Archbishop Eamon Martin celebrates Mass on the Hill of Slane: “Light the Flame of Faith!”

06 Aug 2023

  • Archbishop Martin: “The way to win souls these days will be ‘heart to heart’, by speaking the truth with love and attracting others to God by the example of our lives” 

Today, on the major Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, we also mark World Youth Day in the Catholic Church.  At Slane, Co Meath, in the spirit of WYD, an expected three-thousand people are expected to attend an outdoor Mass on the Hill of Slane to be celebrated by Archbishop Eamon Martin, as part of the ‘Light the Fire’ festival of faith.  During the day, a service of healing will be led by Sister Briege McKenna, who will be accompanied by Father Pablo Escriva de Romani.  Dana Rosemary Scanlan will also perform her new song Light the Fire, recalling how our patron Saint Patrick lit the fire of faith on Slane in 433AD.
Today also marks the conclusion of the near week-long 37th World Youth Day festival in Portugal.  This global celebration of faith for young people is being attended by Pope Francis who, earlier in the week, visited and prayed at the Marian Shrine of Fatima.  This morning the Holy Father will celebrate Mass at 9.00am in Lisbon for an estimated one million people. 
Homily of Archbishop Martin for 2.00pm Mass on the Hill of Slane
Peter’s words on the mountain of the Transfiguration come to mind this afternoon, here at the hill of Slane: “It is wonderful for us to be here”!

At the transfiguration Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of the transcendent God.  The face of Jesus Christ radiated hope, shining like the Sun; Hs clothes became dazzlingly white.  The same three disciples would soon be asked to share a very different moment with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, during His agony on the night before the crucifixion.  But the Transfiguration experience would remain for them a promise of hope – that by His dying Christ destroyed death; by rising, He restored our life!

It is interesting that many of the key events in the life of Jesus took place on hills or mountains – His temptations; His most memorable teachings; His agony, crucifixion and resurrection. In Old Testament times also, the People of God experienced the Transcendent God on mountains like Sinai, Horeb, Moriah.

We have our own holy mountains and hills here in Ireland: like Slemish in County Antrim; Croagh Patrick in County Mayo and, of course, here on this historic hill of Slane in County Meath where Patrick lit the Paschal fire to proclaim the Risen Lord and the coming of Christianity to this land.  It is indeed wonderful for us to be here, and to give thanks today for the generations of faithful people who since the time of Patrick have lived the joy of Christianity and passed on to us the flame of faith – ‘in spite of dungeon, fire and sword.’

Just as Jesus invited His three friends to join Him in prayer on the mount of the Transfiguration and at Gethsemane, He has invited us here today – first and foremost – to pray.  Remember Saint Patrick came to this hill to pray, to celebrate the Easter Vigil.  He was not seeking to cause trouble with the pagan powers that be – He came here to witness to the Risen Lord!  He came to evangelise – to share the light and joy of the Gospel.

Similarly God has called us to Slane today, to give us new life in the Holy Spirit and to send us out from here, carrying the torch of faith with courage and conviction.  Let us make our own these words from Saint Patrick’s powerful profession of faith in the Holy Trinity, which are recorded in his Confession (C4).

“There is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father… the one who holds all things in being – this is our teaching.  And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been…with the Father in a spiritual way… Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him.  He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father…Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God.  He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds; He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ.  This is the one we acknowledge and adore – one God in a trinity of the sacred name.”

Friends, our patron saint tells us he couldn’t be silent about all that God had done for him here in the land his captivity.  Saint Patrick had a burning conviction that he was called to be a witness, to spread the name of God ‘faithfully and without fear’.  For Patrick, to be a missionary was a ‘holy and wonderful work’, something for which he was prepared to suffer insults, falsehoods, opposition, imprisonment, and even willingly give up his life.  Patrick saw himself as an ‘ambassador’ for Christ here at the ‘furthermost parts of the earth’.

Last Sunday at Mass on the top of Croagh Patrick, I recalled the dream during which Saint Patrick heard the voice of the Irish people calling out to him: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.”  And, today, I call out once more from this historic and holy Hill of Slane: Saint Patrick, intercede for Ireland!  Come and walk once more among us.  Inspire our dream for a renewal of faith, hope and love here in our land.

I ask for the grace of God – the Three in One, and One in Three – to raise up ambassadors, witnesses, missionaries for Christ among us.  Our need is great.  For, sadly, many sons and daughters of Ireland are drifting away from the practice of the faith; some may even have abandoned God.  How much our land needs the uplifting power of faith, hope and love – today, more than ever!

