Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Saint Patrick’s Parade Day Mass – March 9, 2019
First of all, I am delighted to welcome all of you – the wonderful faithful people who are the Church of Scranton – and so many others – who join us for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on a day when everybody is Irish! … Welcome to your house – to your church! … I especially want to recognize and welcome so many priests, deacons and religious sisters – members of the parade committee and those being honored during today’s parade – representatives of Irish societies and organizations – our civic leaders – and especially our devoted public servants, members of the military, policemen, firemen, first responders and so many others who serve our community and our country so generously and selflessly. Thank you for taking the time to begin this great parade day with prayer – precisely the way in which Saint Patrick would expect us to begin.
In putting together some thoughts for today’s liturgy, in addition to reflecting upon the scriptures that incidentally are the chosen Lenten readings of the Church for Saturday after Ash Wednesday, I did what every preacher likely does in advance of a rather unique event at which a sermon is to be given – like our parade mass this morning. I scanned the internet for any new insights into the revered saint whom we honor in so many ways during these days of March. And much to my surprise, I came upon a recently written article by an historian of medieval Ireland. It was titled, Ten Things to Know About the Real Saint Patrick.
Not to worry. I certainly don’t plan to focus on all ten items. Frankly, some of them are hardly new things to consider. By now, most of us know that Saint Patrick was born in Britain – not Ireland. … What I never knew and found rather interesting the fact that Patrick likely never drove any snakes from Ireland – for the simple reason that there weren’t any snakes on that little green island in the north Atlantic, at least not in pre-Modern Ireland. Patrick is most probably associated with driving the snakes from Ireland because snakes were often worshipped in many old pagan religions, something that he was able to put an end to by his preaching and teaching.
By far, the most interesting and surprising thing that I discovered in Saint Patrick’s “top ten” list was that – at least according to the scholar who authored the work – Saint Patrick never mentioned a shamrock in any of his writings. The shamrock connection was first mentioned in print by an English visitor to Ireland in 1684 (it’s always the English!), who wrote that on Saint Patrick’s feast day, the Irish “wear shamrocks, 3 leav’d grass, which they likewise eat to cause a sweet breath,” the Englishman noted, “since very few of them are found sober that night.” … Now really! Who’d ever believe something as outrageous as that assertion? Eating a shamrock! … Just goes to show that you ought not believe everything you read on the internet.
Yet, one thing is very clear, my friends. Despite all of the theories that we can dispute regarding Patrick’s life and ministry, what we do as we gather to pray in this great Cathedral Church today is where the greatest and most verifiable legacy of Saint Patrick is to be found.
We’re gathered as family and friends to celebrate the Eucharist and to give thanks to God for the gift of faith that God gave to Ireland – and to the world – through the blessing of Saint Patrick, through his trust in God’s providence and though his willingness to selflessly love and serve the people God entrusted to his care.
Over 1500 years ago, we’re told by Patrick himself that he was taken as a slave to Ireland where he looked after animals until he escaped and returned to his family. Years later, because of a love for God born of that adversity, Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, compelled in his heart by God to share the Gospel message and the gift of faith that he’d been given.
And look at what that message of faith – passed down to us through the ages – has done. It has become the very source of our life – our hope – our love – and our peace as we journey through life.
Today’s gospel focuses our attention on the call of Levi – also known as Matthew – the unlikely tax collector called by God to preach the Gospel message. In the call of Matthew, it’s clear that he was challenged by God to be more than he was. He was called by Jesus to do the work of God!
Saint Patrick was also challenged to do and to be more than he could have ever imagined for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. And you and I are challenged as well – challenged to open our hearts – to live the gospel message – to respect and cherish life in all of its forms, born and unborn – to serve our brothers and sisters in need – to welcome new immigrants just as our ancestors were welcomed to this land – and to be the hands and heart and voice of God for a world that so desperately needs to experience God’s love and mercy.
God depended upon Matthew and Patrick to build his kingdom. And God is counting on you and me to do the same.
My friends, today our celebrations in this Cathedral, during the parade and beyond, witness joyfully to the legacy of Saint Patrick – a legacy that is nothing less than the strength, power and love of Christ. This legacy, however, ought not to be celebrated but once a year. Rather, it is to be lived in our homes and neighborhoods, in our workplaces and schools, in every place where human hearts need to be touched by the love of Jesus – even and especially this day, in my life and yours! … To live the gospel message with authenticity and fidelity is the greatest tribute that we could offer to this great saint – Patrick – whose life and ministry we celebrate this day!