1st Sunday of Lent
Today recalls Christ’s victory over temptation in the desert. The beginning of Lent is a good time for us to confront the temptations in our lives. We should pray for the gift of discernment between good and evil.
Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve preferred to follow their own inclinations than the will of God. This great story speaks of temptation and desire, versus conscience and fidelity.
Rom 5:12-19. Adam’s sin had unfortunate repercussions for us all, but we are saved and offered new life through Christ’s act of sacrifice.
Mt 4:1-11. Jesus is severely tested, but in the struggle he remains faithful to the will of his Father as revealed in the holy Scripture.
– that our Saviour Jesus Christ may guide our steps during this special season of Lent.
– that he may give us the discernment to distinguish between good and evil, and h elp us to prefer the good.
– that our loving God may give us the wisdom to recognise temptation, however it may be disguised.
– that we ourselves, and the whole Christian community, may have a true conversion to Gospel values, as we prepare for the mystery of Easter.
Shun not the Struggle (Patrick Rogers)
Each one of us is personally involved in a struggle between sin and holiness, between death and life. Our time on earth will be successful only insofar as we put sin aside, and try to live by the grace of God. Today’s Mass confronts us with two contrasting reactions to temptation. The first parents, Adam and Eve, abandoned the struggle, preferring their own inclinations to the will of God. Jesus, the Saviour, on the contrary resisted temptation, remaining faithful to what God the Father required of him. St Paul states what effect each of these choices had for ourselves: Adam’s sin brought trouble on all, but we are saved and offered new life because of the fidelity of Christ.
An old Passionist priest and a popular confessor, Fr Isidore Campbell, who was blind for many years before his death, liked to urge his penitents to effort and perseverance with these inspirational lines: “We are not here to play, to dream, to drift./We have good work to do, and loads to lift./Shun not the struggle. Face it. ‘Tis God’s gift.”
Temptation, and the fight against it, are an unavoidable part of the life God gives us. If we honestly examine our daily experience, we can find many aspects of temptation: impulses or tendencies that clash with the Christian way of doing things. (Propose examples from work, social habits, home life…) To rationalise away these temptations, so that they become more acceptable to us, and make us less uneasy – is itself a temptation, perhaps the most insidious of temptations. We want to dictate what is right and wrong, to draw for ourselves the boundaries of “acceptable” or good and bad behaviour, like Adam eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Instead of this, our real growth to Christian maturity comes by acknowledging and accepting the vocation of struggling against temptation, to achieve the kind of behaviour and attitudes Jesus expects. We must submit our behaviour to his gospel.
Christ and Adam show the two opposite reactions in face of temptation: Adam, archetype of sinful, evasive, self-seeking humanity, finds plausible reasons to yield to it, and rebels against God’s will. Jesus, archetype of the new God-seeking man, resists temptation even repeatedly. It can only be conquered by this blend of patience and loyalty, supported by trust that what God requires of us is genuinely for our good.
Support, Sharing and Eucharist: In that marvellous opening prayer today we pray for a deeper awareness of baptism and our sharing in the paschal mystery. Combining that with the first reading suggests that we should look at baptism as the sacrament of initiation into the Church, That reading presents the early Church acting ideally as a community, living in the full glow of the first Easter. What can be done to get a bit of that glow into our parishes or communities?
Small is beautiful in the context of liturgy and community life. In the small parish or community we feel that it is possible to reproduce some of the ideal features of Acts. But in the large urban parish, with overflowing Church and Mass every hour on the hour, surrounded by all the problems of modern housing-estate life, it is easy to be cynical. In the rural parish of my youth, if you were to add the modern housing-estate life, it is easy to be cynical. In the rural parish of my youth, if you were to add the modern house Mass (we hadn’t the stations) we had some reflection of the picture Luke paints. The teaching of the Church was accepted without question, everyone helped neighbours in time of trouble, there was family prayer in every house; if you dropped in at meal or prayer time, you joined in. We remember in our family a fairly inebriated neighbour joining man fully in the Pioneer pledge which my mother included in the trimmings. Nowadays people keep more to themselves, youngsters are all bored with family and parish life (we’re bored with their boredom), it’s television and pop and the local shebeen, and that’s the good ones. God knows what the others are up to. Would we dare pray when the neighbours drop in – if they do?
