Celebrating Our Shared Christian Heritage Ecumenical Celebration honouring the 1400th Anniversary of the death of St. Lachtain 19 March 622 - 2022
Friends, we gather on March 19th to honour the 1,400th anniversary of the death of St. Lachtain. Two days ago we celebrated St. Patrick. In thirty days we celebrate St. Laserian. In November we will remember Willibrord and Columbanus.
The Letter to the Romans we have just heard, asks three pertinent questions: “How then are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to proclaim him if they are not sent?” That letter to the Romans was familiar to Lachtain and to all the Saints.
These saints knew these passages by heart, interiorised them in their prayer, listened to them in the silence of their monastic cell or as they battled the harshest storm on the seas. We thank the Saints who have gifted us our shared Christian heritage, like the already mentioned Patrick, Columbanus, Lachtain, Laserian and Willibrord.
Patrick died in the fifth century, the exact date is very difficult even to conjecture. Although looking at the revival of the post pandemic St. Patrick’s Day parades, it seems as if he is alive and well, or at least some figment of him, clad in green, crozier in hand casting out the vicious snakes!
Columbanus died in 615AD, Lachtain in 622AD and Laserian in 639AD. Willibrord would die one hundred years later in 739AD. So only twenty four years separates the death of three of our greatest Saints Columbanus, Lachtain and Laserian, all with local connection. Columbanus born in Myshall on the side of Mount Leinster; Laserian who established his huge monastery at Leighlin and Lachtain who had his settlement here at Freshford. They were contemporaneous. They knew their scripture. They would have been very familiar with the letter to the Romans and who knows they may have even known one another!
The early Middle Ages was a rich time for Irish Saints. Some of them felt the urge to leave these lands and mission elsewhere. For Columbanus and others it would be from the shore line of Bangor setting sail for mainland Europe. Lachtain at the age of fifteen, according to the Ossory historian Carrigan, would also leave for Bangor to study under Saint Comgall. But unlike Columbanus the greatest European of the middle ages, Lachtain’s mission was always to be here in Ireland with foundations as I said here in Freshford and in Cill na Martra and Donoughmore in County Cork.
What perhaps is distinctive about St. Lachtain is he never left these shores. He missioned at home. I recall my own days of vocation discernment, many asked me at the time “would I not consider going on the missions?” It was as if the Irish priest was more of value abroad than at home, and the mission was greater there than here. All of us realise, in both our traditions, the home mission is critical today.
My knowledge of Lachtain was very limited before preparing for this ecumenical event today. I very much thank both Mgr. Kieron here and Fr. Jerry O’Riordan in Donoughmore in Cork for their great help with memos and background narrative. And I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the friendship and conviviality that I enjoy with Bishop Michael, much of that built around our shared interest in St. Willibrord. And today, as Bishop Michael prepares in the coming weeks for pastures new along Ireland’s west and south west coast, I am delighted to be with him once again in this new shared interest in Lachtain.
Fourteen centuries later we too must leave the shoreline of our comfort zone as we are invited to walk the synodal pathway. The synodal tradition is one which the Anglican Church of Ireland community are much more familiar with than our Roman Catholic tradition. For too long we responded to what we were told to do, following an instruction, living by a precept. The hierarchical structure has its many merits but also its shortcomings, the synodal journey invites us to reflect on what is working well in Church and what we could be doing better. Synodality is truly God’s call for the Church of the third millennium. In a letter written to our priests just issued this morning from Rome we are told “setting out in this direction will not be free of questions, fatigue and setbacks, but we can be confident that it will return to us a hundredfold in fraternity and in fruits of evangelical life”.
The Saints needed to discern the sign of the times in the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries. Our call is no different. The relic associated with Lachtain is his right arm, now on view in the National Museum in Dublin where it features amid the ‘Treasures of Ireland’ exhibition. By all accounts the arm was severed from his body 1400 years ago today and encased in a yew reliquary. In 1120 a more ornate gold and silver casket was made covering the wooden case at Cill na Martra. It is known today as ‘Lámh Lachtain’. Why the right arm? It was his dominant one, the one he used to bless, to heal, to forgive. The words of another saint, Teresa of Avila, come to mind:
“Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours”
All of us must become the hands, the feet, the right arm, the left arm of Christ more today than ever on this home mission as we welcome the refugee from Ukraine, the stranger from the far side, the neighbour from next door and the friend.
St Lachtain, pray for us.
St Joseph, pray for us.
St’s Patrick, Columbanus, Willibrord, Laserian, Comgall and Teresa of Avila, pray for us.