“On this Saint Patrick’s Day I offer every blessing and good wish to the people of Ireland, to all Irish people overseas and especially to Irish missionaries – lay people, religious and priests – who are following in the footsteps of Saint Patrick in bringing the comfort and the joy of the Gospel of Mercy to faraway places.”
“Like Saint Patrick, Pope Francis has a strong sense of his own unworthiness, and of God’s mercy. Also like Saint Patrick he insists on calling us to be missionary. People of faith should not to be turned In on themselves, Pope Francis says, but they should go out to the peripheries, accompanying the poor and the marginalised, touching lost lives with the fire of God’s love and mercy”
– Archbishop Martin
All over the world today people of many creeds, languages and race are celebrating our national saint, Saint Patrick. It is a testimony to the tremendous outreach to the rest of the world that Ireland has had over many centuries. Everywhere the Irish have gone we have brought warmth and smiles, laughter and music, tales of our beautiful green island home – and devotion to the patron saint Patrick who first brought to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ireland’s greatest export down the centuries has been our people and our faith. Almost as soon as the Irish heard the Good News about Jesus, they wanted to give it away. Within years of first hearing the Gospel, Irish missionaries in the sixth and seventh centuries were already braving the wind, the waves and other dangers to rekindle the flame of faith of faith across Europe in hearts that had grown cold or lukewarm.
This year we celebrate the fourteenth centenary of the death in Bobbio, Italy, of Saint Columbanus, the great apostle of Europe. And during this universal Year of Consecrated life, parishes all over Ireland will be remembering sons and daughters who left these shores to give their lives to the great Irish missionary outreach across the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
What is it about Ireland, that our hills and valleys could awaken such missionary fervour and zeal in the hearts of so many and inspire them to respond to God’s call: Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord?
Perhaps it has something to do with our patron Saint Patrick, who once left his own home to return to the land of his exile in order to bring our ancestors the beautiful gift of faith. He did so without fanfare or flourish. Instead he preached the Gospel with a huge sense of his own unworthiness. ‘I am Patrick, a sinner’, he wrote, ‘ most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many’. But Patrick was convinced that God, in His great mercy, poured His grace and strength upon him, calling him, sinner as he was, to do great things for God.
In one of my favourite passages from Saint Patrick’s writings he describes himself as being like a stone, lying in the mud, which God lifted up and placed at the very top of the wall. It was this sense and acceptance of God’s mercy in his life that allowed Saint Patrick to make the choice to face every danger and opposition in order to introduce so many people to the love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Last weekend as we celebrated the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, I was reminded of Pope Francis’ words in one of his very first interviews when he identified himself to the interviewer as Jorge Bergoglio, a sinner. Like Saint Patrick, our Holy Father has a strong sense of his own unworthiness, and of God’s mercy. Also like Saint Patrick he insists on calling us to be missionary. People of faith should not to be turned In on themselves, Pope Francis says, but they should go out to the peripheries, accompanying the poor and the marginalised, touching lost lives with the fire of God’s love and mercy.
Speaking in Rome at the weekend, Pope Francis said: ‘No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness’. He went further to say: ‘The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert’.
To help us in our reflection on this theme, Pope Francis has called an extraordinary Jubilee Year to begin next December that is to have the mercy of God at its centre. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy, calling us all to live in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”
As he wrote in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel):
“The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”
It would be wonderful if the people of Ireland, in imitation of Saint Patrick, and inspired by the great Irish missionary endeavours of past centuries, could rekindle their missionary zeal to become ‘missionaries of mercy’ for today’s world. Mission is in our blood as Irish people. There will be no renewal of faith in Ireland without a parallel renewal of mission, and that mission will be a mission of mercy, one that is conscious of our sinfulness, weakness and need for God’s abundant mercy for ourselves and others.
On this Saint Patrick’s Day I offer every blessing and good wish to the people of Ireland, to all Irish people overseas and especially to Irish missionaries – lay people, religious and priests – who are following in the footsteps of Saint Patrick in bringing the comfort and the joy of the Gospel of Mercy to faraway places.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh agus go mbeannaí Dia dhaoibh go leir.
– Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
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