But Easter is about not being cynical, believing in the power of the Spirit and the possibility of transformation. One needs a good mixture of faith and practicality here. Now is the time to make use of the people’s Easter goodwill. Encourage participation in the parish activities and programmes that strive to involve the laity (if there are no opportunities for involvement don’t blame the people for being cynical.) Begin with the family, the domestic church. Stress prayer in the home and parents” involvement in their children’s religious education. Family prayer will involve family reconciliation
– not going to bed on grudges. Then reaching out to the families around. How many young mothers are tied to the house day after day, and so is the lady next door and the lady next door, and they never think of having a rota to care for each other’s children half a day week. The early Christians shared their goods. We need to share more our time, our friendship, our concern. There’s no such thing as the ordinary layman. Every baptised person is a sharer in Christ’s priesthood. As such each approaches the Mass to pray “in the name of every creature under heaven” (Eucharistic Prayer 4.) Encourage people then to approach with an intention in mind – parents can help by drawing their children’s attention to local and universal needs. There’s support for the work of local missionaries, prayer for the work of the pope. Come, Holy Spirit, we believe that you are still around.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Gospel.) These words are the consolation of all who, like most of John’s readers, do not belong to the first generation of Christians who saw Jesus in the flesh. But the Christ we can see is the Christ who meets us in the members of our family, our neighbourhood, our parish. It was the spirit of brotherhood and generous sharing which were the distinguishing marks of the early Church and attracted attention (“They were looked up to by everyone,” First Reading.) In joining in parish activities, the Eucharist, family prayers, sharing with others, we bear witness, share in Christ’s prophetic role. We can never tell who will be led to Christ only by seeing his people actually putting their faith into practice. This is the awareness of baptism, of Church that we have to try to get across today.
Positive Penance (John Walsh)
Contradiction, it has been said, is the hallmark of what is false. We see this exemplified in the gospels, where they tell us that accusations were laid against Jesus at his trial, by false witnesses, and how the falsehood of these witnesses was revealed by their contradiction of one another. Jesus foretold, moreover, that just as he himself had encountered opposition, so would the Apostles and indeed the Church in which they were about to play such an important role. And in the century which has recently come to a close, the Church of Christ, in its teaching, has once more met with sustained criticisms, the inaccuracy of which often is evident from the contradictions inherent in them.
For example at the beginning of the past century, the accusation was that religion was the opium of the people; it dulled the sensibilities of its followers, their reactions, their ability to make decisions for themselves. Nowadays, the Church, because it has stressed the existence of sin in the world, is accused of giving rise to a guilt complex in people. People are over-reacting to this concept of sinfulness which is preached to them. Yet we have only to look about us to see the presence of evil in society, to conclude that the actions of some within it, not only threaten the fabric of that society, but are an abhorrence to God.
As we see from the story of our first parents, evil enters the world because people refuse to obey God when he speaks to them through their conscience, that inner God-given awareness of what is good and evil, which clearly points out the road they must follow, and what they must steer clear of. Here, however, I would like to stress that, in putting into practice what God is asking of us, there are two extremes to be avoided. On the one hand, there are people who refuse to admit to any imperfection in their lives, and also some others who, through their continual disregard for their God-given awareness of what is just, and pure, and holy, have lost the sense of evil. On the other hand, there is in every local community a minority of basically good people whose consciences become clouded over with a persistent and confused feeling of guilt. They become obsessed with the thought of sin in everything they do, and this scrupulosity is bound up with a false image of God, whom they regard as a threat hanging over them, one whose slightest whim must not be ignored, at the risk of eternal damnation. And, let us be. honest, there is an element of this latter in the approach of many of us to Lent also.
