RTE television broadcasted Mass from St Finian’s College on St Patrick’s Day. Congratulations to the school staff, choirs, string ensemble, harp ensemble and traditional Irish music group who took part in the beautiful liturgy.
Homily of Rev. Dr Paul Connell
President of St Finian’s College, Mullingar
‘My name is Patrick…
I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.
My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae.
His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner.
I was about sixteen at the time.
These are the words of Patrick himself from his Confessio beginning his story of how he was captured and taken to Ireland. What strikes me particularly are his first words I am a sinner, a simple country person and the least of all believers. Words that are strikingly similar to those of Peter in the gospel that we have just heard. Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man.
The figure of Peter dominates today’s gospel. I think Peter is a tremendously consoling figure for all of us. He is so human an impetuous – he follows Jesus to walk on the water almost without thinking. And then he takes fright and falters. When Jesus speaks of his death, Peter says no, this must never happen. And Jesus rebukes him – get behind me Satan. He has no hesitation in declaring to Jesus – you are the Messiah, almost without thinking of what he was saying. He swears to die for Jesus and then he falls asleep in the garden of Gethsemene. When Jesus is arrested he lashes out and takes off Malchus’ ear. And yet later he fulfills Jesus’ prophetic words of betrayal by saying – Woman, I do not know him. And yet at the back of it all as we see in today’s gospel he is a very humble man – Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man. Peter is no figure of perfection, quite the opposite he is human, imperfect, sinful. And yet despite his clumsiness and sinfulness, his cowardice and pride he endured through it all. He remains faithful to Jesus, leads the Church after his crucifixion and dies a martyr in Rome.
And the story of the early church is an extraordinary one. These frightened men hiding in the aftermath of the crucifixion are emboldened by their resurrection experiences and they go out spreading the gospel led by Peter – the key figure in the early church. And Christianity spreads quickly across the known world. Why was that? Quite simply because the Gospel message was so attractive. The good news of a loving God who cared deeply for each person, who was forgiving and who encouraged his followers to be loving, caring and compassionate. A God of Mercy and compassion. What a contrast with the world of the pagan Gods, most of whom were vindictive and cruel and who were above everything else to be feared.
And this was the world that Patrick knew and experienced when he came to Ireland. There is a tendency today on the part of some to paint a very romantic picture of Celtic Ireland – a place of peace, contentment, a living atmosphere of spirituality and closeness to God. And no doubt there were such places within that society as indeed there are today. There was a darker side; one of oppression and cruelty and slavery. And it was this darker Ireland that brought Patrick here against his will. And yet the experience strengthened his faith and somehow despite his painful experience and sense of unworthiness he was able to answer God’s call to return and spread the good news of the Gospel.
As we reflect on this great figure in our history we give thanks today for the heritage of faith bequeathed to us by Patrick and indeed by Peter before him. And this deposit of faith is not to be dismissed lightly. Each of us worships this same God of mercy and compassion given to our ancestors by Patrick and passed on to us by our parents. And we are reminded of what Pope Francis has asked each of us to do in this Year of Mercy. Two things he has highlighted. He asks us not to be indifferent to God, to make a place for God in our lives. And secondly he asks us to live a life of mercy – to show God