This homily was given by Bishop Paul McAleenan at a service of remembrance in St Patrick’s Chapel, Westminster Cathedral on the eve of the Feast of All Saints of Ireland, 5th November 2019.
All the saints of Ireland
Each year we commemorate all the saints of Ireland. It is good that this year we celebrate in this chapel of St Patrick, the spiritual ancestor not only of all Irish saints but of Irish people. Only four of those Saints of Ireland were canonised, St Malachy, St Lawrence O’Toole, St Oliver Plunkett and St Charles of Mount Argus. All others, over three hundred, were acclaimed and declared saints by their contemporaries, by those with whom they associated because of the inspiration and manner of life. The manner of their lives was inspirational and memorable, recognized as worth following. To be regarded a saint by one who knew you personally is a great tribute, it is statement of one’s profound and positive contribution to life. Those who watch and listen to the saints can have their vision widened and become aware of a bigger and better way of life.
Closely connected with sainthood is the desire to grow not only in holiness but in knowledge, to come closer to the God of truth, the God who knows everything. To learn more about him and his ways. The saints of Ireland displayed their commitment to Christ in various ways. Some of them through learning, scholarship, through their search for truth. In that time in history known as the Dark Ages they kept the flame of truth alive, a flame that was to spread across Europe. Books were written, Gospels reproduced. They inspired craftsmen to manufacture beautiful chalices, their beauty reflecting the faith that Christ is present in the sacraments and his blood would be contained in the chalices they made.
Celtic spirituality was marked by a sense of sacredness in another person which determined how you approached another. The word, ‘Hello’ as a greeting did not exist in the Gaelic language. Instead the standard greeting was ‘Dia Dhuit’, ‘God be to you’. The response being, ‘Dia is Mhuire Dhuit’, ‘God and Mary be with you’. Such a tradition arose from that sense of the all-pervading presence of God, which the Irish saints possessed.
Times of course change. Ireland is different from those centuries from 600 to around 1100 when the saints flourished. But history cannot be undone or denied or wiped out. Those virtues of welcome and hospitality became engrained in the fabric of Irish society thanks to the saints. Those foundations laid by the saints to some extent still remain.
One thing that all saints have in common is that they are happy, they possess a joy. When one is happy you want to share what you have, you want others to know what you know. One consequence of that attitude is that many Irish saints travelled from their homeland taking with them the message of the Gospel. They did so precisely because they were motivated by that desire to introduce others to the God who had brought such meaning and joy to their own lives.
Published: 8th November 2019