The homily published below will be presented by Archbishop Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, today (July 26) in Saint Mary`s Church, Westport, Co Mayo, at 6.30 pm.
Croagh Patrick, Ireland`s holy mountain, (2,510ft/765m) lies within the parish of Westport about 8km outside of the town. Croagh Patrick dominates the landscape of southwest Mayo both spiritually and physically. The Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is associated with Saint Patrick who, in 441AD, spent 40 days and nights fasting on the summit, following the example of Christ and Moses. The name “Reek Sunday” comes from Patrick’s ability to Christianize many pagan customs including the festival of Lughnasa, which previously had heralded the start of the harvest festival honoring the ancient pagan god Lugh, whose name is encompassed in the Irish word for August: Lughnasa. The festival’s tradition became absorbed into the new Christian beliefs and locally become known as Domhnach na Cruaiche (Reek Sunday). The Reek pilgrimage has been undertaken for 1,500 years and an estimated 100,000 pilgrims visit the holy mountain annually. A virtual tour of the mountain can be viewed on the website of the Archdiocese of Tuam www.tuamarchdiocese.org and further information can be found on the Westport parish www.westportparish.ie
A very different Reek Sunday
In other years we would be preparing for the National Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick. This year for obvious reasons we have had to cancel the pilgrimage. And while the possibility of climbing Ireland’s Holy Mountain is not possible this year, I encourage those who had hoped to do so to still attend Mass, write petitions, and go to Confession in your own parishes. Such faith practice is very important in order to keep these important links with this year’s Reek Sunday.
Pilgrimage of Thanksgiving 2021
Yet, as we mark the occasion here, and as we look forward to a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to the summit of Croagh Patrick next year, we have a very valuable opportunity to reflect on the implications of our faith in what has been, and possibly what will continue to be, a time of change and challenge for all of us.
A time for …
On the 27 March 2020, in an empty Saint Peter’s Square, Rome, Pope Francis acknowledged that this is
“a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to the Lord and to others”.
The waves and patterns of human life
In many respects, human life moves from a time of orientation to disorientation or dislocation and on to a new orientation. These broad categories may be helpful as we reflect on where we had been prior to the onslaught of Covid-19, where we are now and the chilling challenge confronting us in the future.
The time of orientation
In the time of orientation, we had a sense of being in control of situations. Ease of mobility, unrestricted travel, and an economy at near full employment presented us with a world that was largely predictable. The experience of disorientation with the arrival of Covid-19 was sudden, sharp, unsympathetic, and, for many, shattering. As we work our way through it with the help of our faith in the Lord and the support of others, we begin to catch glimpses of a new, and potentially very positive phase of re-orientation.
As we reflect on life prior to the coronavirus, perhaps we are now in a better position to assess the values which influenced and determined our way of life and the ways in which we may have been seduced by a consumerist culture where artificially created needs contributed to over-production of goods which were aggressively advertised to convey the illusion of fulfillment, happiness, and success. The market economy held sway, we insisted on our rights – possibly at times to the neglect of our responsibilities. Our utilitarian approach was being challenged in various ways as we were encouraged to focus on other parts of our world and on the planet itself as the resources of the environment were abused. People`s identity was frequently defined by possessions, prestige and performance. The marginalization of faith and religious values tended to deprive us of our critical faculties. It was relatively easy to adopt a legalistic approach and thereby dismiss the challenge of our faith. One glaring example of this was our attitude towards the Sabbath. Yet, properly understood the Sabbath draws lines of dignity and respect around people and challenges the producer-consumer mentality. The recent “lockdown” has made us aware of the speed at which we were moving and the busyness of our lives.
A time of disorientation and dislocation
Covid-19 exploded on our world and scattered like shrapnel all over the globe. Disruption, disillusionment and death confronted us. Restricted mobility, loss of employment, inability to visit with family and friends, worship with others in sacred places, sporting events and social interaction all suffered. The microscopic virus had effectively shut down the whole world. The results will be far-reaching in terms of physical, psychological, emotional health, and well-being as well as for the economy. Our fragility and vulnerability have been exposed; our confidence is shattered.
A time of re-orientation
This is a huge challenge to our faith. Yet, as we cope with the present crisis we witness signs of a new period of re-orientation beginning to emerge. This challenge has brought out the best in people, awakening our need for and appreciation of connectivity and community. Goodness, generosity, and gentleness have been expressed in neighborliness, voluntarism, and the huge sacrifices made by individuals and families. Our faith will not provide easy answers, yet faith will help to provide perspective which will enable us to address the challenges.
We cannot and should not expect to return to where we had been prior to Covid-19. Therefore, it is important for us to ask what have we learned in our recent experience? Has our independence been called into question? Where is the Lord in all of this? Are we open to receive and foster the newness, solidarity and values which are emerging, or are we endeavoring to return to our pre-Covid ways?
A hopeful sign of re-orientation
One fruit of the Covid-19 experience I hope has at least begun to blossom is a newfound understanding and appreciation of the centrality and importance of the Sabbath in our lives. While it was necessary for pastoral reasons to lift the obligation to attend Mass each Sunday during the pandemic, the human need to set aside a dedicated day for God each week, and the human need to rest from the non-essential tasks assigned to the other days of the week, remain. As I indicated earlier, the whole thrust of the Sabbath is a positive one, and as Jesus reminds us in Saint Mark’s Gospel, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. (Mk. 2:27)
God brings order out of chaos (Gen. 1:1-31; Col. 1:15-17)
That being said, as hope-filled people, we commit ourselves to welcoming and contributing to the decisive transformation made possible by a God who brings order out of chaos, light out of darkness, and new life out of situations where none seemed possible. A new orientation will require that we welcome what Pope Francis called “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not, it is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to the Lord and to others”.
The view from the summit
Croagh Patrick, as a pilgrimage, enables and encourages us to isolate the important from the unimportant. It highlights our fragility, our vulnerability, and at the same time, it enables us to catch a glimpse of and appreciate the bigger world, its beauty, and our responsibility as we support each other on our journey towards the summit and on our life’s journey. Amen.