17 March – St Patrick’s Day – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH AT 10.00 AM
The pictures painted in today’s Gospel are really dramatic – driving out demons – speaking in new languages – lifting up snakes – healing sick people. Someone said to me: “Doesn’t seem to be much of that around today”. Yet I am told that in some churches in the United States they actually do lift up snakes, but with great caution. Today’s Gospel tells us a truth experienced by the early Church, something they wanted people to remember forever. It is this: wonderful things happen when you believe in Jesus Christ.
Patrick certainly believed in Jesus Christ. Not only that, but Patrick convinced our ancestors to put their faith in Jesus Christ. That, in itself, was an extraordinary achievement. Patrick brought us the good news of Jesus Christ. It is still Good News. In fact, amidst all the doom and gloom it is very often the only good news in town.
Another extraordinary thing: around the world today, people celebrate. Many wont have a clue what they are celebrating. They will wear shamrock and crack jokes about snakes and yet, beneath all the banter, there lies a profound truth. It is this: when people put their trust in the life death and resurrection of Jesus and are baptized, they are set free from evil. This freedom, from the grip of evil, is not just freedom from something, it is freedom for something. When we are baptised – as the shamrock suggests, we are baptised into the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are baptised into a community.
- Why was Patrick so successful in his preaching?
- Was it because he touched upon a deep need that is in all of us, the need to belong?
By Baptism we belong to a community. We are part of a family of faith – not warriors in a warring kingdom.
Today, we are very much aware that violence has tragically returned to our streets. Unfortunately there are some who want to drag us back into the warring ways of bygone years.
Patrick made it quite clear what he thought of such people: “fellow citizens of the demons”, he calls them, “They live in death” – he says – “I denounce them as blood-thirsty men”.
These tragic events remind us that we must all work and pray for peace. I ask you to support all who are trying to move away from the dark days of the past. Violence is not the answer. It never was the answer.
We must work and pray unceasingly. Patrick certainly knew how to pray. He wrote: ‘After I arrived in Ireland, I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. My faith grew until I was praying up to 100 times every day and in the night nearly as often. So that I would even stay in the woods and on the mountains in snow, frost and rain, waking up to pray before first light but I felt no ill-effect, nor was I in any way sluggish – because, as I now realise, the Spirit was seething within me’.
The spirit of humility was certainly seething within Patrick. For Patrick was a humble leader. He humbly confesses his neglect of God and doesn’t deny his sins. Too often in Irish society, at every level, leadership has been found wanting. Like Patrick, we all need to acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them. For my part, I apologise for my own failures in leadership. In particular I want to say sorry to all those whom I have hurt in any way.
Today I believe Patrick is calling the Irish to reconsider some aspects of the culture and values upon which society has been built in recent years.
- Like Patrick, can we not admit that we have been negligent in relegating God to the sidelines?
- Where is this pre-occupation with personal wealth and success leading us?
- What has the breakup of family and community done to our happiness?
Patrick brings his sinfulness before the healing touch of God’s merciful love. As a result a great surge of joy welled up in his heart. Praise and gratitude grew into a constant openness to God. Wonderful things happen when you believe in Jesus Christ.
Patrick came back to Ireland in response to the voice of the Irish. They cried out to him to come and walk once more among them. As successor of Patrick, I often hear that same voice calling me to various parts of Ireland to tell the stories of Jesus and Mary, of Patrick and Brigid.
At first sight it might appear that Patrick had very little to say. Perhaps nothing at all to an Ireland rightly worried about recession and financial losses and cutbacks.
But then possibly St Patrick would have something like this to say: “When I first came to Ireland I thought I had lost everything, family, education, future prospects, indeed I had lost a lot. I, who thought I was on my way to a professional career, was now a shepherd. I, the son of a noble man, I was now a slave; instead of a villa, I lived in a hut. But the reality is that before my captivity I had already lost something far more valuable .I was in danger of losing my faith altogether. The reality is that in Ireland, on the slopes of the mountains, cut off from my usual surroundings, I was forced to find a new security.”
Patrick saw the hand of a loving God at work in all of this. He came to know himself as someone loved and united to God more closely than ever. This was his new security. This was the source of all his hopes and joy. This was the reason for his great gratitude to God. Patrick never forgot it. Wonderful things happen when you believe in Jesus Christ.