Dear Friends in Christ:
This weekend we remember the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick. Because his feast day falls on a Sunday, the liturgical commemoration is superseded by the Second Sunday of Lent. One cannot think of St. Patrick and not think about the Irish. However, St. Patrick himself would probably think that we are all wrong. While there is no doubt of his great love for the Irish people, they were not his first love. God was and is. Being of Irish ancestry myself, I take great pride in my heritage. Irish pride was instilled in me from an early age. What was also instilled in me was what made the Irish great: their love of God and devotion to the Catholic faith. The same can be said for many Irish, those in Ireland and those who are of Irish ancestry and descent. Sadly and regrettably, there are many in Ireland and many of Irish descent, who today dishonor St. Patrick and what he loved and lived for. Today, the Irish Republic and many of the Irish have turned their backs on God, their Catholic faith, and the history of the devotion of their ancestors.
The story of Ireland and her people, grand and glorious as it is, is also one of suffering and persecution. The legacy of the Irish is how they suffered, struggled, and overcame adversity against tremendous odds. The suffering of the Irish was tied to their love of God and fidelity to their Catholic faith. Like Jesus tempted in the desert, in the midst of hunger and deprivation, they were given the choice to abandon their Catholic faith for earthly satisfaction, power and privilege. Stories are told of those who in shame abandoned their Catholic faith by “dipping into the soup”. On the whole, Ireland remained faithful in times of trial and trouble, suffering and pain. As the Irish spread throughout the world in search of a better life, they remained true to their faith. The faithfulness of the Irish to their Catholic faith is attested in the famous hymn, Faith of Fathers. This hymn had a special version for Ireland written by the English composer and convert, Frederick Faber.
Sadly those days have passed. Today the Irish nation and many people of Irish ancestry have turned their backs on God and the Catholic Church. They have abandoned Jesus, His Blessed Mother, the Catholic faith, and all that their ancestors suffered, lived and died for. The Irish state today has traded God for convenience, material prosperity, and conformity to the values of this age. They have traded their Catholic faith for sexual ideologies, abortion, and false notions of freedom. There are certainly many faithful Irish who continue to love God and are faithful to his Church, but their numbers are shrinking. Much of the deterioration of the faith in Ireland is a backlash against the power exercised and how the faith was perceived. There is no doubt that many who represented the Catholic Church in Ireland in many instances failed to live up to the standards of our faith and misused their power and position in the Church and in Irish society. For many, being Catholic was little more than a cultural or ethnic marker rather a living relationship with Jesus Christ. What made the Church and the faith collapse so quickly and dramatically is that it was already so weak and shallow in so many hearts.
The truth of our Catholic faith is not weak and shallow, but it can be lived that way. When being Catholic is nothing more than a label, we are in trouble. When faith is not a living relationship with God in Jesus, expressed with conviction and integrity, we are in trouble. It is an irony that Catholicism in Ireland was strong in times of persecution but today, in times of prosperity, God is forgotten. But we should not be too surprised. This is not just the story of the Irish, it is also the story of ancient Israel. In times of trouble, they reverted back to the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, The God who saved them from the bonds of slavery in Egypt and led to the Promised Land, the God who fed them with manna in the desert and defended and delivered them from their foes. However, in times of plenty, they turned their back on the Lord and sought out foreign gods and themselves as the objects of their devotion. But God in his love and mercy, gave them the prophets to call them back. The prophets not only warned the people of the consequences of infidelity but extended God’s promise of a savior. That is also the lesson for all humanity.
This Lent as in every Lent, the Lord through his Church calls us to “Repent and believe in the Good News!” We are called to conversion, to renew and live in relationship with God. We are called to live not for ourselves but to live for the Lord, so that like St. Paul, we can say “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me!” Gal. 2:20. That is our greatest calling and cause of all our joys. To do that is the greatest honor to the life and memory of St. Patrick whether we are Irish or not!
In pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately