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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

St. Patrick's Day 2022

St. Patrick’s Day 2022

Mass at Sarsfied Barracks, Limerick

I came across an article on the website of a few years ago describing the excitement of Ukrainians in cities across the Ukraine as they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. It seems it was now beginning to be a thing to do to dress up in green and wear shamrock and celebrate the big green Feast Day of St. Patrick in Kiev and elsewhere. There was a photo of some young people gleeful, having fun, playfully present to one another.

The articles we are reading in recent weeks are so far removed from that article of just a few short years ago. The glee, the fun, the playfulness has been wiped out and its place are tears, heartbreak and devastation. We now have thousands of Ukrainian refugees pouring into Ireland, their lives utterly uprooted and changed.

So, it is right that this St. Patrick’s Day our attention must focus on the themes of prayer for peace, welcome of the stranger and rekindling of our desire to live for unity and in unity with our neighbour.

Prayer for peace. As Christians our first major contribution to the situation in Ukraine is to pray for peace. We remember Jesus’ words: ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. When the military arms of this world result in massacres, laying down the arms of our own resentments and enmities so that we can put on the armour of God. As St. Paul puts it, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace”. It is what St. Patrick did in Ireland when faced with opposition and indeed when he stood up to the British tyrant Coroticus and his soldiers who had come to Ireland and kidnapped and killed many of Patrick’s Christian converts. In his letter to Coroticus Patrick strongly condemned their deeds and called on Coroticus to return the captives who were still alive. He implored Coroticus and his soldiers to change their ways. All the while he prayed for peace. We know his famous prayer:

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Yes, prayer is important. We remember to pray in humility. In today’s Gospel we hear Peter say: “I am a sinful man”. St. Patrick defined himself that way as does Pope Franics. This is not a negative thought. It is a recognise that we are limited but God who is Love is all-powerful.

And today we remember prayer for the Ukrainians, also the Ukrainians in Ireland and those Russians in Ireland who are not responsible for the war. We must be careful not to hold them accountable for the acts of a cruel dictator.

The second point today is the welcome of the stranger. It is inspiring to note how many people all over Ireland have responded so generously to supporting humanitarian efforts in this crisis.  Many parish communities have already established links with charitable projects to support refugees and those remaining in Ukraine.  I know the Redemptorist community here in Limerick have direct links with their confreres in Ukraine and have already been overwhelmed by the response of people in Limerick and beyond to their appeal. There are indeed many charitable initiatives such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and Trócaire. 

With 6,000 Ukrainian refugees already in Ireland, it is impressive to see the offers on the part of many of accommodation. People from places we’ve never heard of landing in places they have never heard of. And receiving they type of warmth and welcome that they so badly need right now.

For all of us there is a call to help each other in this spontaneous wave of hospitality.  The welcome offered is a witness to the generous outreach to people in need that the Irish feel instinctively. We try to do that piece well. After all, mercy, care and compassion were among the great characteristics of St. Patrick. We are far from perfect, but we try to do ‘care’ well. We want to honour those characteristics well.

Indeed, this will be the third St. Patrick’s Day in a row that we are putting others, the vulnerable, first.

The third point. St. Patrick’s Day this year brings us a renewed call to rekindle our own desire to live for unity. Peace is a fruit of unity. Where there are divisions, violence of one sort or another breaks out. Sometimes verbal violence, some physical violence. All of us need to check out the surges of our heart to make sure that we don’t give in to thoughts or attitudes or actions towards our neighbours that derive from sentiments of hatred or jealousy or possessiveness or dominance or sheer selfishness.

What we see on such a terrible scale in Ukraine is a reminder of the ruin brought about by evil thoughts. Though not directly comparable, we have to acknowledge in our own lives the small everyday temptations of division and aggression that can invade our lives. To be ready to begin again to live the Christian life, to love and be the first to love, is what St. Patrick brought to us in bringing the Gospel. We know of how he famously lit the Easter fire on the hill of Slain as a sign of the Risen Christ, the Prince of Peace.  Let’s take this year’s Feast Day as our chance to rekindle the fire of prayer for the Ukraine, welcome of the Refugees and unity in our own hearts and relationships.