Feast of All Saints – Year A: 01.11.23
Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 10.30am
All Saints Day, the morning after Halloween! We have come to celebrate Halloween more than All Saints. Houses are decorated on a par with the Christmas season. We needn’t blame the Americans, our Irish ancestors, the Celts were the first to mark in a very serious way this event we now know as Hallow / een, the eve of the Holy.
By the end of October darkness sets in, the turning back of the hour shortens the evenings. Historically sacred wells, burial grounds were seen as thin places where the veil between our world of stone and wood and the other world of spirit and imagination was very flimsy indeed. The Celts dressed up to confront and confuse the spirits on the other side; they knew no better.
But we do. The Celts left behind traditions that we imitate perhaps without fully realising the import. All Saints brings to mind the memory of those recognised by the church as of worthy and sound character. We have our own Molaise or Laserian; we have more recently come to know of Willibrord and of course Brigid whose 1500 anniversary of her death is honoured next year.
As we gather amongst the blessed, let us call to mind our sins and shortcomings …
The Saints in my Life! My first saint I crossed paths with was Patrick, baptised ‘Denis Patrick’ on the 12th June 1963. Patrick lit the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane, the hill was about two and half miles across the fields from our home.
Depending on the route you took, you might stumble across St. Erc’s Well. Erc, a convert from Laoghaire’s retinue who became a Deacon of St. Patrick. When Patrick was summoned by the Pagan King to Tara to account for himself and more importantly the flame he lit defying the Kings order, Erc was the only one who stood to show Patrick respect.
School and College continued the ‘Patrick’ connection, Primary school was St. Patrick’s, Slane. On the day I was ordained Bishop in 2013 my former teachers presented me with a photocopy of my school attendance record from 1968-1976! Present and as lathair! Then it was off to St. Pat’s, Navan for Post Primary and then St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth for seminary and college.
The next saint that came into my life was Brendan. He was the one I chose for Confirmation. I think I was attracted by his spirit of adventure, to afford him his full title, ‘Brendan the Navigator’.
My first appointment as a Priest to Mullingar brought me in contact with St. Loman and St. Finian from their associations with Westmeath. I also grew a great fondness for St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus from the splendid Boris Anrep mosaics in the Cathedral side chapels. That fondness has continued with my links today with the Catholic Grandparents Association.
One of my brothers took ill sometime then with a serious blood disease, I fail to remember the exact year as thankfully he has since made a full recovery, but I recall the import of the evening I blessed him with a skull cap belonging to Padre Pio. I hold a great place in my heart for St. Pio. I recall St’s Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus impacting my life then as I tried like all young priests to achieve a work/life balance:
“Lord of pots and pans and things,
Since I’ve not time to be,
A saint by doing lovely things
or watching late with thee …”
Appointed to St. Mary’s, Drogheda in 1998, the church was situated on James Street and it was believed that in the middle ages it was a pilgrim route to Compostella. I visited Compostella during my time in Drogheda and became more convinced of the appeal of this saint and the pilgrimage associated with him.
Of course St. Oliver Plunkett whose head is revered in St. Peter’s Church across the River Boyne from St. Mary’s would also have made a deep impression on me then. I treasure the small relic of St. Oliver I have from those years in Drogheda.
Then coming to Kildare & Leighlin as Bishop in 2013, choosing the Feast of St. John Vianney, August 4th, was important for me, the patron of Parish Priests. I recall the struggle I had pronouncing Laserian at my announcement in May that year, a Saint I have also since grown to know and love with the special Molaise Day ceremony every year in Old Leighlin. And of course St. Brigid who is carved with her crozier, in the centre, alongside St. Conleth and St. Laserian on my Episcopal Chair in our Cathedral.
And then my links with Willibrord and the pilgrimage to Echternach in 2017. It’s great to have his relic enshrined here, gifted to us from that visit. I also include St. Columbanus, born in the townland of Rathnageragh, in Myshall on the side of Mount Leinster.
In more recent times I have come to deeply appreciate the witness and example of St. John Paul II as I see how so many of our young people are so impressed to undertake very seriously the Award Programme in his name. More recently Blessed Carlo Acutis, the young blessed in sneakers and jeans who loved computer coding, but had a deep faith and used his skills in his short life of fifteen years to spread the story of Eucharistic Miracles.
At the Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska the diocese organised a competition to determine Ireland’s Favourite Saint, St. Anthony was the outright winner.
We all have a story of how a particular saint at different times in our lives made an impression on us. This is my story. Each of you have your own. I suggest you reflect on your story this All Saints Day.