St Patrick's Day 2018 - Homily - Bishop Donal McKeown

St Patrick's Day 2018 - Homily - Bishop Donal McKeown

March 17th fulfils various roles. On this island and around the world, it has become a celebration of Irishness and has been moulded to suit a new image of Ireland. In NI, like everything else, it is tinged with our unique political situation of contrasting identities. But for us we gather to celebrate the work of God in a man who was Irish only by adoption.

Those who are wise in their own day have something to teach later generations. So what is Patrick's wisdom for today?

Firstly, the Romans called Ireland 'Hibernia', a word taken from the Celtic but one that sounded familiar to their word for 'winter'. Thus we have the word 'hibernate'. When he came to Ireland as a missionary, Patrick did not speak merely about a rival God but about a different view the person. The fire that he lit on the Hill of Tara sought to bring light and heat, to create a fresh springtime in a land of winter. The Church he promoted quickly developed its own rugged identity, art and beauty

That Church has had he duty to bring light and warmth into the wintry corners of Ireland, then and now. St Patrick's descendants have often gone to the peripheries, places in Europe in early times and to Africa, Asia and the Americas in recent centuries. As we celebrate this saint, we have to ask where the wintry lands of today are – and whether we are loyally getting out there to them.

So, today this feast asks me two uncomfortable questions. In what way is the Irish Church bringing – or failing to bring - light and warmth into modern Ireland, especially into those places where we have brought coldness and sought to keep things in the dark? Do we have anything to offer to modern Ireland to make it a warm house for those on the peripheries?

And in what way can Ireland bring warmth to a harsh world? Will we just join in with the others who threaten to make Europe a cold house for refugees, the homeless and the unborn? Will we let our principles define our identity – or will we change our strong principles in order to fit into a new identity, fashioned by forces based elsewhere? Do the descendants of Patrick have anything useful to offer the world as we have done for centuries?

Secondly, Patrick created an identity that was not inward looking but went out.

Down through the centuries it contributed to a richly varied Europe, where, despite a multiplicity of languages, there was a shared language about good and truth and beauty.

Patrick was not a patriotic nationalist. He lived before the idea of the nation state. Ireland was an island, not a nation – and he was a foreigner in Ireland

He – and the Church he built up - brought Christ, not a French or British Christ or an Irish Christ at the service of political power. Too many people have died – and continue to die – on the altars of competing nationalisms around the world. A united Ireland without a heart will be a cold place. To have an Ireland worthy of Patrick, we need a new heart and not just new political structures. And currently i wonder where that heart is going to come from. If – in the words of Viktor Frankl – Western culture gives us the means by which to live but not a meaning for which to live, a united Ireland that is merely a sophisticated market place will stand for nothing and fall for anything.

Thirdly, Patrick defined himself at the beginning of his Confessio as peccator rusticissimus, a most unlearned sinner. He knew mercy and forgiveness in his own life. He knew the God who had forgiven him and he forgave the Irish who captured him.

Does our local church know where it needs to be forgiven and to accept the truth spoken by its critics? Does the Irish Church make the mercy of God and not the desire for our national or sectional pride dominate? Only by humbly acknowledging the truth about our sinfulness can we allow God to work in us. It is in our weakness that God's strength and not ours will be seen.

Ireland will be a good country as long as it cheerfully brings its riches to the world

-A love of life and family

-A desire for justice

-Solidarity with underdog

It will not be faithful to Patrick if we let ourselves be defined only by the values of the market place.

On this feast of St Patrick, we pray for something of his wisdom, determination and courage. Patrick came with a prophetic voice to a cold land. He would ask whether we still have one.

+Donal McKeown

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St Patrick's Church, Pennyburn, Derry

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