Some are inclined to regard the season of Lent as a time when we have to make a special effort to placate a demanding, vengeful God in order to remain in his good grace. But the Church’s thinking on this is expressed in the first preface for Lent, a beautiful and inspiring statement of what our approach to both God and Lent should be. “Father, each year you give us this joyful season,” it says – not the gloomy season, notice, that so many regard it as – “this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the Easter mystery with mind and heart renewed. You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our Father, and of willing service to our neighbour.” Here we have the perfect blueprint for Lent. This is the season when we should make a special attempt to say yes to the love of God. We do this by our personal attitude towards God, by our openness to the promptings of his Holy Spirit within us, by becoming willing instruments of God’s loving and providential care as it reaches out to those around us who stand in need of it. Of course Lent is also a time of repentance, and if we face up to the fact that there are elements of hatred and bitterness, selfishness and dishonesty, in our lives, then as St John tells us, “God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins, and purify us from everything that is wrong.”
Noonday Devils (Liam Swords)
One day, an elderly devil was taking a stroll in the desert. He was a senior member of Hell’s politburo. It was his custom to take a stroll each afternoon to clear his head after spending a long hard morning discussing various high-level strategies with his colleagues regarding media take-overs. The desert was his favourite place as it was much frequented by hermits and anchorites and other holy eccentrics. Though he was no longer a field-operator he liked to keep his hand in. So he was quite pleased when he spotted a cluster of noonday devils surrounding a kneeling hermit, deep in contemplation. He observed them for. a while. Some transformed themselves into lewd women offering their favours to the holy man. Others carried trays filled with delicious foods to eat and the choicest wines to drink. But the hermit was impervious to their blandishments. Without ceasing his contemplation he brushed them aside as nonchalantly as a cow swishing his tail to rid himself of flies. The old devil shook his head sadly. But then he tiptoed gently up to the holy man and stooping down he whispered softly in his ear, “Your cousin has just been elected Patriarch of Antioch.” At this the holy man leaped to his feet, his eyes blazing with fury and his face suffused with anger. He shook his fist at the heavens and began to curse and swear and blaspheme God. Smiling contentedly, the old devil resumed his walk while the noonday devils looked after him in admiration.
Temptations are rarely spectacular. You are unlikely to run away with your colleague’s wife, much as you admire her, but stealing his character is quite another matter, particularly, as rumour has it that he is in line for promotion. Embezzling the company’s funds has never even occurred to you, but you have no scruples about padding out your expenses. The old devil assigned to cover you is not even stretched, most of the time. He knows your soft spot. A mere tickle and he chalks up another score. The tabloids you read every Sunday with their lurid tales of the scandalous goings-on of the high-fliers lull you into a false sense of your own righteousness. Just the way the old devil likes to have you.
We live in an age where sin has virtually disappeared. And if sin has disappeared, temptation has gone with it. We have become very naive, like Eve in the garden of Eden. One has only to read the daily newspaper to see that sin is thriving as never before. Look into your own heart and you will see that temptation is neither gone nor likely to go. We are full of petty spites and jealousies and murderous thoughts. Unfortunately, they are often our blind spots. Everybody else is more aware of them than we are. When God said to Solomon, “Ask what you would like me to give you,” Solomon replied, “Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil.” On this first Sunday of Lent we should pray for a little bit of the wisdom of Solomon.
Putting Satan in his place (Jack McArdle)
This gospel is highly significant. Jesus has just been baptised in the Jordan, the Spirit has come upon him, he is being led by the Spirit, and now he comes face to face with Satan. They are like boxers, entering the ring from either direction. In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, there is an account there of the battle in heaven between Michael the Archangel and Lucifer. Lucifer was defeated, and was cast down to earth. Notice the word earth, which is repeated four times in that one account. Since that time, Lucifer is known as Satan, which literally means the enemy. Jesus has come to reclaim for God what is God’s. He has come right into the kingdom of Satan, which is on this earth, and he is going to redeem all those held captive my Satan. The word redeem was used to describe what happened when a slave was bought from his owner, and given his freedom.
