Text of Bishop Denis’ homily from Mass celebrated on St Patrick’s Day in the Cathedral of the Assumption
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir! A very happy & blessed St. Patrick’s Day to all of you. On this national feast day, we join with people all over the world in celebrating St. Patrick, recalling the Christian faith that he brought to us in the fifth century continues to root our identity, our aitheantas, today as an Irish people.
Céad míle fáilte romhat go léir! At the heart of our Christian faith is the immense gift of the Mass and as we continue to Dig Deeper as a Diocese this Lent, and undertand the sacrifice of the Mass, today we will concentrate on the ‘Introductory Rites’. In the ‘Introductory Rites’, we acknowledge that we have gathered, where we have come from and what we bring with us to this celebration.
And so acknowledging our arrival and the journey that brought us here, let us pray for God’s love, grace and mercy …
St. Patrick’s letter writing style was very much that of a story-teller who in the words of Bishop Joseph Duffy, in the first book published by Veritas in 1972: “relishes concrete rather than abstract language, who prefers the emotional and familiar to the formal and clinical, who has the knack of recalling the trivial detail which gives a conversation colour and life”. As part of the preparation for Confirmation, I invite the young people, who are to receive the sacrament, to write to me a letter on their life and why they should receive the sacrament. I refer to a selection of the letters during each ceremony, thereby making each of the 51 ceremonies that little bit different, that little bit more personal. To date I have read 1,031 letters and they only cover the first 18 ceremonies!
Young people are, I find, like St. Patrick great storytellers and letter writers. Mind you they are reared in a digital savvy world, where they are ‘digital natives’ unlike the rest of us who are ‘digital immigrants’. You might wonder what qualifies you to be a ‘digital immigrant’: a person born or brought up before the widespread use of digital technology. Returning to today’s confirmandi, I think they have an impatience to get to the end of the letter that they sometimes forget the introductions! We all rush the beginnings. I think we Irish are better at endings. We are known to do wakes and funerals very well.
Patrick begins his most famous letter, his Confessio: “I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unlearned of men, the lowliest of all the faithful, utterly worthless in the eyes of many”. Didn’t Pope Francis acknowledge in that infamous interview in August 2013 when he was asked by Antonio Spadaro S.J. “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” the Pope paused and honestly replied: “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition”. At the beginning Mass in the Introductory Rites, we do no more and no less, acknowledge who we are, where we’ve come from and we recognise our brokenness, our sinfulness.
The Introductory Rites conclude with an Opening Prayer, the Collect. This prayer gathers all our prayers at that time into one prayer. And we shouldn’t be afraid of moments of silence, to allow the words to penetrate the deepest sinews of our being. We are much more than the sin or the brokenness we carry, we pray in expectation that something, much more.
Words can sometimes define us, often confine us or restrict us. Being Irish is much more than just those native to our shores, we welcome very warmly the many new Irish who have come to live amongst us – ár muintir féin. Like you perhaps, Patrick was not native Irish, he was a welcome immigrant, who first came here as a victim of human trafficking. Yet his experience on Slieve Slemish did not dent his desire to one day return. Today we deplore the hideous, barbaric acts that we recently witnessed on the Islamic community in Christchurch New Zealand, where people at prayer were senselessly and sickeningly gunned down. Wherever we worship should always be a safe place to meet our God.
On St. Patrick’s Day it’s a good day to reflect on the welcome we offer the new Irish. The famous Céad míle fáilte, one hundred thousand welcomes! Is languishing in a Direct Provision Centre the best Céad míle fáilte we can afford? Is the restriction on work permits further traumatising people who have travelled from places of huge trauma into an Ireland of the welcomes, once again the best Céad míle fáilte we can offer?
Perhaps the word the word most associated with Ireland when it is googled was the word ‘welcome, fáilte, shamrock, hospitality’. Perhaps new one’s may have been added in recent months ‘backstop, border, controls’? Didn’t St. Patrick offer us the backstop of backstops, reminding us that there are three persons in ome God and out of this belief, we respect people of all faith and none, because of the very Christian faith we profess this feastday. We Christians because of St. Patrick are people who believe in bridges that unite us, not borders that divide us.
No better prayer to conclude than quoting from the St. Patrick’s Breastplate: “Críost linn, Críost romhainn, Críost in ár ndiaidh, Críost istigh ionainn”:
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,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.
 Duffy, Joseph: ‘PATRICK in his own words’, Veritas, 1972, pg. 44-45
 Ibid, pg. 11.