Homily - St. Patrick's Day Vigil Mass
Solemnity of St. Patrick, Patron of the Diocese of Bathurst
Edited text of the Homily given by Bishop Michael McKenna in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. John at the Vigil Mass on 16 March 2015
“It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message: all who were destined for eternal life became believers.”(Acts 13:48)
If you have faith today, where did it come from? For many of us, our parents were the first teachers of faith. If their ancestry was Irish, you can trace the handing on of the faith you have received back to St. Patrick who brought the message of the Gospel to the pagans of Ireland one and a half thousand years ago.
But Patrick’s dramatic story is not just for those who claim Irish heritage. He is one of the great figures in the history of the Church. His story tells us what it means to become Christian: and that the power contained in the message we preach is a person: Jesus Christ.
Patrick was born at the end of the fifth century, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, somewhere in western Britain. Although he was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest, as a teenager Patrick was superficial in his faith and careless in his prayers. When he was 16, he was captured by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. During the six years of his captivity, having lost everything, he discovered that he had not lost God. He came to a new knowledge of God’s love and closeness to him. Then, after a perilous escape, safely home again with his family, he heard the people of Ireland calling him back. So he set off on a new hard road to be ordained and commissioned to return there and preach the Gospel. The rest is history – mixed in with a few legends!
Today, I will take two of the lessons from Patrick’s life that are worth thinking about today.
The first is from his own reflections. He saw his experience of exile like that of the chosen people. At home they were thoughtless of God and unfaithful. Only in exile and deprivation did they discover faith.
The second is one that we can take from the vantage point of history. In Patrick’s lifetime, the proud, well-organised Roman Empire began to fall apart and descend into chaos. It was nominally Christian, but like the young Patrick, superficial in faith and careless in prayer. At the same time, Ireland, which had been afflicted with the fears and superstitions, the mistrust and strife of pagan societies, began, through the coming of the Gospel to emerge from chaos into peace.
St. Patrick, pray for us today.