Just a Thought…
With this being the First Sunday of the Lenten season and also the weekend we honor and celebrate our patron, Patrick, and the gift of the Irish, I could not help but think of the first time I went to Ireland back in 1995. Matthew’s Gospel today of Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert for 40 days caused me to remember the one experience of that Hurley-trip to the Emerald Isle that put me in touch with not only this desert experience of Jesus, but a similar one for Patrick as well. Tradition says that Patrick would frequent a mountain called “The Reek” (the third highest mountain in Ireland), located today in what is County Mayo and it was here that he would spend 40 days in fasting and prayer. The last Sunday of July is known as Reek Sunday and more than 15,000 pilgrims make their way to climb Croagh Patrick for prayer.
At the mistaken advice of our tour guide, “Sean” told us that climbing Croagh Patrick and returning to the bus would take all of about 40 minutes. In reality, it took us about three hours to both ascend and descend, ever so carefully I might add! It was a rough journey to say the least! This is not some small hill; we’re talking major-league mountain! What captured my attention on our trip to Croagh Patrick was not only the steep incline of the mountain and the large boulders we had to maneuver with every step, but more impressive were the “real” pilgrims climbing in their bare feet. I had never seen someone do that before! And there were multiple people that day climbing and struggling shoeless to the top in the same fashion.
I remember thinking to myself as I complained of being tired and my shoe-covered feet feeling sore as I marveled at my barefoot neighbors (most of whom were a lot older than me!): wow, this is so real for them. Walking (or climbing) in the footsteps of our ancestors; that is what they are doing. And I think to myself as we come together annually to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: that is what we are doing too!
I cannot imagine St. Patrick made his way to that holy place and chose 40 days of fasting just for the heck of it. We have every reason to believe, which is why we gather this weekend, that Patrick chose a place of prayer and solitude and fasting for 40 days because the story and life of Jesus was real for him too. A life of mission and a life dedicated to proclaiming the ever-abiding love of Jesus Christ was the very real passion of Patrick. As a missionary, Patrick creatively, boldly, and courageously lived this real unconditional love of God in to the world.
Today, as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, that is our mission as well. We honor the ancestors of our families, our cultures, and those who have gathered in this Church for the past century and a half because they believed in a love so real. Thank you for being here today and for engaging again the mysteries of the Risen Christ whose promising love we are called to live as we continue climbing and walking the face of the Earth!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
Fr. Tom Hurley