24 MAY 2010

I welcome you all to St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh.  I am very grateful to Fr Dermot Maloney, your Chaplain, for organising this visit here and to your Principal and staff who accompany you.  I know you are some of Year Ten in St Paul’s Bessbrook.  

I was just wondering how many of you have been here before, hands up please, and how many are making their first visit?  What is your reaction on seeing this Cathedral?  It was built between 1850 and 1870, roughly about 150 years ago, soon after the Great Famine.  Who do you think paid for this building?  Well actually it was built by your ancestors, the people of this diocese, this city.  Why do you think they built it?  What is the name of this Cathedral?  It is called after St Patrick.  Why do you think they decided to name it St Patrick’s Cathedral instead of St Colman’s or St Peter’s or St Macartan’s?  If you walk around this Cathedral you will see many lovely frescos and lovely paintings of St Patrick himself and St Brigid, St Malachy and St Oliver Plunkett.  I believe this Cathedral was built to thank God for all his goodness to us.  It was built by people who knew that they are precious to God and God has written their names in the palm of His hand as He loved them.  They had come through tough times and they were very thankful to God for having protected them during the famine.  I just wonder, do any of you feel a similar sort of gratitude towards God?   And if not, if the truthful answer is that we don’t, well then we have lost something very precious.  We have lost something which our ancestors felt very strongly.  They knew that they were loved by God, a God who so loved them, and us, that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ.  He gave His life on the Cross for love of us, to save us from our sins.  He was put to death on the Cross but he rose from the dead and he appeared to many of his followers and he said to them, “Go make disciples of all nations.  Baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to obey what I have commanded you.”  In other words, to keep the Commandments of God.  And then he returned to the right hand of His Father where He pleads for us.  But at the same time He said that He would be with us always, to the end of time.  That is rather mysterious since He has gone to the Father and He also says He is with us.  To make sure that He remains with us He sent the Holy Spirit, His Holy Spirit, the spirit of the living God, the spirit of the Risen Christ.  Yesterday we celebrated that Feast.  We remember that Jesus promised that He would send the Spirit.  I suggest that the reason people called this Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral, and the reason why they painted so many pictures of St Patrick in this Cathedral is because they felt that he had done something very important for us and for our nation.  He brought us the Good News about Jesus Christ.  He told us about Jesus Christ.  He told us that we are precious in the sight of God.  Patrick baptised everywhere he went.  Over here on your left, my right, there is a stained glass window where we see Patrick baptising the daughters of the King of Connacht, down in the baptistery at the back, he is baptising the son of the King of Cashel.  By baptism we share in the life of God.  My first reaction coming in here is to thank God for my baptism.  It happened a long time ago but on that day I got my name.  I was called Seán, after my grandfather and my uncle but I got more than my name, I got new life, a share in God’s life.  The seeds of faith were sown in my soul and ever since that day the Church has been trying to keep those seeds of faith alive.  My faith is my passport to eternal, everlasting heaven.  If you are going abroad the one thing you need is your passport.  You won’t be allowed into another country without your passport.  We all hope to go to heaven after this life and the passport is our faith.  Patrick brought that faith to us.  That is why they built this beautiful Cathedral at such expense to his honour, to his name.

Last week I got a letter from an Irish nun from Tipperary.  She is in Papua New Guinea.  She says, “This letter is coming to you from the ends of the earth, Papua New Guinea, with a pledge of prayers and loving support.”  Her name is Sister Mary Francis.  She is a Missionary of Charity.  They are Mother Teresa Sisters.  We met briefly, in Calcutta, on the day of Mother Teresa’s funeral.

To comfort and console me she quotes some of Mother Teresa’s words, “You are precious to Him.  He loves you and He loves you so tenderly that He carved your name on the palm of His hand.  When your heart feels restless, when you heart feels lost, when you heart feels like breaking, remember I am precious to Him.  He loves me.  He has called me by name, I am His.”  This nun went on, “You are His, the Church is His, the Archdiocese of Armagh is His.  Do not be afraid, Jesus is the good shepherd.  All the past is in His hand, what really happened.”

When I picked up the readings and those of this Mass, which you have chosen and Fr Dermot kindly sent on, I was amazed.  Here I was getting at the same time the same message, from the ends of the earth and from here at home, from St Paul’s Bessbrook, I said to myself.  This is a remarkable connection.  So, I took those texts with me, out to the garden, yesterday evening.  First, I walked about chewing them over, then I sat down, mulling them over, I began by thinking of my own name, John Baptist, given to me after my grandfather, John Brady and my uncle, John Baptist as well.  But the name goes back to before the time of Christ.  John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus, but he was also the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament, put to death for his courageous defence of the truth and yet Jesus said that the least in the Kingdom of God revealed by Jesus is greater than John the Baptist.  I find it hard to figure out what exactly that means.  It has to do with the fact that John the Baptist had been put to death before Jesus was put to death.  Therefore he did not live to see Jesus rise from the dead and share in that fantastic victory.

Do you know the reason your parents chose your name for you?  In the ancient world, your name was thought to be more than a tag which distinguished one person from another, the name was thought to tell something of the kind of person he was.  So as I thought about that reading from Isaiah and the Letter from Papua New Guinea I said, I am being given a very powerful message.  I am being reminded by people, from near and far, that I must not be afraid, no matter what.  You and I belong to God, to the God who made us.  He has called us by name, the same as our parents taught us our names, we are not rubbish, but very precious in his sight.  The God who made us is close to us at all times.  He is with us in the depths of our heart.  He is always close to us, but are we always close to Him?