With great joy, on this, the Feast day of St Patrick, our National Apostle, I wish Irish people everywhere a very happy St Patrick’s Day. As we gather to celebrate our identity, our culture and our heritage, I salute you and greet you.
This St Patrick’s Day, I am keenly aware of the huge numbers who have emigrated from Ireland in recent times, especially those who felt they had no choice. May the memory of St Patrick, who was himself carried off from his homeland at the age of sixteen, sustain all those who have left our shores for other lands. May the example of Patrick’s faith in God, who comforted and protected him, protect and comfort them also.
Christianity has shaped our identity and heritage as Irish people in so many ways. Our celebration would be seriously impoverished if we ignored this Christian dimension of St Patrick’s legacy.
Copies have survived of two writings of St Patrick. They tell us the kind of man Patrick was, of his faith and of his understanding of God. They tell us that Patrick was a man who knew how to turn adversity into opportunity. He successfully turned the adversity of six years of slavery on Slemish into an opportunity to grow in his knowledge and love of the God who, in Patrick’s words, “protected and comforted me as a father would his son.” That knowledge and love of the Triune God are the basis of Patrick’s greatness.
Adversity also taught him the folly of relying exclusively on himself and the necessity of relying on others and especially on the God who created him.
My hope on this St Patrick’s day is that more and more Irish people will come to know the kind of person St Patrick really was, that they will come to know the faith that inspired him and carried him through the adversities of his life.
Towards the end of his Confession Patrick makes perfectly clear that he “never had any reason, beyond the Gospel and its promises, ever to return to the people from whom I had formerly, barely escaped.” We have the same Gospel and the same promises. My earnest hope is that we will all rise to the challenge of announcing that Gospel in the Ireland of today. My prayer is that we will not shut out or lose the Christian message that has brought such hope, consolation and strength to generations of Irish people, especially in times of adversity and challenge.
In his Confession, St. Patrick compares himself to “a stone that had fallen into a deep bog. And He who is mighty, came and in His mercy, picked me up and indeed lifted me high to place me on top of the wall.” As we prepare for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin this June, we ask St. Patrick and all the Irish saints for a deep renewal of faith in God’s power to lift us up to new horizons of hope and possibility. A humble trust in Christ’s power to heal and renew in spite of our human weakness, would, I believe be proof of the authenticity of our celebrations today.