Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Saint Patrick’s Day Mass – March 17, 2018
Back in the mid-1990’s, I was on retreat at Mount Savior Monastery in upstate New York. While meandering through the monastery bookstore one day, one of the monks approached me and strongly recommended a recently published book entitled How the Irish Saved Civilization. I’m certain that not a few of you are quite familiar with this publication.
Frankly, not having any roots on that little green island in the north Atlantic, I had a bit of a problem with the title of the book. But that’s another story! … Suffice it to say, however, that rooted in the book’s premise is the looming figure of Patrick, the saint whose memory we honor this day.
Thomas Cahill, the book’s author, wrote that Ireland of the early fifth century was a brooding, dank island whose inhabitants, while carefree and warlike on the outside, lived in fear of sudden death and the insubstantiality of their world. Cahill asserted, however, that the Bishop, Patrick, provided “a living alternative” to the struggling people of Ireland. He was a serene man “in whom the sharp fear of death has been smoothed away.” The Christianity he proposed to the Irish people succeeded because it took away dread from the magical world that they had previously embraced and gave them hope in the loving and forgiving God revealed in Jesus Christ.
But how did Patrick accomplish do all of this? After all, when he arrived in Ireland to preach to her people, he came with virtually no resources and with only a handful of co-workers. While his accomplishments are the stuff of legend, in reality they were the result of one thing: prayer. Patrick wrote this in his confessions: “God showed me how to have faith in him forever, as one who is never to be doubted. He answered my prayer in such a way that… I might be bold enough to take up this holy and wonderful task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had destined to be heralds of His Gospel.”
You see, Patrick understood well the words from St. Luke’s Gospel proclaimed just a moment ago, “Do not be afraid.” And he wasn’t. Like Peter, James and John and all of those who first heard the voice of Jesus call their names, Patrick left everything, embraced the life and mission of the Lord and imparted to the people of Ireland the gift of faith in the living God.
That’s what the grace of God did in the life of Patrick and the legacy that lies at the heart of our celebration today. … But how does this same grace and legacy continue to move within our world – in era that is still so very much in need of the power and presence of God? … How does the grace of God move within my life and yours?
The answer is pretty simple. … It moves and grows in much the same way as it did in Patrick’s life. … God’s grace builds upon an openness to his presence that is rooted in hearts that are searching for something more than what this world of ours seems to offer. … It grows through prayer and a willingness to look beyond ourselves to serve the people God places within our lives.
Indeed, God’s transforming grace brings us to a deeper sense of meaning, purpose and peace when we are wise enough and selfless enough to do the work of the gospel and to pattern our lives on the life of Jesus. Saint John Paul II captured this reality best when he visited Ireland in 1979. Listen to his words:
“For all that we learn from Saint Patrick, what I really want you to realize is this: that God counts on you: that he makes his plans, in a way, depend on your free collaboration … and on the generosity with which you follow the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.” … Pope Francis puts these sentiments in other words: “To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person the face of the Lord and serving him concretely. And you, my friends, are the face of Jesus.”
My brothers and sisters, the words of Saint John Paul II, of Pope Francis, and of this prayerful celebration witness joyfully to the true legacy of Saint Patrick – a legacy that affirms nothing less than the strength, power and love of Christ at work in our lives. … In bringing that love concretely to every human heart in need and that longs to be treated with respect and dignity – far more than in the green that we wear or in the shamrocks that we carry this day – we discover the finest tribute that we can offer in gratitude for the blessing of Patrick, the great saint of Ireland.