Homily of Bishop Dermot Farrell for Mass celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day 2020

17 Mar 2020

11.00am Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral Kilkenny

“We come together in faith and offer our prayer for the healing of the many sick people, remembering the victims of these past days, and asking that their families and friends might find consolation and comfort” – Bishop Farrell


My sisters and brothers, we come to celebrate the Feast Day of our patron saint in the strangest of times. St. Patrick was a figure who led a life of Christian generosity and humility, strong faith and devotion; he poured out his life in solidarity with and concern for the well-being of the communities of faith he founded, and often exhibited breath-taking courage. The fact that in the more recent past, some celebrations of this man, who had such deep trust in God and in God’s ways, have reduced him to a pretext for an opportunistic Spring carnival— an Irish ‘Mardi Gras’ as someone called it — might not blind us to the deeper meaning and significance of what and whom we celebrate.  We celebrate a young man whose life drew sense from Christ, and who knew first-hand the consolation, hope, and strength that come from him. Celebrating Patrick in the fullness of the faith brings much more than remembering a saintly pest controller of legend who drove the snakes out of Ireland.

The Ireland in which St. Patrick lived was troubled, harsh and dangerous. But of that world came a flowering of faith such as the world has ever seen.  St Patrick said, it was “for love of God that I live as an outsider and an exile among barbarous tribes” (Letter to Coroticus, Part 1). Having arrived as a slave, Patrick returned—in freedom— as an apostle who authentically embodied in his life and vibrantly expressed in his missionary activity the values of prayer, faith, courage, generosity, solidarity and compassion with his vulnerable sisters and brothers. It was the Holy Spirit, Patrick said, who talking within him held him together during his Irish captivity and brought him back to Ireland, stood by him when others opposed him.  In Patrick, we see the story of God that is written in his life, the story that God is telling us through Jesus, who infused Patrick’s life with his Spirit.

The spirit of St Patrick is needed in our country today when his Feast Day is overshadowed by fears and concerns about the CORVID-19 pandemic. In these frightening days, the fear and concern are very understandable, but they must not be allowed to lead to a loss of hope, or of despair. The restrictive measures introduced by the Government and the Church will help to protect people, especially the most vulnerable. St Patrick endured a torrid time; he was isolated from his family and tested, but he did give in to the spectre of despair. Patrick put his trust in God.

As we read St Patrick’s ‘Confession’ we gain an insight into a man who was strong, courageous, deeply dedicated to Christ; a person not easily defeated or discouraged.   In the long history of Ireland – and the world – our forebearers in the faith have faced immense and seemingly overwhelming challenges down through the centuries, and yet they overcame enormous adversity. In the past, people on this island had to overcome a nearly constant fear of major outbreaks of TB, smallpox, or cholera or typhoid which could often be lethal. As concern for the Coronavirus deepens day-by-day we know that because of medical advances and good communication we are in a much stronger position to deal with what might be termed a modern plague, that is, the Coronavirus.

In these extraordinary times, we pray earnestly and promise to work in harmony with the State agencies for an end to the pandemic. St Patrick’s breastplate where he invites Christ to surround him with a shield of protection can provide us a way to pray: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left.”

The gravity of the situation brings home to us of the fragility of human life and our dependence on one another and on God.

We pray for an outpouring of the corporal works of mercy, for a spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice, solidarity, concern for the well-being of others, compassion and charity in our Diocese and throughout the country.

I ask you to pray for the virtues of patience and perseverance and for composure to overcome any temptation to despair or selfishness which can sometimes accompany panic which is lack of trust in God’s providence and a lack of solidarity with other people.

We come together in faith and offer our prayer for the healing of the many sick people, remembering the victims of these past days, and asking that their families and friends might find consolation and comfort.  We pray for all who are called to carry the burden of the pandemic – especially people who work in the health services these frightening days to guarantee the smooth functioning of society, and for all who support them.

Today we pray that we might be caught by St. Patrick’s belief in the power of prayer, the convictions of his faith, and in the closeness of God, as well as the support and prayers of our sisters and brothers. As we turn towards God for protection, as Saint Patrick did, may the Lord bring us inner freedom, a dedication to the call of God, and a deep trust in the active presence of the Holy Spirit.

St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, pray for us. Pádraig Aspal, guí orainn. Beannachtaí na Féile oraibh go léir.

Notes to Editors

•         Bishop Dermot Farrell is Bishop of Ossory.

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