Satan tests Jesus in the three areas of living where most of us fail and fall. The first hurdle had to do with human appetites, which is close to the bone. Our appetites are part of who we are, and they will always be there. Jesus pointed to something even more important than bread, and he quoted Scripture to prove it, so Satan didn’t succeed there. Next he tested him in the area of responsibility – again, an area where most of us fail. We can fail to take proper responsibility for our relationships, for our proper use of the gift of life. Once again, Jesus takes responsibility for his actions, not to act independently of God’s will. Satan tried one last throw of the dice, using the big one, pride. Power, wealth, glory, control, etc., are always tempting to the human spirit, but we all know there is a price to be paid. It involves compromise, corruption, or loss of moral values. But Jesus dismissed him with the words “Get out of here, Satan.” The battle was over, and Jesus remained faithful.
In Aesop’s fables there’s a story about an argument between the wind and the sun as to which of them was stronger. The wind was proud of his strength. It could uproot whole buildings, and level the strongest tree. To settle the argument, they agreed to test their respective strengths against a man who was wearing an overcoat. It was agreed that whichever of them compelled the man to take off his overcoat, would be the stronger. The wind began the test. It blew and blew, even to gale force, but the only reaction from the man was to wrap his coat tighter around him. The sun took over. It didn’t actually do anything. It just shone in the sky, and let the heat reach the man. Within minutes, the man removed his overcoat.
We live in a world where half the people are dying of hunger, while the other half is on a diet, trying to lose weight. The Irish people have the reputation of being generous, and yet the total annual contribution, from public and private sources, to the hungry people of the world, is less than what is spent in the pubs in twelve nights. There can be a big difference between what we want and what we need.
God gives me nothing for myself. He doesn’t give me my gift of speech to go around talking to myself. Life itself is a gift, and we all possess many gifts and talents. We will have to account to God for how we have spent those gifts, and we have to take responsibility for what we do with them. God gives me what it takes to live the worthwhile life, to do the good, and to provide the service, but he will not force me in any direction against my will. If I have the will, he will supply the power. He will do the good through me, but I must supply the hands, the feet, the voice, and the heart.
Do you know what it means to be led by the Spirit? Develop the practice of a short prayer to the Holy Spirit before all decisions and undertakings. This can be your protection against going down the wrong road in an undertaking, in a relationship, or in a decision. St Paul tells us that we should learn to live and to walk in the Spirit. This is something that I work on, that I practise, that I make part of everything I do and say.
– that we may always remain faithful to the Gospel faith brought to us by St Patrick.
– that with St Patrick as model we will cultivate the habit of prayer and the awareness of God.
– that through his intercession the island of Ireland will be blessed with peace, honesty and fairness.
– that at this time of national economic crisis, the people of Ireland may bring out their best qualities, and help each other to live in a just and caring society.
Qualities of Our Saint (Patrick Rogers)
The challenge in the homily on St. Patrick’s Day is to present the saint as a man relevant to our own times; to show him engaging in a mission and a journey that are still to be faced and travelled, if Christian faith is to stay alive, let alone blossom, in Ireland. It is a good idea to weave passages from St. Patrick’s Confession into the homily. Padraig McCarthy’s translation of the Confession, in revised form, can be found at www.biblical.ie/cyberbooks/Patrick_Conf.asp . An excellent volume by Ciaran Needham, on what is known about the saint, is at www.biblical.ie/cyberbooks/Patrick_Life.asp.
Among the qualities of our national apostle that might be developed in the homily are these:
PATRICK, PRAYERFUL MAN: “And again I saw Him praying in me, and I seemed to be within my body, and I heard Him above me, that is, over my inward self, and there He prayed with great emotion. And all the time I was astonished, and wondered, and thought with myself who it could be that prayed in me. But at the end of the prayer He spoke, saying that He was the Spirit; and so I woke up, and remembered the Apostle saying: The Spirit helps the infirmities of our prayer.” Patrick’s prayer life, learned in the hardship of his slavery in Ireland, while herding pigs on Slemish mountain, was the source of his courage and the mainstay of his mission.
PATRICK, CONVERTED SINNER: “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many … But the Lord opened my unbelieving heart that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him… comforted me as would a father his son. So I cannot be silent – nor should I be – about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity.” All through the Confession, he shows a deep sense of gratitude for the work of grace within him.
