those years of 1962 to 1965 was the renewal of the Church with its emphasis on the central themes of both the Eucharist and Mission to the life of the Church and the inseparable bond between them. Mission is the outreach from the altar. This led to the theme of this year’s celebration “Communion with Christ and with one other”. The Eucharist gathers us in order to scatter us so that we go out and live like Jesus.
After each Mass the risen Christ becomes a real presence under the appearance of flesh and blood of sinners like you and me. Some who will not find the presence of God in his Word or Sacrament may come to know Him only in the very human and weak flesh and blood of the one who holds out hands of welcome, forgiveness and love.
The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI underlines the Mission of the Church like this: “the love that we celebrate in the Eucharist is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all” (Sacramentum Caritatis 84). Again Pope Benedict reflecting on the variety of people, the rich, the poor, the invalid, the athletic, the young and the old who gather at the altar says “thanks to the Body and Blood of Christ, they have become truly one. In the Eucharistic Christ they become blood relations and thus, true brothers and sisters, thanks to the Word and body and blood of the same Jesus Christ”.
Some, sadly, in these days do not find any attraction in their faith. They may have abandoned the Mass because they find it repetitive, structured or as many people describe it as boring. Maybe this is because we have emphasised too often the ritual and rubrics or the notion of celebration without drawing attention to the task or mission of the Mass. I heard of one elderly priest with no hang-ups about liturgy or new translation, would end the Mass with ‘Ite Missa es’ off with you now and live the Mass and that may mean some sacrifice”.
The young generation must be challenged to change themselves, the Church and the whole nation in their giving and their time. There is, of course, the on-going miracle of bread and wine becoming the real presence of Christ but all of us leaving the altar must work the miracle of changing our flesh and flood into the real presence of the risen Christ in the world which we live. A hospital Chaplain tells of an old man dying in pain and loneliness who said he missed the altar because he was a daily Mass-goer, but, then touching his bed, he added that the bed was probably his altar now.
We, gathered at this altar today, are invited to become the leaven for a whole batch of people so that faith will rise in them. Every Mass, like this one, ends with the congregation being sent out on the Mission to be a source of hope to others who feel broken, isolated or at the margins of life.
Hope goes on looking for the good in people instead of harping on the worst.
Hope recognises that the world is not always a good place that; there is much to be done to improve it.
Hope does not resort to hysteria.
Hope opens doors when depression or despair tries to close them.
Hope pushes ahead when it would be much easier to quit.
Hope is the hidden spring of fresh well water.
A French writer says “inside every wilderness there is a spring. This is what makes the desert beautiful”.
Looking down from the summit of Croagh Patrick today we can see again a beautiful country and a revitalised Church stretching her arms out to all who want to come home. This Mass will end with a blessing as the Lord sends us out on mission. May you be a blessing to others, welcoming them home.
Notes for Editors
• Croagh Patrick is a physically demanding pilgrimage. All those who intend to make the pilgrimage climb are asked to come prepared with for the changeable weather conditions, to bring suitable warm/waterproof clothing, good footwear, a walking stick/staff and water, and to be mindful of the safety of themselves and other pilgrims. Croagh Patrick, (c.2,510ft/765m) Ireland’s holy mountain, dominates the landscape of southwest Mayo both spiritually and physically. The Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is associated with Our patron saint Saint Patrick who, in 441, spent forty 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).
• The 2012 pilgrimage will be led by Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, who this year will be joined by the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, His Excellency Archbishop Charles J Brown. Archbishop Brown was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland by Pope Benedict XVI on 26 November 2011. On Saturday 28 July at 6:30pm Archbishop Brown will celebrate the Vigil Mass in Westport and Archbishop Neary will preach the homily during the Mass. On Reek Sunday Archbishop Neary and Archbishop Brown will begin their ascent at 7:00am and accompanying them will be the two most recently ordained priests for the diocese: Father Shane Sullivan, who is curate in the Cathedral parish in Tuam, and Father Eugene O’Boyle who is the priest chaplain attached to the hospitals in Castlebar.
• On the summit of Croagh Patrick Mass will be celebrated from 8.00am and at every half-hour thereafter until the last Mass at 2.00 pm. Archbishop Brown will celebrate Mass at 9:30am; Canon James Walsh, Parish Priest of Kilmeena, will celebrate Aifreann lán Gaeilge at 10.00am; and Archbishop Neary will celebrate Mass at 10.30am. Pilgrims may avail of the Sacrament of Reconciliation on the summit from 7.30am to 2.30pm.
• A special website feature is now available on www.catholicbishops.ie and it includes a video interview with Archbishop Neary on the significance of the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage for people of faith; highlights recent pilgrimages including television footage of Reek Sunday 2008; and, gives background information on Croagh Patrick. History was made in 2008 when Mass was televised live for the first time from the summit of Croagh Patrick and broadcast by RTÉ television and on the world-wide web. For Reek Sunday 2006, Archbishop Neary and other pilgrims were accompanied by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. As successor to Saint Patrick, Cardinal Brady was the first Archbishop of Armagh to climb the Holy Mountain since Saint Patrick. In 2005, Archbishop Neary unveiled a plaque to mark the centenary of Saint Patrick’s Oratory on the summit.
• Further information on Croagh Patrick, and a virtual tour of the mountain, can be viewed on the Archdiocese of Tuam website www.tuamarchdiocese.org. The website of Westport parish www.westportparish.ie also contains additional information about the Holy Mountain.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: 00 353 (1) 5053017 or Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678