After two long years of lockdowns and living with the reality of pandemic, it is with a great sense of joy that we can celebrate our national feast day together again. Yet, after taking a deep breath from Covid, we seem to be plunged into the horrors of war in Europe. The brutal invasion of the people of Ukraine is an attack on the democracy we all enjoy. Their deep resilience, courage and fortitude is an inspiration to us all. There is a deep sense of solidarity to an oppressed people who in many ways mirror our own historical context over 100 years ago. Images on our social media networks seem more akin to the 1940s as opposed to our present reality. Never before has our island’s rich hospitality, our infamous Céad Míle Fáilte Romhat been more evident. We will not be found wanting in how we welcome our brothers and sisters of Ukraine who seek refuge and shelter at this time. It is great that the Portlaoise Parish was indeed first to house a Ukrainian family seeking shelter some days ago.
On St. Patrick’s Day we celebrate our Irishness and our faith. For so long in our history they have been intertwined, perhaps at times identified. As a result, we may have been tempted to take our faith for granted. Admittedly we did not have to fight for it or die for it as our ancestors did. They were challenged by their faith and responded generously to that challenge. Today, Irish people all over the world and we here at home rejoice in the new opportunities which are available in our country, for education, employment and a good quality of life. Indeed, many of our exiles will tell you that they regret the fact that these opportunities were not available to them before they emigrated. In the past the challenge to our faith came from outside of ourselves – from Penal Laws and from oppressive regimes. Today the challenge is not so obvious, and it comes from within ourselves. Faith is not something that has myths of compartmentalisation; rather it impinges on all areas of human living. Today there is probably no area of life in which faith is not being challenged and in which it does not have a significant contribution to make.
As individuals and families, whether in our work, socialising, education or whatever, our faith impinges, or we can refuse to allow it to do so. At times we misinterpret and misunderstand the nature of faith. Great faith is not a faith that walks in the light and knows no darkness. Real faith perseveres in spite of God’s seeming silence. When one considers the obstacles with which Patrick contended – taken captive from his own people and his home, slavery on Slieve Mish, eventual escape and yet prepared to return as a missionary and preach Christ’s gospel to those who had held him captive. The wholeheartedness and single mindedness of Patrick are clear pointers to his faith. He is a man of flesh and blood whose whole life was fed on faith in God’s love. Faith must have been a struggle for him, as it is for you and me. In the experience of slavery, it must have been tempting for him to abandon faith and yield to despair. Yet he recognised his real helplessness and turned to God as a helper and a true friend. Slavery in the 21st century takes on a more sinister and subtle form. Work, pleasure, comfort, the celebrity status.
Almost unnoticed God can be excluded and pushed out to the margins of life in a busy competitive world. With so many voices clambering for our attention we have to make an effort to keep the lines of communication open with God in prayer and in our participation at Mass and the sacraments. In a confused and complex culture, we need a compass to provide us with a sense of direction, enabling us to cope with and respond to the various challenges which meet us every day. I am convinced that faith, properly understood and genuinely lived can provide us with such a compass. Faith can enable us to see beneath and beyond the situations in which we find ourselves. Just as in Patrick’s life, faith made it possible for God to enter, so in our lives, faith makes it possible for God to become involved in our busy world and our hectic activity. As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I take this opportunity to wish you a very happy celebration and pray that the faith that Patrick brought to our shores will sustain all of us in challenging times.
If St. Patrick were looking at the 6.1 News this evening, he would undoubtedly be surprised to find that his name was associated with the greening of the Great Wall of China and of the Pyramids in Egypt. The marketing people have been very clever in turning our national feast day into an opportunity to promote tourism and to seek opportunities for overseas trade. Fair play to them. If these things help to rebuild our economy and to ensure that all our people can live with dignity and enjoy the fruits of citizenship, then there is nothing wrong with that. But we who believe in Jesus need to be doing a bit of marketing ourselves. In our second reading today, St. Paul reminds us that the time will come when many people will not want to hear the message of the Gospel. The image of the weeds and the wheat growing together, which we heard in the Gospel, is a reminder that faith and disbelief exist side by side in our society. It is not the responsibility of politicians, economists or entrepreneurs as such to promote faith. It is our task as Christians, together with Christians of other religious traditions throughout Ireland, to ensure that the primary focus of St. Patrick’s Day remains the reception of the Gospel and that the values of the Gospel permeate our civil society.
St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a popular prayer attributed to one of Ireland’s most beloved patron saints. According to tradition, St. Patrick wrote it in 433 A.D. for divine protection before successfully converting the Irish King Leoghaire and his subjects from paganism to Christianity. (The term breastplate refers to a piece of Armor worn in battle.)
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 down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man 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.