St. Patrick’s Day 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“A legacy to be cherished in fragile times”
At this time one hundred years ago, we were in the throes of the War of Independence. Like all wars it was brutal and bloody. A truce was declared in July and negotiations began which led to the Treaty in December which led to Independence Partition and the Civil War. We are still living with the consequences .
A hundred years on the world is at war with a deadly virus. There is a distinct mood of anxiety and concern with the difficulties we are facing.
In the midst of it we have the festival that honours St. Patrick, a stranger to our shores, who with others sowed the seeds of a Christian vision and way of life. However, and why ever our society evolved over the centuries we have a distinctive and appealing culture and identity.
To-day the legacy of Patrick is cherished often in a selective and self-serving manner. As a brand it is global in its recognition and a boon for the marketeers. More power to them.
On the other hand, the message of good news he blessed us with, is suffocating here trying to find fresh air in our new cultural climate. So paradoxically the brand we celebrate is somewhat at odds with itself. And maybe that is how we are now as a “modern, progressive, European society”. We are not so comfortable with ourselves and the restrictions of the pandemic are revealing the stresses in our foundations. In saying that, I am sure we are not so different from many other societies to-day. So much so that Pope Francis can say Christendom no longer exists. Christendom as we understand it no longer holds sway in people’s hearts it seems, as it once did.
And still we witness so much goodness in the lives of so many despite the strands of evil among us. We live with a mixture of all that is best in the human heart/spirit side by side with the worst. We are shocked by the hatred, cruelty and intolerance of fanatics and extremists. We are left bewildered by so much darkness of spirit. Yet we say in humility but for the grace of God go I!
Patrick had a profound sense of the power of the grace of God being ever present and active in his own life. It was this authenticity of witness that made him such an effective missionary to the Irish. He was, in some ways, like St. Paul who named the unknown God to the people of Athens. Just as Paul recognised the good in the culture of the gentiles so too St. Patrick’s message resonated powerfully with the already spiritually sensitive Celts. He recognised the truth, goodness and beauty in the people to whom he felt called to return and share with them too the Gospel he so cherished.
This process of integration and assimilation continued for centuries after Patrick’s death. It bore fruit not just in Ireland but also across Europe in the Celtic monastic missionary spirit. That spiritual footprint is still evident to-day in places like Bobbio, St. Gallen and other centres on the Continent.
This is our heritage – rich in wisdom, noble in purpose, profound in intensity and high in aspiration. A new generation needs to embrace this heritage of faith and culture. They must be aware of the mistakes, flaws and failures of our past. But also confident that it is a new generation’s responsibility to distil its essence so that our sense of identity is rooted in the depths of the generations who have gone before us.
It is common for each new generation to believe that they are superior to those who have gone before. They are better educated, more comfortable with technology and more aware of the world at large. And still the human heart yearns for belonging and acceptance, care and compassion. Despite our flaws we desire to choose truth and trust over lies or deception.
This St. Patrick’s Day with a difference is a time to appreciate our spiritual roots as a people – roots that amidst much deprivation and difficulty enabled us to value our dignity and worth. May the challenge of these Pandemic times re-awaken this consciousness and pride for ourselves and future generations.