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Feast of St Laserian/Molaise Day, Old Leighlin Cathedral

Feast of St. Laserian / Molaise:                                                                         18.04.22

St. Laserian’s Cathedral, Old Leighlin

We have come this afternoon to honour Molaise or Laserian – the Abbot of Leighlin, in what is today one of the few ecclesiastical villages in Ireland – Leighlin, or Old Leighlin. I want to thank very warmly our Deacon Patrick Roche and Reverend Tom Gordan for their kind invitation to join with you in what has become an annual tradition, steeped in history and immersed in local folklore. I am conscious this year we miss the presence of Bishop Michael, but wish him well as he settles into new surrounds.

The early Middle Ages was a rich time for Irish Saints. Some of them felt the urge to leave these lands and mission elsewhere. Columbanus died in 615AD, Lachtain in 622AD and Laserian in 639AD. So only twenty four years separates the death of three of our greatest Saints Columbanus, Lachtain and Laserian, all with local connection. Columbanus born in Myshall on the side of Mount Leinster; Laserian who established his huge monastery here at Leighlin and Lachtain who had his settlement at Freshford in neighbouring Ossory. They were contemporaneous. They knew their scripture. And in that context I chose Mark, Chapter 2:1-12 to reflect on this afternoon – the cure of the paralytic. As well as being men familiar with scripture, I dare to conject they also had a familiarity with one another.

The passage begins with a return to Capernaum. News spreads that “he was back[1] and the response is a gathering without any regard for health and safety or crowd control! We are told as Jesus preaches four men carry the paralytic. When they couldn’t gain entry through the door, they strip the roof! I love this action. And the lowering of the stretcher which seemed to land at the feet of Jesus. Jesus is moved by their faith. But who is cured that day? Seamus Heaney in his poem ‘Miracle’ wrote:

“Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in”[2].

When we walk among the ruins and abbeys of our Christian past, most of them are sadly now without a roof. They pose no difficulty to those who might wish to lower a stretcher into the middle of the masses. And yet in Mark it is not the paralytic who is most healed, it’s the four men who lower him.

“Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat …”[3].

Of course the scribes standing around start to critically analyse all that has been done, the forgiveness of sins bit sticks in their craw: “… who can forgive sins but God?[4] And the rest of the passage unfolds as expected. The paralytic walks. I imagine the four men who carried him in were as astounded and maybe more so than the rest, we’re not told. Returning to Heaney he writes:

“Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those who had known him all along”[5].

Colm Kenny entitles his second chapter: ‘Miracle -worker and monk’ in his work on the Saint, he calls ‘Molaise[6]. What attracted people to these saints was their ability to heal the sick, and to forgive sins. So is it Molaise or Laserian? Well in Scotland, Kenny reminds us he is known as ‘Molaise’ while here in Leighlin and in Ireland he is very clearly revered as ‘Laserian’. The Scots associate him as the Saint or Hermit of the Holy Island, Arran, while we here in Leighlin see him as the Abbot of this historic and holy place on the side of the River Barrow. It is important that our gathering is ecumenical in nature because Laserian was the pure ecumenist. In fact it is the Buddhists in Scotland who continue to nurture his memory and to protect his legacy. The word Laserian has its roots in the Irish for ‘Flame’ – ‘Las’. Another wonderful connection in the Easter Octave, the light that comes from the resurrected Christ.

And to realise that our gathering, not unusually so, finds itself at the beginning of Eastertime. I recall a few years ago the feastday falling on a Good Friday! Leighlin was the first place in Ireland to adopt the timing we now use to this day for determining when Easter falls. Laserian went to Rome in 630AD to discuss the discrepancy raging between the Celtic and Roman method of calculating the Easter date. His visit prompted the Universal Church adopting the new date of Easter. So we tip our hats to Laserian as we crack open our eggs and light our Easter candle on Easter day! 

To think that at its height a community of 1,500 occupied these hallowed walls and this sacred place. Leighlin is much greater than the Abbey that once stood on these hills overlooking the Barrow. Many of the walls are well consigned to history, and as I mentioned no difficulty lowering stretchers through roof spaces wide open to the elements.

We are in the early stages of a synodal journey in our diocese, in the Universal Church. The purpose of the Synod is not to produce documents, but “to plant dreams … to allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope[7]. We cannot do Synod and kind of get it done, we have to become synodal in everything we do. The synodal journey is a new way of being Church, of journeying together. We have just come through a ‘listening Lent’. I hope your voice was heard, but don’t panic, there will be more opportunities. Every synodal journey is building on the work of the past. And today, in this ecclesiastical village of Leighlin, we proudly honour the legacy left to us by Laserian, the Saint of our Easter flame.

[1] Mk.2:1

[2] Heaney, Seamus: poem ‘Miracle’ from his collection ‘Human Chain’, 2010 – a collection of poems on suffering and mortality. Heaney suffered a stroke in 2005. He died in 2013.

[3] ibid

[4] Mk.2:7

[5] ibid

[6] Kenny, Colum: ‘Molaise’, Morrigan, 1998.

[7] Synodal Preparatory Document, par. 32