The Church in Ireland is also going through a testing time.  The terrible sins and crimes of abuse have had tragic consequences for so many victims and, as Pope Benedict XVI put it, these sins and crimes “have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”  This must be a purifying time for the Church in Ireland, a humbling time, which brings us to our knees to beg forgiveness for the awful betrayal of a sacred trust.
Saint Patrick tells us that his exile and captivity as a teenager in Ireland was a bitter, but purifying experience – it was the first time that he turned personally to God with all his heart, and discovered the spirit of God burning within him.  He and his family had drifted away from God and from the practice of their faith; they no longer kept God’s Commandments, and had stopped listening to advice of their priests on how to be saved.

But during Saint Patrick’s time of exile and slavery he experienced personally the love and mercy of God.  He writes (C12): “I was like a stone lying deep in the mud.  Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall.  That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord!”

Dear friends, we are not here by chance.  God has brought us here.  And it is now our turn to shout aloud the message of salvation and tell others about the difference that faith makes to our lives, and the value it brings.  But in doing so we must be mindful, as Saint Paul said, that we hold the treasure of faith ‘in earthen vessels’; its extraordinary power belongs to God; it does not come from us (2 Cor 4:7).

As we go out from here to spread the Gospel, we must seek to convince others, but avoid engaging in pointless polemics which make lots of noise but fail to win hearts for Jesus and the Gospel.  Yes, we must stand up for the faith; yes, we must confront falsehood and evil as Saint Patrick did.  But the Gospel cannot be imposed; we must propose it with conviction and joy.  The way to win souls these days will be ‘heart to heart’, by speaking the truth with love and attracting others to God by the example of our lives.  Those who meet us must see that our lives are ‘transfigured’ by faith, hope and love.  And then they will be inspired to inquire, ‘What is that treasure you have?  You, believer, you live your life totally aware of this world with all its struggles and problems, but you point us to the transcendent, to our real homeland and destiny in life beyond this world, with God, in heaven; how is it that you have such meaning and purpose in your life?  You radiate hope in this troubled world!’

Those whom we meet say, ‘You, person of faith, you respect the dignity of all life; you are a responsible steward of all God’s creation; you care for the poor, the homeless, the displaced; you weep for the trafficked child, the abused woman, the struggling family; you are compassionate to those addicted by drugs and alcohol.  We notice how you reach out to the victims of war and violence and you spread peace everywhere you go; you are a forgiving and merciful person; you do penance, you make sacrifices and yet you are happy in yourself; you love to pray the Rosary, to attend Mass and to to spend time in adoration with God.  We want what you have!’

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people said this of us, believers, and if they remarked, as the prophet Isaiah once did:

   “How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
    who brings good news,
    who announces salvation” (Isaiah 52:7).

Brothers and sisters, we cannot be silent.  We have work to do!  The work of God.  The work of salvation.  The work of Saint Patrick.  I look forward especially to being joined in this task of new evangelisation by all of you, and especially the committed young people of faith who are here today and by the many amazing young people returning to Ireland from their joyful experience at World Youth Day in Lisbon!  With them, let us “go in haste”, as Mary, our Blessed Mother did after the Annunciation, to proclaim the Good News and rekindle the light of Christ once more across the island of Ireland.

And as we go away from the Hill of Slane today, may we be inspired by the words of Dana’s new song:

“Light the flame in our hearts once again, and the fire will burn in the darkness, as on this ancient hill, the embers burning still.”

Saint Patrick, pray for us!


Notes for Editors
  • Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.  All are welcome to attend today’s festival in Slane which will run from 12.15pm to 4:30pm at the Hill of Slane C15 DV76, Diocese of Meath.
  • Twelve bishops travelled from Ireland to Portugal for WYD 2023 and were accompanied by about 1,500 pilgrims representing parishes, dioceses, religious congregations, ecclesial movements and migrant nationalities from throughout the island.  
  • World Youth Day 2023 will begin to conclude today in Lisbon at 9.00am Ireland time, as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at ‘Camp of Grace’, Parque Tejo, situated about ten kilometres outside of Lisbon.  RTÉ One is broadcasting this Mass.  The theme for WYD 2023, chosen by the Pope himself, is ‘Mary arose and went with haste’ (Luke 1.39).  Every three years, WYD usually hosted by a different country.  This festival of faith, which is specifically designed for young people, was established by Pope John II in 1986 and has grown to be the largest gathering of Catholics in the world.