PATRICK, MAN OF THE BIBLE: He shows real familiarity with the most recently available translation of the Bible (St Jerome’s Vulgate) and often quotes or alludes to the text of Scripture. This reverence for the Bible marked the Irish church in the following centuries, and resulted in important early Irish commentaries, as well as lovely manuscript copies of the Gospel, like the Book of Kells.
PATRICK, AS INSPIRATIONAL PASTOR: “For I am much God’s debtor, who gave me such grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth.” … “When I baptised so many thousands of people, did I perhaps expect from any of them as much as half a crown? Tell me, and I will restore it to you. Or when the Lord ordained clerics everywhere through my unworthy person and I conferred the ministry upon them free, if I asked any of them as much as the price of my shoes, speak against me and I will return it to you.” He mentions many conversions, yet stresses his resolve not to accept donations that might obscure the spiritual motive for his pastoral activities.
RESOLVED TO REMAIN WITH THE IRISH, UNTIL HIS DEATH. “Even if I wished to leave them and go to Britain – and how I would have loved to go to my country and my parents, and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the face of the saints of my Lord! God knows that I much desired it! But I am bound by the Spirit, who witnesses against me that if I do this, I shall be guilty. And I am afraid of losing the labour which I have begun – no, not I, but Christ the Lord who bade me come here and stay with them for the rest of my life, if the Lord will, and will guard me from every evil way that I may not sin before Him.” At the cost of considerable sacrifice, Patrick was willing to leave behind the comforts of Roman Britain and fulfil his mission as a wandering preacher in Ireland. He learned the Irish language and the local customs, respected their religious ideals and gave new meaning to their traditional high-places (like Croagh Patrick) and holy wells. In modern mission practice, this sort of radical inculturation is seen as essential to gaining the heart of a people for Christ.
BRAVE IN THE FACE OF OPPOSITION AND DANGER: “But the more am I sorry for my soul-friend, that we had to hear what he said. To him I had confided my soul! And I was told by some of the brethren before that defence – at which I was not present, nor was I in Britain, nor was it suggested by me – that he would support for me in my absence. He had even said to me in person: “Look, you should be raised to the rank of bishop!” – of which I was not worthy. But how did it happen afterwards that he let me down before all, good and evil, and publicly, in a matter in which he had favoured me before spontaneously and gladly.”
“I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, hearing the reproach of my going abroad, and many persecutions even to chains, and to hand over my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for His name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord sees fit to grant it to me.”
Pastoral Theologian (Feidhlimidh T. Magennis)
It pains me to see so many people take Patrick’s statement about his ignorance at face value. To describe himself as a mere unlettered sinner was just to set up a foil to highlight the glorious workings of God’s grace. A reading of his Confessio clearly reveals that Patrick was no ignorant man. He was a skilled writer and stands full square in the traditions of the Church Fathers and of late Roman literature. Patrick’s Confessio is too often treated in isolation. It should be read alongside the larger Confessions of his near-contemporary, Augustine. Both men were pastoral theologians of great insight, deeply aware of the presence of Christ in their lives. The recent book by the late Daniel Conneely, The Letters of Saint Patrick, should be required reading in preparation for any homily on this feast day.
Patrick’s theology grew out of his personal experience of Christ, of his mission to Ireland of the needs of the newly evangelized. Yet it is in continuity with the great theme of Patristic theology. Faith is not a knowledge but a life with Christ. Faith is not simply a matter of ‘knowing’ Christ, his teachings and the teachings of the Church. Faith is a ‘sensing of the presence of Christ and a response to that presence. This is an aspect of Patrick which we could do with retrieving. Patrick grew to realize that the faith into which he was baptized as a child was more that a series of statements about God, a belief system which filled the head. It was a relationship with God, an awareness of the presence of the person of Christ sharing his life at every moment. Starved of reliance on family and friends, the boy Patrick on Slemish discovered he was not alone. He had supreme value and worth in the eyes of the Father who loved him. He was accompanied by the Son who walked with him; and he was supported by the Spirit who prayed in him. This sensing of the presence and love of God shaped his life and became the foundation of all that he did. faith is the life of a person with Christ. It is this awareness of the presence of Christ and of his own worth as loved by God which runs through the writings of Patrick. As a slave Patrick discovered and never forgot that each one of us is an individual cherished by God. This love of God is not for Patrick alone. Nor was his an isolated or rare example. God’ love is for all people, each person created in the divine image. God loves all individually in a unique way. Patrick’s task, the task of every evangelist, was to bring as many people to that awareness as he could.
