From the homily for the Irish Family Mass in Honor of Saint Patrick, 3/14/2019
The theme of this year's St. Patrick's Day Mass, Irish literature, is most fitting. We cannot think of St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle apart from books. Two of the greatest writers from the last two hundred years were Irish and Catholic: James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. Joyce's own sister was a nun—Sister Gertrude Mary Joyce—and Thomas Merton said he owed his conversion to Catholicism from reading Joyce.
The roots of Irish literature begin with Saint Patrick himself. When Patrick escaped from slavery in Ireland and returned to his native Britain, he had a dream in which a man named Victorinus appeared. Victorinus gave Patrick letters to read, letters that would inspire Patrick to return to the place of his captivity and evangelize it. But before he could do this, Patrick had to prepare. He crossed the channel to France and there trained under St. Martin of Tours, the Roman soldier-turned monk. Schooled in prayer and theology, Patrick was given a spiritual discipline that would serve him and his companions well. The great Irish saints—Brendan, Kevin, Columba, Columbanus, Columbkille, Killian—would travel around Ireland, founding monasteries and instilling in the people a life of prayer and study.
Because Ireland was not part of the Roman Empire, there were no cities. These monasteries, thus, became the 'cities,' which meant prayer and study, fundamental to monasticism, were inextricably linked to the common Irishman's way of life. Penitentials (guidebooks for Confession), illuminated manuscripts, the Book of Kells, and, of course, Patrick's own The Confession would all be features not just of Irish spirituality, but of Irish culture.
If we want to honor St. Patrick on his feast and show the world that we are proud to be Irish, do not just drink Guinness and eat corned beef, but read and pray!