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17 March St Patrick, Bishop, Patron of Ireland

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)

First Reading (Ecclesiasticus 39:6-10). His memory will not disappear, ad his name will live through all generations. This is the final part of section on the activity of the scribe by Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus). The scribe had an honourable position on Israel, and Ben Sira himself was one. The scribe in this tradition was not just a scrivener or a copyist. He was a very learned person. As Ben Sira himself says at the beginning of this section: he devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High! He seeks out the wisdom of ancients and is concerned with prophecies; he travels in foreign lands and learns what is good and evil and good in the human lot. He then, in today’s reading, goes on to speak of the gifts that the Lord will enrich him with. The Lord will direct his counsel and knowledge as he meditates on his mysteries. Many will praise his understanding; it will never be blotted out. Nations will speak of his wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim his praise.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 115[116]). R. v. 12 What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?

Second Reading (2 Timothy 4:1-8). I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. This reading, towards the end of the letter, is in the form of a testament by Paul. He solemnly urges Timothy to proclaim the good news; to be persistent in this whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, and warns him that the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine. He then notes that his own race is almost run and his life is being poured out as a libation, possibly in an expected martyrdom. He has kept the faith, and knows that the crown or righteousness is reserved for him, and not only for him for all who have awaited the Lord’s coming.

Gospel (Matthew 13:24-32). Let the both grow till the harvest. In this reading e have two parables of Jesus, the parable of the weeds among the wheat, and the parable of them mustard seed. We are in chapter thirteen of Matthew’s Gospel, a chapter with a collection of Jesus’ parables. The collection was introduced in the preceding text with the parable of The Sower, followed by Jesus’ explanation as to why he used parables in his teaching. The collection continues with three parables, that have the common them of “parables of the kingdom”, in which the nature of the kingdom of God (“the kingdom of heaven” in the language of Matthew’s gospel) is compared with certain things: a field of good seed and cockles or weeds, a mustard seed become a large bush and tree, leaven. The first is about a good seed that a person sowed in his field, and the darnel, cockles or weeds that an enemy over sowed. The lesson to be drawn from the parables is that there will always be in the kingdom of God a mixture of the good and the bad, and believers must be patient, as God himself is. In the parable it is the devil who is represented as sowing the darnel, cockle or weeds. The early Church soon came to know that their own members could do this work of the devil.

            The message to be drawn from the two other parables is the immense increase in the kingdom, growing from small or very modest beginnings: the little grain of mustard seed becoming a great bush or tree, and the leaven, or yeast, permeating for its good an entire batch of bread.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Liturgical Readings and St Patrick’s Lasting Heritage

Each of today’s readings helps us to reflect on St Patrick and his last heritage. In his Confession he introduces himself as a rustic, unlearned, a simple country person, yet much of what the learned scribe Ben Sira has to say in praise of the learned and pious scribe applies to him. Like Paul’s second letter to Timothy, his Confession is his testament to the people of Ireland, and like Paul he would solemnly urge all concerned among those he has won for Christ to proclaim the full Gospel message whether the time is favourable or unfavourable, and to convince, rebuke and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching, and to be on guard about false teachers and teaching to come. The Gospel reading brings us two aspects of St Patrick’s heritage. That of the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds that grows to become the greatest of shrubs and a tree, is a reason to give thanks for the growth and spread a home and abroad of Irish Catholicism. However, that the national Patron’s Feastday is not all about the what is positive in our tradition. Paul warned Timothy to be on his guard about false teaching. Jesus’ parable on the weed among the wheat should remind us of scandals and weaknesses in recent Irish Church history, the weed sown not so much by an enemy or Satan but from within, yet not altogether a cause of despair or dismay. We have been warned by Jesus himself on such issues.

Alternative Readings

First Reading (Amos 7:12-15). Go, prophesy to my people Israel. When he hear or read the word “prophet” many of us will think of persons such as Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets of the canon, recognized as prophets by Israel and the Church, those we may refer to as canonical or charismatic prophets. This particular line of prophets began with Amos, about 760-750 B.C. Prophecy in Israel and the surrounding countries, however, had a much longer history than this. Prophets were persons believed to have the gift of contact with the invisible, to predict the future and such like. There were bands of them in Israel and in surrounding countries, in temples, in royal palaces (sometimes hundreds of them) and elsewhere. There were prophets of the false god Baal as well as of the God of Israel. In Israel such bands of prophets were known as “sons of prophets”, “son” here in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group. In the Bible “prophesying” at times in such contexts means falling into a prophetic trance. Outside of Israel, in any event, such prophets could indulge in self mutilation. Not everyone would wish to be descried as a “son of a prophet”. Amos came from the southern kingdom of Judah, and was prophetically directed by God to go to the northern kingdom of Israel to pronounce God’s coming wrath on the royal house and kingdom by reason of their neglect of the covenant with God. Amos did this in the royal sanctuary of Bethel, and was told by Amaziah, priest of this temple, to return to his own country of Judah and do his prophesying there. In view of the ambiguity then prevailing with regard to the term “prophet” Amos denies that he was prophet or the son of a prophet (member of a prophetic band), but still said that he had been sent by God to prophesy. With Amos prophecy enters a new stage in Israel. This new glorious line of Israelite prophecy implies a special relationship with God, with the divine will and divine plan. These prophets are witnesses that God is in contact with his chosen people, and their mission to humanity.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 138[139])

Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 2:2-8). We preach the Gospel not to please mortals, but to please God. When Paul was in Troas, in the north of present-day Turkey, one night a vision appeared to him: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying: “Come over to Macedonia and help us”. The text will later resonate with the young Patrick and the voice of the Irish saying: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us”. Paul answered the voice and came to the city of Philippi in Macedonia where he had much to suffer. He then moved on to the city of Thessalonica, where he had great success, but met with bitter opposition from adversaries who attacked the Gospel he preached and also the person of Paul himself, questioning his character and motives, and accusing him of error, guile, greed, impurity and dishonesty. These charges he strongly rejects in this present reading, stressing something already well known to the recipients of the letter: Paul’s love for them and the uprightness of all his behaviour, in keeping with the nature of the Gospel message he preached.

The Gospel (Luke 5:1-11). In this beautiful Gospel reading Luke highlights the special role of Peter in the early Church, and indeed in the Christian community. Luke has chosen this episode to narrate the calling of the Christ’s first followers. It is set in the context of Jesus’ consciousness of his mission to preach the good news of salvation. In the text immediately preceding, when people wanted Jesus to stay with them in one place and not leave them, he declined with the words: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43). Jesus is now about to begin this mission in new way by choosing a core group, beginning with Simon (also known as Peter, or in its original Aramaic form Cephas). This work will begin with a very symbolic marvellous catch of fish. Jesus chooses the boat he will use for the marvel – it is that of Simon. When invited by Jesus to go out fishing, Simon gives a calculated human reply: they have already been fishing and caught nothing. Jesus’ thoughts are different, not those of human calculations. They netted a huge number of fish, and Peter had to call on his companions, James and John sons of Zebedee. Simon Peter fell in awe at the feet of Jesus at the manifestation of divine power. Like Isaiah at his vocation he makes profession of his sinfulness. While three persons are mentioned, Jesus addresses Simon Peter alone: He is not to be afraid, and will have the great mission of a larger catch of humans, not fish. This is in keeping with other texts in Luke on Peter’s special role. At the Last Supper Jesus tells him that Satan wishes to sift him like wheat, destroy him, but Christ has prayed for him so that, even though Peter fail, on conversion he may strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:31-32). After the resurrection Christ appears first to Peter/Cephas (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5). When Peter was imprisoned and in danger of execution the Church prayed fervently for him and he was miraculously saved (Acts 12:1-19). Peter strengthened the faith of the early Church and worked to keep it united in its expansion beyond Judaism to the Gentile world (Acts 10-11; 15:6-11). . He saw this expansion as the work of God.

When we read about Peter and his divine mission in the Gospel, we think of his successor, the Holy Father, bishop of Rome, and pray that his faith may be strong, confirming his brothers and sisters in the faith, and working for Christian unity.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: We preach the Gospel not to please mortals, but to please God. Eternal voices: Christ, Peter, Patrick. Messages for St Patrick’s Day

On this feast of our national apostle there are many voices inviting us to listen. It is Christ himself who speaks when Holy Scripture is read in the church, and this voice is addressing Church authorities and all of us through the prophet Amos: “Go and preach to my people”, preaching to all to be faithful to the covenant, to the teaching of Christ and his Church. The voice of Paul reminds us that there will always be accusations (not all of them true), difficulties and obstacles to the preaching of the Gospel message. The voice of Paul also reminds us of the need of honesty and transparency for all involved in teaching the Christian message. Then we are reminded of the “voice of the Irish” to Patrick to return to Ireland and walk again among its people. His voice and his prayer for our fidelity are still with us. Then we have the voice of Jesus concerning Peter to have confidence, since his Saviour has prayed for him that his faith may not fail, but that he might confirm his brothers and sisters in this faith.

And now as we have a call for a new evangelization we have the successor of Peter gently, but firmly, calling on the Church to return to her true self. Shortly before he retired, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the Church that while she was in this world she was not of this world. In his very first days is office Pope Francis has called on the Church to be faithful to her true self, and called on believers help facilitate a spiritual renewal or face the possibility of the Church being considered a compassionate, pitiful, NGO. Not of course that the Church is not concerned about such work; it is central to her mission. But her fundamental call is her relation to Christ her founder, and participation in his sufferings and resurrection.

            It is hoped that reflections such as these may help on this feast of our national patron, to revive the fervour of the faith he preached and lived. Let us pray with Patrick himself that God may grant that he may never loose the Irish people which he possessed for himself at the ends of the earth.