Today, Patrick’s task continues. Even in our normally Christian world, there are many who are denied or deprived of their human worth. Their identity as a child of God is ignored. Our society tolerates and often rationalizes the dehumanization of individuals and whole groups. In Patrick’s writings we are provided with the Christian vision of human worth. Patrick’s task of making the Good News known met opposition from those who considered the Irish as barbarian and so not quite human. He opposed such discrimination in the name of the Gospel. His task is still an urgent one. Throughout the world human lives look on or debate He pragmatism of action or inaction. Even in our liberal society, Christian consciences are asked to accept society’s ability to put a measure on the quality of a individual human life. The excuse of limited resources is used to hide the unequal provision of health care, education and employment. Our society in Ireland has been coarsened by the frequent murder of ‘our own’ by ‘them’. It is not yet too late to revive Patrick’s vision of the individual worth of each person, even those who hate and attack us.
In his Letter to Coroticus, Patrick reveals the audacity and power of the Christian message. The heart of that message is the Cross: that Jesus seeks to save and transform everyone. Even those who persecuted him to death are the object of his love. No one is not without individual value to Christ, not even the persecutor Coroticus whose deeds cry out for justice. The spirit of Patrick is needed in our land today. It is only when each person can sense the presence of Christ and be transformed that peace will come. And Christ comes to each through the loving and forgiving presence of Christians. Our task if we are to follow Patrick is to imitate his ability to reach out across the divide and to cherish the enemy as one loved by Christ.
Irish Roots (Brian Joyce)
I read recently that the major export of Ireland is no longer its own people but our primary Export is computer software, while our next largest Export is Viagra. Perhaps you didn’t know that’s where it was invented, at the Pfizer plant in Cork? The chief exports have changed, maybe not for the better. In the past, the real export of Ireland, with the deepest roots, spread by its people like missionaries, is its Celtic spirituality, a spirituality that stands for perseverance and also for deep, deep reflection. You can see it as you travel through Ireland, the perseverance in the face of persecution, when you see chapels dotting the land that go back a hundred or two hundred years, and really go back to the times just after it was completely illegal for Catholics to vote, to own any land, or to get an education. And in those days, the Mass was celebrated in hidden places. Education was carried on by scholars and by priests behind the hedges where no one could see that they were doing that rebellious thing of teaching reading and writing. In those days “Our chalices were made of wood. But our priests were made of gold.”
But, if you go back even further, to the 6th century, you find the ruins of hermitages and monasteries all over Ireland because Ireland was the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” A best seller came out a couple years ago, “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” which sounds exaggerated, until you read the book. But they really did! In the dark ages of Europe, they took the libraries and the learning and the literature and the gospel and they treasured it and reflected on it, and then they sent their sons and daughters out to share it with the world.
I grew up hearing about a lot of saints in Germany, in France, in northern Italy. And, as I got older, I found out many of them were from Ireland. I found out St. Virgilius of Germany was actually St. Fergus of Limerick. (There were) St. Gall, who established monasteries in France and Germany, and St. Columban, who established monasteries, centers of learning and education, in France and Germany and Northern Italy, where he is buried. Like my own Irish pastor from my home town in Montana, Monsignor Ryan, who is buried there and never went back home to Ireland, these missionaries ended up buried in distant lands, where they brought civilization, learning and reflection, and above all, I think, brought a spirituality that we call Celtic that is unique but at the same time deeply Christian, a sense that, first of all, it is nature that reveals God.
