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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

15 January 2014 - Feast of St. Ita - Raheenagh Church, Kilmeedy

St. Ita is a patron saint of our diocese. Today, right across the diocese and Ireland, her Feastday is being celebrated. In his recent letter, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis reminds us of the significance of a devotion to a saint such as St. Ita. As he puts it, our devotion is fleshy, it has a face in the sense that we are talking about a specific woman, living at the beginning of the Christian adventure here in Limerick.

There are stories about her. I like the one about the Chieftain offering her loads of land around here but she just took 4 acres, enough for what she needed for her community. There’s a lesson in that – to just use what we need and not fall into the “throw away” culture that Pope Francis talks about – we waste so much in the Western world. Of course, we also have the stories about St. Ita being the foster mother of St. Brendan. When he asked her what were the three most important things, she answered: true faith in God and a pure heart; a a simple life with a religious spirit; and open-handedness inspired by charity.

Yes, in relating to St. Ita we are relating to a saint who lived in a particular time and place. We call her a saint for the fundamental reason that she was a person who let Christ live in her and around her a community developed. She lived out what today’s Gospel tells us: be salt of the earth; light of the world; a city built on a hilltop.

Again, Pope Francis tells us that when Catholics remember the saints, they are remembering that Christian faith is not about vague spiritual energies or powers. It is not about escapism. It is not about a “spirituality of well-being” divorced from our community life. Rather a feastday such as today, feast of St. Ita reminds us the centre of Christian faith: a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and building up the community around us. We heard in the lovely reading from Paul just what that encounter with Christ brings about in a follower of Christ and in the community.

One last point. I was struck recently by something Pope Francis. He made the point that we often think that it was easier for Christians in the past to proclaim the Gospel. Things, we say, are not as easy as they used to be. But, Francis, tells us, every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness and selfishness, and difficulties are often due to our human limits rather than particular situations. “Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day”.

Let’s go away from today’s ceremony deciding to start again in our relationship with Jesus Christ, face whatever difficulties we have with a new confidence and continue to love. Each of us can make a difference just like Ita did in her day.