Reek Sunday 2023

Homily of Archbishop Eamon Martin for Mass on the summit of Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo
  • Archbishop Martin: “To worship unlimited choice is to worship a false god … To be able to discern between good and evil is more important than ever“

Six hundred years before Christ, the city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed and thousands of its inhabitants were forcibly deported far away to Babylon.  During this time of Exile and captivity the Jewish people found themselves surrounded by the trappings and temptations of a powerful foreign culture.  The prophet Isaiah urged them not to forget their heritage and the faith of their fathers. “Look to the rock from which you were hewn”, he wrote, “and to the quarry from which you were dug”.

On Reek Sunday every year we follow in the footsteps of Saint Patrick, and of our ancestors who have climbed this holy mountain since the dawn of Christianity.  Croagh Patrick, represents the rock from which we, the people of Ireland were hewn.  Today’s pilgrimage links our past, present and future and it continues to nurture the spiritual memory and identity of this country.  It is particularly special to celebrate the Eucharist here on top of Croagh Patrick, because the Mass is our greatest act of Christian remembering.  It makes present, here and now, the Paschal Mysteries of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me”.

Tradition tells us that our patron Saint Patrick came to these parts to do penance, to be renewed and to find answers to his deepest struggles and questions.  No doubt this mountain connected him with the time when he was a teenaged victim of human trafficking, a time when he prayed constantly – day and night, in the woods and on the mountain – even in the rain and snow and ice (see Confession 16).

Looking back, Patrick saw his exile and captivity as a bitter, but purifying time – a time when he first turned to God personally with all his heart, and when the spirit of God began to burn within him.  Patrick admits that before his enslavement in Ireland he and his family had drifted away from God and from the practice of their faith.  It seems they had largely forgotten “the rock from which they were hewn”. Patrick tells us they no longer kept God’s commandments and had stopped listening to the advice of their priests on how to be saved.  They had lost the wisdom to distinguish good from evil.

In today’s first reading, when God told Solomon He would give him anything that he wanted, Solomon made a surprising choice.  Rather than selecting riches or power or long life, he said:

“Lord, Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil”.

Young Solomon and young Patrick both knew that such wisdom could stand the test of time.  It was like finding a pearl of great price.  Today, on Ireland’s holy mountain, I pray for that gift from God, for each of us personally, and for our country at this time – the gift of a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil.  Because good builds us up; evil destroys us.

Reek Sunday this year is sandwiched between last Sunday’s World Day of Prayer for grandparents and the elderly, and next Sunday’s World Youth Day.  The gift of being able to distinguish between good and evil is needed by all our people – young and older.  Because we are surrounded by the dangers of evil which is already prowling around our land – destroying life; stealing away happiness; stirring up violence and discord.  Such evil seeks to snuff out the memory of ‘the rock from which we were hewn’; ‘the quarry from which we were dug’. Because if we lose our spiritual memory we lose our sense of identity, our sense of purpose and direction; we lose our way.

To be able to discern between good and evil is more important than ever, when there are just so many choices out there, and when the primacy of individual choice – including absolute choice over our bodies and over creation – is sometimes held up as the gold standard of a ‘modern’ society freed from the so-called ‘shackles of the past’.  But to present choice as unlimited, unencumbered by talk of ‘good and bad’ choice, of ‘right and wrong’ choice, is a recipe for disappointment, for a sense of personal failure and even despair.

To worship unlimited choice is to worship a false god.  Far from nourishing a happier life and a more free and rounded society, uninhibited choice is overwhelming, and can impact negatively on spiritual, physical and mental health and well-being, especially that of our young people.  At its worst the concept of unlimited choice without consequence becomes a tyranny which threatens the dignity of the human person as a unity of body and soul; it can destroy life, create confusion and contribute to a culture of death where the destruction of innocent and vulnerable human life – at its very beginning or near its end – is presented as a matter of legitimate individual choice.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks instead of the importance of discerning what is the ‘pearl of great price’, of choosing what is good, and discarding what is of no use.  This is the gift that both Saint Patrick and King Solomon prayed for – to be able to say ‘yes’ to what is of value and to say ‘no’ to what is wrong, to say with the psalmist, (Psalm 118):

“Lord, how I love your law! I love your commands
more than finest gold, I rule my life by your precepts,
and hate false ways.”

Standing here at the top of Croagh Patrick I recall the dream that led our patron saint back to Ireland as a missionary of the Good News, a dream in which he heard the voice of the Irish people calling out to him: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.”

Today from this holy place, ‘near the western sea’, I call out once more to our patron saint to intercede for Ireland, to come and walk once more among us, to rekindle in us the memory of the rock from which we were hewn, and to help us rediscover that wisdom for which he himself prayed – to be able to discern good from evil – for ourselves personally, for our families, our communities, for Ireland!

ENDSArchbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland