Homily for St Patrick’s Day 2021
by Dom Brian Gerard Kelly OSB
Growing up in Ireland, memories of St Patrick’s’ Day are always ones of great joy and excitement. We were very aware that it was first and foremost a religious celebration, a Holy Day of Obligation. Even when the day falls on a Sunday, St. Patrick takes precedence – Ireland enjoys a special privilege from Rome for this. The only exception is when March 17 happens to fall in Holy Week, in which case it is postponed until after Easter. Shamrock – a type of 3-leaved clover – was worn by everyone and caused great joy if it came from your own garden growing wild. The significance of it, which we all learned in school, was due to the legend that one day St Patrick used a piece of shamrock to give a simple illustration of the mystery of the Holy Trinity – 3 leaves in one stem. Children all delighted to get a St Patrick’s Day badge to wear – usually depicting either the Saint or an Irish Harp or some other symbol of the country. All went to mass in the morning proudly wearing their badge surrounded with a bunch of real shamrock. Then later in the day we all went to enjoy the pageantry of the local St Patrick’s Day parade. The main one was always in Dublin – usually with some parade bands from New York – which we could watch later on tv.
A hymn that we all learned in school was one that supposedly has its origins in the eighth century: Dochas Linn Naomh Padraig … not that we young children really understood its meaning.
Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig, Aspal mór na hÉireann,
St Patrick is a hope for us, great Apostle of Ireland,
Ainm oirearc gléigeal, solas mór an tsaoil é.
Illustrious, glorious name, he is the great light of the world.
Then depending on the version, there either followed lines depicting the Saints return to Ireland to spread the Gospel of love freeing all from the bondage of slavery – he who had been kept for years as a slave in captivity – or lines reminiscent of Our Lady and her Manificat telling how the Saint defeated the druids and brought down the proud through the strength of God.
Patrick himself tells is that he was not an educated person – “a sinner without learning”, he claimed. Like the fishermen of Galilee, Our Lord did not choose him for his great learning. But having been in captivity in Ireland for 6 years he got to know Irish, an obvious advantage over those who might have been more learned and sent in his place. He had heard the voice of the Irish in a dream calling upon him to walk among them again. But at the end of his confessions he tells us:
“I testify in truth and in great joy of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which I had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises.”
Sadly, now today Ireland is in great need of apostles to walk in the footsteps of St Patrick and undertake the work of its re-evangelisation. It seems as if the tides of secularization worse than paganism have swept through the land. And how quickly too this has happened. May Our Lord raise up again disciples for Ireland inspired by the life of St Patrick to undertake this work. And May Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, intercede on behalf of her children to bring them and keep them and indeed all of us in the one sheepfold of her Son.
Iarr’maid ort, a Phádraig, guí orainn na Gaela,
We ask you, Patrick, pray for us Irish,
Dia linn lá ‘gus oíche ‘s Pádraig Aspal Éireann.
God and St Patrick Apostle of Ireland be with us day and night.