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HOMILY AT CLONMACNOIS PATTERN DAY, 10th September 2006

 

History is being made once again in Clonmacnois on this day. With the presence of people from countries other than Ireland on this day, something new is happening for this ancient place of pilgrimage. It is not that Clonmacnois has not witnessed many changes, of course. Since the boat of its Founder, St. Ciaran, was first moored here on a January day in the year 545, the monastery he founded has been affected by the high and low, the good and the bad in Irish history. And that is not all. The history of Clonmacnois and European history have also been connected. From this place on the western edge of Europe the light of the Gospel was to be rekindled in places as far away as present day Poland.

 

Visitors to Clonmacnois want to know how all that happened here began. The story of its beginning is distant in time and it is difficult to separate facts from myths. But the core facts of the story are fairly certain. We do know that Ciaran was honoured as a holy man. We know that his spiritual life was remarkable for his love of Scripture and that he lived a life of voluntary penance and self-denial. The last words of the saint, said to have been spoken when his followers wanted to ease his suffering by adjusting his stone pillow were: 'The man who perseveres to the end will be saved'. In our time, when perseverance in the faith is not easy, those words of St. Ciaran take on a new significance.

 

At the centre of what Clonmacnois stands for is the spirituality of St. Ciaran himself, particularly his love of Scripture. One of the best known stories about the man combines two aspects of his life, his love of Scripture and his generosity. When he was reading St. Matthew's Gospel and had reached the place where it says that 'whatever we would wish others to do for us we should do for them' (Mt. 7:12), another student arrived to borrow his book. Ciaran gave it to him. His companions made a joke of this, calling him 'Half-Matthew' since he had stopped halfway through his study of the Gospel. St. Finian, his teacher, who heard that his fellow-students were teasing him in this way, made the prophecy that it would not be as 'Hal-Matthew' he would be know, but as 'Half-Ireland', 'for half of Ireland shall be his.'

 

Ciaran himself would not live to see the day when the prophecy of Finian would be fulfilled. He lived a mere nine months after arriving in Clonmacnois, dying, it is said, on the 9th September of the same year. In time what his teacher, St. Finian, foretold would be fulfilled and surpassed. A day would come when the reputation of Clonmacnois would be so great that Emperor Charlemagne would send the scholar Alcuin to Clonmacnois, a great tribute to the reputation of a seat of learning. Here indeed was a great school, 'the greatest of our schools of the past', as one scholar described it.

 

Maybe a greater tribute than that of its renown as a place of learning is to be seen engraved on the old grave slabs of Clonmacnois. Here the great and powerful, as well as ordinary people, would come asking for prayers. The letters OR DO (pray for) engraved on hundreds of stones are a sign that this was the place to come in search of intercession. Sinners came to stay here to do penance and those choosing to follow a higher call as followers of Christ as monks found here the peace they needed for contemplation in this quiet land by the river.

 

What remains of Ciaran's monastery is a powerful reminder of the Christian faith for us who live in a new millennium. Pope John Paul II by his visit to Clonmacnois did much to reinforce that message and to ensure we would not forget the importance of this sacred place. It would surely be unthinkable that we would honour Clonmacnois merely as an interesting old ruin, little different from the many pre-Christian monuments in Ireland. This celebration of St. Ciaran's day is now needed more than ever to ensure that we keep alive the memory of the faith lived in poverty and penance, as well as kindness and hospitality, by men and women here by the banks of the Shannon.

The presence of people from other countries this year is a welcome sign of how Clonmacnois can strengthen faith in a new period of history. Clonmacnois has a mission, a task, to accomplish in a new kind of Ireland. Here we have the place where maybe more than anywhere we should show that we welcome not just tourists but those who come to live in our midst for a long or short time. 'These ruins are still charged with a great mission', said Pope John Paul II. Here in this place where Mass is being celebrated he knelt and prayed. What the silent prayer of the Supreme Pastor of the Church was on that day we do not know. We can presume that his prayer included the future of the faith in this land. We have good reason to be sure that he prays with us and for us in the same way today.

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Archived References  
       
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2010
Statement by Bishop Colm O'Reilly on the Dublin Report
Bishop Colm O'Reilly video interview for Mission Sunday 2009
Message on Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2009
Homily by Bishop Colm for Trinity Sunday, on 150 years of SVP in Longford.
Bishop Colm's Pastoral Letter Easter 2009
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2008
Bishop's Letter to the Diocese, Easter 2008, 'on the way forward'.
Bishop's Message for the Year of Vocation
Bishop's Homily at Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, Sept 2007
Message from Bishop Colm on Ferns Report
Message from Bishop Colm on the death of Pope John Paul II
Homily by Bishop Colm at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in St. Mel's Cathedral, 7th April
BISHOP'S MESSAGE FOR CHRISTMAS 2007
Statement from the Bishop, 27th May 2006
Homily at Clonmacnois Pattern Day, 2006
Bishop's Christmas Message 2005
Message from Bishop Colm for Vocations Sunday 2005