Think of St. Patrick out there, a slave boy, looking at nature and having no church, and yet, meeting his God. Maybe it’s the Cliffs of Moher. Maybe it’s the great Dun Angus in the Aran Islands. Maybe it’s the Lakes of Killarney. But whatever it was about the land and scenery of Ireland, it produced a people who were great mystics and realized the number one sacrament of the presence of God was nature. And also, the sacredness of the individual. Maybe it was the barren land, or the awesome beauty, or the famine, or the persecution. But they learned to treasure each and every individual, and realize that, both in solitude, which they treasured, and community, which they built, that God was near.
They celebrated with prayers that we still have today like the Celtic prayer:God to enfold me, God to surround me, God in my speaking, God in my thinking, God in my sleeping, God in my waking, God in my watching, God in my hoping, God in my life, God in my lips, God in my soul, God in my heart, God in my sufficing, God in my slumber, God in my ever-living soul, God in my eternity.
May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul. May you realize that you are never alone,That your soul, in its brightness and belonging,Connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe. May you have respect for your own individuality and difference. May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique,That you have a special destiny here,That, behind the facade of your life, there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God sees you in every moment. And may the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, And the rain fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Light To Our Nation (John Walsh)
“I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” (Is 49:6) This solemn promise was first made by God to the Suffering Servant of the Lord. We find St Paul and St Barnabas using it to justify their mission to the gentiles, and our own national apostle, St Patrick, quotes it in his Confession as the reason he came to preach the gospel of Christ among the Irish, and that despite having undergone at their hands six years of harsh captivity as a slave. Out of suffering and evil God can bring good, and Patrick never ceased thanking God for the way his ordeals reshaped his character and gave him a new purpose in life. It was the Holy Spirit especially who enabled him to survive those six years without bitterness or feeling of revenge towards his captors. “There I sought him,” he wrote, “and there I found him. I am convinced that he kept me from all evil, because of his Spirit who lives in me and works in me to this day.” This conviction led to a far deeper reverene and love for God, which manifested itself especially in his prayer-life.
In the course of a day he would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many at night; and whether there was snow, frost or rain he would rise before dawn to commune with God. This in turn led to mystical experiences, a number of which are recalled in the Confession. For example he received messages in his sleep from God, telling him that he would shortly return to his own country, and later again he was urged to set off because a ship was ready to bring him there. Then there is the well documented account of how he heard in the night the voices of people in Ireland calling out to him, and beseeching him to “come and walk once more among them.” There was especially an extraordinary experience of his where he, as it were, saw a person praying within him. “I was, as it seemed, inside my own body,” he wrote, “and I heard him over me, that is over the inner man. There he was, praying with great fervour. All the while I was in a state of wonder as to who could possibly be praying inside me. He spoke, howevr, when his prayer had ended, telling me he was the Spirit.”
The only explanation Patrick could think of, for this supernatural experience, came from his recollection of St Paul’s words (Rom 8:26), “The Spirit also helps us in our weakness. For when we are unable to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself pleads for us in a way that could never be put into words.” The courage displayed by Patrick in returning to Ireland, where he would face many difficulties, persecutions, insults, even contrived opposition to his appointment as bishop, was mainly due to the influential role in his life played by the Holy Spirit. Particularly disturbing was the action of a once dear friend of his who tried to discredit him by circulating a defamatory document setting out details of a boyhood misdemeanour confided to him by Patrick, who at the time was barely fifteen years old. What it was we do not know, but the whole thing was blown up out of all proportion, in order to bring disgrace on Patrick, then an old man.
God, however, did not abandon him, but reassured him in a vision saying, “We have seen with disapproval the face of the chosen one deprived of his good name.” True to character, Patrick did not yield to bitterness towards his accusers, but rather had deep-felt sorrow for the man to whom, in his own words, he had confided his soul, a man he continued to describe as his dearest friend. Although he could not condone his treachery, pardon him he did. Today, we the spiritual offspring of St Patrick are confronted with various problems in our own era. For there is a marked drift away from a religious understanding of life, and towards a purely materialistic concept of what our earthly goals should be, something which accompanied the collapse of many a great civilisation in history.
