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Bishop Denis’ Homily on the Feast of St Fintan, Raheen Church

First Sunday of Lent – Year B:                                                                 17.02.24 

7.00pm: St. Fintan’s Church, Raheen

375th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate


I’m delighted to be here on the Feast of St. Fintan, in the place of Fintan, Raheen, to mark the first significant pointer in our journey together of Lent. An evening when we also observe the Months Memory for Fr. Eddie Lalor. While I missed Eddie’s Requiem, I’m delighted to be here for his Months Mind. I welcome family, friends and Kiltegan confreres who are also here.

Mark’s account of the wilderness temptation is brief, lasting just two verses – two verses which cover forty days. We get off light, Jesus didn’t! Forty days of Satan tempting Jesus all the time to compromise, to lower his values, to literally stoop down to the level of the devil.

For Jesus the temptations in the desert made Him much stronger in His resolution to do the work God sent Him to do – forgive the sinner; heal the broken-hearted and set the captive free. He continues to do so. For us temptation at times can do its best to destroy us, but we realise God loves us, God holds us and God forgives us and so we pray  …


St. Fintan is possibly one of the less well known of our diocesan saints or patrons. Born in Leinster, a close associate of St. Columba, teacher of Comgall, the founder of Bangor. His link to Raheen includes his well out the road and of course Clonenagh. It was his habit to eat barley bread and herbs and to drink only muddy water. I’m not sure if Uisce Éireann would approve!

The Rule of the Monastery was nearly as strict as his own personal regimen. Many were drawn to Clonenagh, but most later found the diet too severe. Apparently Canice of Aghaboe fame shared their concerns; he and other spiritual heavyweights of the time approached Fintan, who yielded to their request to relax the rule for the sake of the health of the monks.

My last visit to Clonenagh was with the late Mgr. Caoimhín Ó’Néill. He was an authority on the monastery at Clonenagh. As you listened to him speak you couldn’t but feel you were hearing a sermon in stone in an age of illiteracy. I often wonder what did the last monk think as he quenched the candles at Clonenagh, was it the end of faith, or was a chapter just concluding?

Lent brings us upfront with stark images of ashes, deserts and wildernesses. In the natural world nothing is more dead than ash; nothing more disorientating than a desert and nothing more bleak than a wilderness. Nothing grows, nothing bears fruit, nothing blossoms.

At home, being the youngest I always had the job of cleaning out the ashes from the fire the night before. They were the days before environmental concerns took hold. I dumped them in what we called then an ash yard, the only thing that grew out there were nettles and dock leaves.

Lent meaning ‘Spring’, the very opposite to the bleakness of the images presented. Lent is a powerful reminder that, in the face of turmoil and pain, in the face of huge suffering in Gaza, Ukraine and elsewhere, in the face of personal uncertainty that the Lord is with us. He is always by our side. As Pope Francis reminded us in the starkness of St. Peter’s Square at the height of the Covid pandemic, that He is in our boat, He is at the stern. 

The one who was tempted for forty days, who knows the pits of suffering, who understands the anguish of the moment, He is with us. And our response is simple – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – trusted tools that connect us with Him and with one another. The Trócaire Appeal this year focuses on Malawi, known as ‘the Warm Heart of Africa’ where people there contend with limited access to healthcare, clean water and food. Fintan of Clonenagh might be cope in such conditions but most of us wouldn’t.

Fr. Eddie Lalor never worked in Malawi, but his imprint is still today felt across East Africa – Kenya and Sudan. But his imprint is also found in these parts, the ministry of mercy he dispensed during his seven years in Portlaoise and of course the people he called his own out here in Raheen.

Writing on Lourdes in the Africa Magazine ten years ago he spoke of the apparition to the young, illiterate, sickly Bernadette and wondered why with the wry comment “management in heaven thinks differently”. He described Lourdes as “the grand slam of shrines” … “Lourdes defies (or suspends) the laws of nature: candles that do not go out, water that’s not really wet. It brings out the best in human nature, kindness, gentleness, faith, hope, and charity”. He concludes “none of this is normal”. Lent gives us the chance to switch the dial, to establish a new normal, to live a more fulfilled life.

My sister Dolores is a nurse, who specialised in midwifery, she loved Kenya, volunteered there in Ortum for two years in the late 1980’s. She would in later life cross paths with Eddie in Caritas, Dublin during a recuperation period after some operation, possibly a hip or knee. She was very taken by Eddie, they would speak of Ortum, of Eldoret, of Nakuru, of the Holy Rosary Sisters, of the Turkana desert and of the different drums that are the heartbeat of Kenya. She found Eddie a most authentic priest.

I couldn’t disagree with her. While illness in 2020 necessitated his move back to Kiltegan, I felt he never stopped being on the mission. When I called last summer with two new diocesan stoles for Fr. Tom O’Connor and for Fr. Eddie, both were out walking, they were still on the mission. It was a joy to have that visit with both and thank them as I do this Vigil evening for their ministry and presence in Portlaoise. May Fr. Eddie rest in peace and guide us all on our journey that is anything but normal, the journey of Lent.

St. Fintan, pray for us.