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Mass for the Irish Community 2012: Archbishop Conti’s homily

Homily from St Patrick's feast day celebrations at St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow, March 17 2012

Mass for the Irish Community 2012 My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, sons and daughters of St Patrick,

Today is a day in which we celebrate something very precious to us – namely our identity.

Identity is formed in several ways of course. We see ourselves as children of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and sons and daughter of our Holy Mother the Church. But our native land completes that identity, enriching it with traditions and culture, memories and emotions.

Coming to this building today, your identity as an Irish community is confirmed in all those ways. This building in which we stand, now renewed and restored, was built almost 200 years ago with a view to providing a spiritual “home from home” from the ever-increasing numbers of Irish families arriving in Glasgow.

That influx had a profound impact on the culture and tradition and history of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and it is an impact for which we are grateful in so many ways.

Your forebears must have felt very comfortable in this building – very much at home, in what would have been an otherwise challenging external environment that was not without hostility and prejudice.

Today, I hope you feel similarly at home here. I use that word advisedly because I hope you consider this Church building, as well as this Church community your home!

We do not have to look far to see the evident signs of the Irish influence on this building. Above the sanctuary, the stained glass windows shine with images of St Patrick and St Brigid, next to St Andrew and St Margaret. The Archbishop’s cathedra or chair is flanked on one side by St Andrew and on the other by St Patrick, and most recently, we have installed new decorative doors

leading to the sacristy which you will hopefully be able to admire up close after this Mass.

They were conceived as representing the saints of Scotland and Ireland, and I wanted there to be an Irish woman there too, St Brigid on one side along with St Margaret on the other, two strong women of faith, central to each door, flanked by Saints Andrew, Mungo, Ninian and Columba – Columba himself being a shared patron of Scotland and Ireland!

But it is not to admire the beauty of this building that you have come here today. Rather you have come to celebrate that bond which has so formed the Irish people for centuries, namely your Catholic faith.

For many years the Catholics of Ireland were unable to celebrate the Mass in dignified surroundings, buffeted as they were by the winds of persecution and injustice. Mass rocks in remote fields had to serve as your cathedrals, but the solidity of your faith was stronger than the hurricane of persecution and Ireland held firm.

In his memorable visit to Ireland in 1979, Blessed John Paul recalled some of this, and summed it up very neatly as follows. “For the Irish,” he said, “it was always the Mass that mattered”. Indeed it IS always the Mass that matters!

As he got back onto the plane which was to take him on his way from Ireland to the United States on the second leg of that journey he spoke one last time to the people of Ireland and repeated words that he – and you – regarded as an enormous compliment. “Ireland semper fidelis – Ireland, always faithful”.

It seems hardly believable that 33 years have passed since those wonderful days of the Papal visit to Ireland and in that time unforeseeable changes have happened in society – to such an extent that even in modern secular Ireland, heroism is required to stand up for the Catholic faith and all it teaches in the face of a rampant consumerism and individualism which has shaken all of western society to its core.

All around us we hear ideas advanced which seem alien to our understanding of things … unborn and vulnerable life is snuffed out with impunity; attempts are made to disfigure and corrupt our understanding of marriage and family life; the very symbols of our faith – the cross of Christ worn around our necks or on our lapels – is denounced as an offensive sign, one that must remain hidden from public gaze!

What we are really seeing is an attempt to remove Christianity from the public forum; to erase the Christian markers from our path through life and to airbrush our Christian heritage out of our consciousness.

This is not the persecution your forebears experienced as they huddled, shivering, around Mass rocks, but it is a persecution nevertheless, and being more subtle, it is more difficult to resist.

But resist we must, and the greatest weapon we have in our armoury is … fidelity.

Fidelity to the faith of your fathers. Fidelity to the traditions of home and hearth which have distinguished Irish life for centuries. And fidelity to the Mass.

“It is the Mass that matters”… remember the Pope’s words.

Later this year Ireland will host the Eucharistic Congress. Earlier this week in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI received the International Eucharistic Congress Bell. He blessed it and rang it as part of preparations for the event which will take place from June 12 – 17 in Dublin.

The organisers are asking people all around Ireland and round the world to do something similar today. They are calling on people to “Ring for Renewal” on St Patrick’s Day. It is an invitation to pause on the journey of life and reflect on how we can renew as people and as members of the Church as we prepare for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress

I hope to be present in Dublin with my friend, the Archbishop of that city, Diarmuid Martin for that Eucharistic Congress in June and I would encourage as many of you as possible to be there too.

Ireland has need of a renewal of faith, just as each of us, as individuals need our faith renewed. There can be no better opportunity to do that than to travel to Dublin this summer when Ireland’s capital city will become the Statio Orbis – the focus of the whole world, at Croke Park on June 17 for the closing Mass. You will find out more about the Congress in the Catholic press and through your own parishes and I encourage you to participate as best you can.

As I conclude these reflections, I can do no better to sum up than to revisit a hymn that we all bear in our hearts on a day like this – a hymn which has sustained the identity of generations of Irish people down through the years. And I leave you with words written many years ago, but whose message has never been more relevant …

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith, Dear Saint, may thy children resist to the death; May their strength be in meekness, in penance, and prayer, Their banner the Cross, which they glory to bear.


Pic: Paul McSherry

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