With growing problems of alcohol and drug abuse, violence – in particular against the defenceless and elderly – increased suicide among young men, the enforced subservience, akin to slavery, of so many to crime bosses, the collapse of marriage and family ties, it is hardly any wonder that there is talk of a near breakdown of society in many quarters, especially among the underprivileged. To counter such we could well copy St Patrick’s belief in the power of prayer, a belief that brought him such inner freedom, dedication to the call of God, and such trust in the active presence of the Holy Spirit. For by these he once opened a door before us which no one can ever close.
Symbol Or Saint (Liam Swords)
A master of one-upmanship. With great ease and sharp wit he demolished his English and Scottish counterpart. He wins in the witty tales what he loses in the rat-race of daily life. Perhaps the creation of an inferiority-complex, of a conquered race. He has all the qualities attributed to the Irish Paddies themselves. A sharp wit, a quick tongue, a fertile imagination, a pride in physical strength and alcoholic capacity. A rough living, hard drinking, devil tearing, gregarious bull of a man. On his back were built the roads and railroads of half the world. A friendly son of St Patrick!
There were other builders too who carried his name. The sons and daughters of institutions. The later generations of the Irish diaspora. More respectable, more respectful but still brash and boastful. They built cathedrals and parish churches, hospitals and schools. And they called their institutions and their children after him. There was a lot of nostalgia for the “oul sod” in them and a lot of “look what we have achieved” in their monuments. And by their efforts St Patrick became middle class – a gentleman, no less!
But all this trafficking of Patrick at home and abroad has exacted a price. And this is not surprising in a country where religion is nationalistic and nationalism a religion. Patrick has become a national symbol and the man who, single-handed, converted the Irish has been well and truly buried beneath fifteen hundred years of national pride. “It’s a great day for the Irish,” we sing on St Patrick’s day. A national holiday.
Our ambassadors present heads of State with sprigs of shamrock. Our exiles paint the traffic lines on Fifth Avenue green. And upon all this celebration we expect the saint to “bestow a sweet smile.” It is the Irish we are honouring, not St Patrick.
Scholars argue interminably over the Patrician question. But the real Patrician question is concerned with separating the man from the myth, the saint from the symbol. Whoever it was converted the Irish virtually single-handed, from the bottom rather than from the top, in the teeth of a highly established Druidic religion, and all that without a single drop of martyr’s blood being shed, which produced such an extraordinary harvest of saintly monasticism and which survived fifteen hundred years, centuries of which were of violent and systematic persecution – whoever it was, must have been a man of outstanding human qualities, and singular sanctity. A man worth remembering, a saint worth honouring.
Courageous he must undoubtedly have been and energetic too. A man of great faith and strong feet. But in an age, which prefers action to adoration and protest to prayer, it might be worth remembering that Patrick was above all a man of prayer. And that the last great non-violent revolution in this country was the work of a man who wrote of himself: “The love of God and the fear of him increased more and more and my faith grew and my spirit was stirred up, so that in a single day I prayed as often as a hundred times and by night almost as frequently, even while I was in the woods or on the mountain.”
The real Patrician question is concerned with separating the man from the myth, the saint from the symbol. Whoever it was converted the Irish virtually single-handed, from the bottom rather than from the top, in the teeth of a highly-established Druidic religion, and all that without a single drop of martyr’s blood being shed, which produced such an extraordinary harvest of saintly monasticism and which survived fifteen hundred years, centuries of which were of violent and systematic persecution – whoever it was, must have been a man of outstanding human qualities, and singular sanctity. A man worth remembering, a saint worth honouring.
Courageous he must undoubtedly have been and energetic too. A man of great faith and strong feet. But in an age which prefers action to adoration and protest to prayer, it might be worth remembering that Patrick was above all a man of prayer. And that the last great non-violent revolution in this country was the work of a man who wrote of himself: “The love of God and the fear of him increased more and more and my faith grew and my spirit was stirred up, so that in a single day I prayed as often as a hundred times and by night almost as frequently, even while I was in the woods or on the mountain.”
First Reading: Jer 1:4-9
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
Second Reading: Acts 13:46-49
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Geniles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.
Gospel: Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned – sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.