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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Feast Day of St. Ita

Feast Day of St. Ita, 15 January, 2022

Ashford Church, Kileedy Parish

Homily Notes

It is said that when she was baptised, the young baby that would later become the great St. Ita was given the name: Dorothea, meaning “gift of God”. She certainly would have been a great gift to her parents and family but God’s plan for her was to be a gift, not just for them, but for the wider society of that time. Here we are over a millennium and a half later still celebrating the memory of this great woman, the most famous after Brigid of Ireland’s female saints. Of course, that’s what makes a saint’s life so special. Because Jesus lives in them, they embroider patterns of light that last for centuries.

As we know eventually people started calling her “Ita”, a name that has the meaning of “thirst for Divine Love”. Obviously, that is what she reminded people of – we all have a deep thirst in us to know God, to feel his deep love, to believe in his love.

A week and a half ago we celebrated the coming of the three Wise Kings to Bethlehem. They had taken a long journey from the East but what they said to Herod was: “We saw the star in the East and have come to worship the child”. They had a thirst and they set out to find God. When they found the baby Jesus, they came and worshipped.

Ita came here to West Limerick from the territory of the Déisi in East Limerick. One the episodes that is told from her life story is that on one occasion, after much prayer and helping a needy neighbour, God promised Ita he would give her a gift. And she replied that what she would want most of all was the chance to have the Baby Jesus nursed by her in her little hermitage. There’s a poem that is said to be written by her and it runs: “[I want] Baby Jesus nursed by me in my little hermitage. Trappings of wealth and status are worthless by comparison”.

We could say that like the Wise Men, she had the thirst for God’s love and wanted nothing more than to know Jesus. Everything else was secondary.

So, that tells us about how to celebrate this Feast Day. Each of us personally and our family is like a little hermitage in the sense of each of us is a shrine made to contain God and our family is made to be a domestic church. On this Feast Day, we are reminded that we have to do is to make this request of Ita’s our own, that is, we too can ask God to give us the gift of Jesus living in us and among us in our family life. It’s a gift God definitely wants to give us but we have to be open to it.

How can we be open to it? We are to put aside all wrangling and fighting, being respectful of one another, helping one another. In this way we let the Baby Jesus grow in us and around us.

Tragically, we’ve seen in these days the terrible news of the brutal murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore. My thoughts and prayers will be offered up for her soul and for her family, that they will somehow be comforted in these desperately difficult hours, days, weeks, months and years as they deal with the loss of someone clearly so special.

As you may know she studied in Mary Immaculate College here in Limerick. It has struck me that because of my role as Chairman of the Governing Authority I would have been present at her Graduation Day last October. Always on Graduation Day, as I watch the graduates pass by, while applauding their achievement, I think of them, their family and the future ahead of them.

I would have thought of Ashling in the same way, but little could I have thought that in a few short months, that this shining star would have been eclipsed with such darkness on Wednesday last. But even in the midst of the overwhelming sadness and shock that has gripped the nation, there is an unmistakable sense that her light is breaking through, that it is not something ‘going out’ but is leading us all to a turning point.

We owe that to her memory, to ensure her journey did not end on Wednesday but rather marked a new and better beginning for how women are treated, how they are respected and protected, just as they should be.

Ashling was clearly an all-rounder – bright, good at sport, at music, a people person, a person of integrity, so much promise ahead of her. And yet today her family and friends are heartbroken and distraught at her tragic loss.

As we mark the feast day of St. Ita, this year thinking of the appalling violence as Ashling suffered, let’s acknowledge to one another just how vital it is to promote a culture that is clearly and unambiguously opposed to violence, especially violence against women. As Pope Francis put it some weeks ago, in a different context, we need to protect women, there is too much violence against women. We need to shout this message from the rooftops. And that message needs to be heard at all levels in our schooling, in our sports clubs, in our churches. 

Let’s ask St. Ita, the great female saint and “foster mother” of the Irish saints, to intercede for us that we will do our part always to promote a culture of respect and care and protection of one another, especially of women. That all men will recognise the unique dignity of each woman, that the motto “no to violence and abuse of any type” will be written deep in our heart.

St. Ita, pray for us. Amen