Archbishop Allen Vigneron gave the following homily at Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroit during the annual St. Patrick's Day Mass on March 17, 2016. Archbishop Vigneron was the main celebrant at the Mass, which was surrounded by the parish's “Sharin' O' the Green” festivities.
So I expropriated one of Monsignor Kohler's responsibilities, and now I'm going to do another one. Before I begin my preaching, I want to thank everyone who is a benefactor of Sharin' O' the Green. I want to thank the chair members and all of those who are so intimately involved. I'm sure that you have enjoyed being cajoled by Monsignor Kohler into your participation, and I could not begin to do half as good a job. But I will say thank you for the great work all of you do by participating in this effort.
We as citizens have a very clear understanding of our need to build up common good. As disciples of Jesus, all the more we understand how important it is to glorify God by caring for those who are, as Pope Francis says, at the peripheries. In our time as I read things, perhaps more than any other in our history, we're open to appreciating different cultures, different ways, different peoples. It's not always been part of America, sad to say. But we do see, I think, with ever greater clarity, how good and right it is to celebrate every people's individual identity and their culture.
No one culture accomplishes or embodies all human good. And each is a rich window into the beauty of the human person and indeed the beauty of our world. The members of a particular culture are rightly proud of their heritage and their ancestry. And those of us who do not belong — and perhaps you're shocked to know that even though I'm a priest, I'm not Irish — the neighbors who see these celebrations admire, appreciate and indeed enjoy being able to be part of such celebrations. And so in the calendar of today it's an appropriate moment to celebrate being Irish, Irish-ness. It's done in some very whimsical ways. I heard on the radio today you can buy green bagels somewhere. Or there's a fast food place that sells green shakes today. There's a place for whimsy. But in today's celebration, perhaps all of us should pause just a moment — not just perhaps, I'm sure it's true — pause a moment to remember some of the very significant elements of Irish-ness, of Irish culture and identity. A few examples I could offer — law and politics. Seems that in the Irish gene, there's a very particular ability to excel in these areas. The first person who comes to my mind is Edmund Burke, a great Irishman, profound thinker, and someone of whom I believe all of you who are Irish can be very, very proud. We could think perhaps of poetry and letters, a tradition that goes back to before the Middle Ages. And in our own centuries is exemplified by people like Yates and Joyce. And a third exemplification, strand, that came to my mind, that is something right to celebrate in Irish-ness, is being brave of heart. The kind of bravery Saint Columba showed when he set out west in his little seal-skinned boat. Or the kind of bravery the men of your ancestors showed when they left Liverpool and came to make a new life here in America.
But we're in church. And so I want to lead us to consider, especially, the part of Irish-ness that is directly attributable to Saint Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. St. Patrick, whether you think he was really English — I personally think he was really French, but you won't be surprised given my last name — St. Patrick wove a strand, through the whole tapestry of being Irish, that is particularly rich. Because he brought the Good News. He brought Jesus Christ as we said in our first prayer, the oration, the collar, to the Irish people.
And so we today, here in church, rightly consider for an hour what the faith, the universal faith — the faith of the Chaldeans and Greeks and Italians and Mexicans, the universal faith — brought and gave, and how it enriched being Irish. And particularly this year, when as I understand there is a special centennial commemoration of the aspiration for freedom in the heart of the Irish people, I'd like to meditate, to consider with you for a little bit, what the Gospel — what St. Patrick's message — does to contribute to the universal aspiration for freedom in the heart of every man and every woman.
My points are these: That when St. Patrick taught the Gospel to the Irish people, he taught them what freedom is for, and who freedom is for - why it exists and for whom it exists. What's it for? Patrick's Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus, says that freedom is for the good. Lots of people think that freedom is for license. Sometimes even freedom being for mere willfulness. I get to do what I want to do because I want to do it — that's being free. But the Gospel taught by St. Patrick, entrusted to the Irish people, says, “No — freedom is for doing good and becoming good.” It's not about license. It's about a capacity to excel. It's not easy for me to explain. I'm going to try to use a couple examples.
Think about — and I'm going to skip basketball entirely, I'm going to go to baseball, it's much safer right now — think about being free to pitch a no-hitter. Now in some sense, I'm free to do that. Nobody's put chains on my wrists. I can do it, sort of. But I can't do that. You know that. I'm not free to get up on the mound of Comerica Park and pitch a no-hitter. I don't have the skill. I don't have the training. I don't have the virtue. I don't have the excellence. But by practice, by moral habituation, by effort, every heart is capable of excelling. And so freedom means working at my life so that, in the moment of testing, I will be able to do what I aspire to do. This kind of freedom is the freedom, say, for example, of the first responders on 9-11. They were free to risk their lives, even to lay down their lives, because they had been free to grow in virtue. That's what Saint Patrick teaches in his Gospel — that Jesus Christ is the model for true human freedom. Free to love even to the end. And so today, as we consider what it means to be Irish and to be dedicated to freedom, we think again about this deepest meaning found in every effort to be free.
The second point, and it's a little shorter you'll be happy to know — who is freedom for? It's for everybody. Now, even if you don't believe in the Gospel, if you don't know Christ, that makes sense. But when St. Patrick presented Jesus to the Irish people as their savior, implicit in that is this truth: that Jesus died for everybody. And there isn't anybody who isn't worth the last drop of the blood of the Son of God. That's how precious every human life is to God. And so how can any woman or man be denied freedom, if every woman and man is so precious to God? And so as we today think about the value, the treasure of freedom, the worth of freedom in the Irish culture, this is an appropriate moment to take hold once again the Gospel conviction of why every man and woman deserves to be free.
See, you heard me say at the beginning that there are lots of places where you can celebrate St. Patrick's Day. You can be on the Paul W. Smith Show this morning. You can be at a brunch. There are some people who might even go to taverns later today to celebrate St. Patrick — and those are good things! But we have come to the Holy Eucharist to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Because what Patrick offered the Irish people was the Passover mystery, the Pascal mystery of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist. Jesus present in his self-offering. And so today, particularly, I as the celebrant, as your pastor, invite you as the Eucharist unfolds to be renewed in your conviction that the Jesus who offers himself here in the Eucharist offers himself for everyone — and that's why everyone should be free.
And likewise I invite everyone, Irish and not Irish here today, present for the unfolding of the Passover mystery of Jesus, the Eucharist of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus, to be committed once more to the conviction that freedom is not willfulness. Freedom is not license. Freedom is for excellence — doing good and being good without being fettered. And to recommit ourselves to live that way. That, I think, is a good way to honor Irish-ness and to honor the Apostle, one of the founders of Irish-ness, St. Patrick. To be recommitted today to this great heritage, this noble heritage. Which, yes, can be recalled by green bagels and green milkshakes — but is so much more significant, so much more profound, so infinitely more rich. That is, indeed, something to be proud of, and something to occupy our hearts and minds on St. Patrick's Day.
May St. Patrick bless all of you and those you love. I hope you have a wonderful celebration in this hour, and wherever you go from here. God bless you all.