We are so blessed. Only in America can an Episcopal Mayflower descendant get to give a the homily for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland. And for that honor I thank my friend and brother priest, Monsignor Thomas More Coogan, whose generosity and hospitality go way past the polite requirements of ecumenism. From the very first days we arrived in Bay Shore, Tom has reached out in genuine Christian love for a new neighbor. Thank you, Monsignor, for your constant kindness and ongoing pastoral support to me and my family.
While I’m here by invitation, Jane and the boys are here by right of blood. Their Irish roots go back to the Heffernan’s and Burnett’s of Tipperary, the Cooke’s and McCormack’s of Cork and the McRoaratie’s of County Loath. Their cousins run the Gaelic gamut from Murphy’s and Kelly’s, to O’Brien’s and O’Rourke’s, to McDonough’s and Nugent’s.
It is my distinct honor this morning to recognize a great friend and great American. Our parade today will be led by a life-long Bay Shore native and favorite son who has led our country in uniform and our government in State and County office. John C. Cochrane, Sr. is the Grand Marshal of the 2013 Bay Shore Brightwaters St. Patrick’s Day Parade. John served our country with distinction on active duty, following graduation from the United States Naval Academy, and in the Naval Reserve before retiring with the rank of Captain. John represented us for 21 years in the New York State Assembly and also served as the Controller of Suffolk County. In addition John has held leadership positions in the United Fund and Treasurer of St. Peter’s Church. If you want to see what a difference a dedicated leader can make, look around you when you go outside. John helped win the grants that redeveloped Main Street and cleaned up Great South Bay. Thank you, John. Our parade could not be in better hands.
So I think with some Irish luck, it’s safe to assume that John can get us down Main Street without getting lost. And talking about the luck of the Irish, St Patrick has more than his share. He gets to spend his eternity before the throne of God. Then as a bonus, millions of people across the earth turn out every year to celebrate him and the great impact the Irish have had on all of us who are fortunate enough to share the planet with them.
I’d like to conclude by thanking Patrick. He brought Jesus to the Irish and through the Irish Jesus has been brought to the four corners of the earth. Following Patrick came St. Columba who led the heroic Irish monks of Iona to convert the Britons and the Scots. And not incidentally, while they were at it, they also found time to save the entire cultural life of western civilization from the savagery of the Dark Ages. But that’s another story.
Wurzburg Germany is not a place where you’d expect to meet an Irishman. But go down to the banks of the River Main and you’ll see the statues of three of them. It marks the place where St. Killian and his brother monks died for daring to bring Christ into Germany. Irish Christian heroes in the footsteps of Patrick run through the centuries, right up to our own times. It seems that the Irish are not only driven to keep the faith, but they are uniquely called to spread it, too.
Take Frankie Ford, for example. He was an Irish Catholic kid from Brooklyn who answered God’s call to serve as a Maryknoll missionary in China. Right through World War II and the Communist take-over, Father Ford kept the faith alive for thousands of Chinese Christian converts. As Bishop Ford, he was the focus of constant harassment, public humiliation, then torture and finally martyrdom in a Communist prison. He died as he lived, courageously witnessing Christ’s love. Can’t you see Saint Patrick at heaven’s gate, saying: “Cead Mile Failte! A hundred thousand welcomes! Come on in, Frankie. We’re so very proud of you.”
Right into the 21st Century, the Irish neighborhood in heaven has been booming. But I’m sure they’re saving room for Sister Kay Lawlor and Sister Miriam Duggan. These sisters have given their lives to Christ and he has led them to battle AIDS in Uganda. Beyond treatment and protection, they went right to the root cause of the epidemic; championing fidelity and faithfulness in marriage and instilling chastity before marriage. And despite the skeptics hooting at such silly old fashioned ideas, they dramatically cut the HIV rate in Uganda by 60%. And as no small byproduct, they have gone a long way to building many, many stable families and a better society from the chaos that was Uganda.
So in this magnificent church named for him, we say: “Thank you Patrick.” And beyond thanks, we say: “Patrick, we will follow you in carrying Christ to those we meet today.” None of us can expect to be carried off as captives across the sea, as Patrick was. Doubtless none of us will ever face death for our faith or be called on to battle a raging epidemic. But we will all surely experience the constant petty martyrdom of an increasingly secular society that sneers and snickers and belittles those who like Patrick are not afraid to openly wear their faith… come what may.
As we celebrate today, we can witness Christ’s love just as openly as we wear the green. That’s because we are never alone. As Patrick prayed:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
© Homily by The Reverend David F. Sellery
on the occasion of the St. Patrick's Day Parade Mass
St. Patrick's RC Church, Bay Shore, New York
9 March, 2013