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March 17, 2017: Saint Patrick’s Day, 2017: Homily of Bishop Mark O’Connell

ConnemaraOn a day with little to do I was driving a rental car in Connemara, in Ireland near Galway. It is a beautiful spot of green hills and vales, rivers and winding roads. It was the kind of day with no agenda so when I saw a monument on the side of the road I decided to get out and see what it was for. I was especially curious because the spot seemed so utterly peaceful that I wondered what could possibly have happened there. It is in a sort of triangular shape next to a river and it is aged gracefully. There is a plaque on it that reads, “On this site in 1897 nothing happened.”
Analyzing this curious monument, I came up with two conclusions: the first is that it is an Irish joke of sorts noting for the world to see indeed how peaceful a place it was; or second, that something awful was supposed to happen but it never did and so a monument to the prevented calamity showed all that peace prevailed. But I do not know the reason for the monument, but if indeed it be a place a peace I do know that our great Saint Patrick was in some way responsible for he it was that brought the peace of Jesus Christ to every part of Ireland.
Saint Patrick as his story goes was originally from Roman Britain but he was captured and forced into slavery when he was 16. He spent 6 years in captivity tending to the pigs and then he escaped. But far from being the worst part of his life it was during these 6 years that Patrick found his faith and developed a deep prayer life and relationship with God. In fact, it was through a dream or vision that God led him to a ship to escape. The ship brought him to Gaul and from there he studied and became a priest. But God continued to direct him in his prayers and dreams and he felt compelled to go back to Ireland; the land of his captivity, to rescue others by bringing to them the Catholic faith. We are here today because he was such an effective teacher and evangelist that he converted the country.
There is a pattern in his story for all of us to follow. Perhaps we will not be sold into slavery and come back as a bishop to convert a nation, but breaking down the remarkable story of his life we see that he had little to no faith, that he found his faith in the midst of captivity, that through God he escaped his captivity, and finally, that when he had fully recovered and educated himself he went back to rescue others and bring them the Lord.
Where are you on that equation? Are you held captive in some form or way or are you free from whatever bound you in the past by the grace of God and therefore ready to assist those less fortunate like Saint Patrick did; here is what I mean:
Thank God there are fewer in the world that are enslaved but so many people are held captive by something. By “captive” I mean that something we cannot get control over, limits our choices and essentially enslaves us. I think of huge swaths of people who are refugees with no freedom held captive by their race and circumstances. I think of the poor and homeless held captive by their inability to support their families. I think of undocumented immigrants who cannot control the separation of their families. But these are big things that may not apply to you and I in this Cathedral; other personal things hold us captive as well. How many people in our families are held captive by their dependence upon drugs or alcohol? How many of us are held captive by the sinfulness and hatred in our hearts? How many of us are paralyzed by fear? How many of us are held captive by our own busyness or by laziness? How many of us are held captive by our sick and aging bodies?
Saint Patrick found the Lord during his captivity and through prayer found his escape and Jesus offers his hand to you and me. Instead of waiting for whatever it is that binds us go free of its own accord, let us find the Lord amid our pain, for Jesus opens his arms to us upon the cross.
But Saint Patrick did not forget who saved him and Saint Patrick did not forget those he suffered with. Saint Patrick educated himself and courageously marched back in to save those who remained and God was with him so powerfully that here over 1500 years later we still sing his name. So many of us who hear my voice were once captive ourselves or our ancestors were. My own ancestors came to this country from this same country of Ireland and began a life that allows me to be free, do not I owe something to repay that? So many of us have come through difficulties of many sorts to be able to now look back – should we not look back through faith and open ourselves and our arms to those who remain where we were?
It is a call to movement Saint Patrick inspires me by today. A call to rely on the Lord to free the chains that bind us and to give back when we are free. Without the oomph to get started; without the will to change; without the grit to face what needs to be faced, our own monument will be no joke at all for it could say our God gave us life and offered us faith and in 2017 nothing happened.