Archbishop Charles J Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, has said that the path of Christian faith is still alive in Ireland. He was speaking at Mass in Saint Mary’s Church in Westport for the opening of the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage 2016. Archbishop Brown will climb Croagh Patrick with Archbishop Neary as part of the annual pilgrimage which will see up to 20,000 people making the pilgrimage on Sunday 31 July. This will be Archbishop Brown’s third year making the pilgrimage.
Archbishop Brown said that, “from the dawn of history, human beings have been fascinated by mountains. There is something intangibly mystical, attractive and enchanting about the high places, something profoundly renewing about just being in the mountains. The American naturalist, John Muir, the father of the American National Park system, famously gave advice to his contemporaries about finding peace: “Climb the mountains” he wrote, “and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
“For Catholic Christians, the mountains are something more than a place of beauty and refreshment and renewal. The mountains are places where we come in contact with the mystery of God: in the Old Testament, it is on the Mountain of Sinai that Moses encounters the unspeakable majesty of God and receives the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, on the new Mountain, the Mountain of the Beatitudes, the disciples of Jesus receive from him the new law of love.”
Archbishop Brown said, “The entire trajectory of Christian life is upwards, we might say. That might not be as apparent in the English language as in other languages, since in many, if not most languages – though not in English or in Irish – the word for “heaven” and the word for “sky” are the same. Indeed, they are the same in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. So when Jesus speaks in the Gospels about our heavenly Father or our Father who is in heaven, it quite literally has the sense of our Father who is in the skies, who is above.
“This notion of moving upwards, of ascending, of climbing is present in our second reading this evening, although it is obscured a bit by the English translation of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. In the version which we have just heard, Saint Paul says: “Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven” (Col 3:1), but a more literal reading of the line, and indeed a more traditional translation in English is “If you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above” (Col. 3:1). And here we come to the key of why the notion of moving upwards, of ascending, of climbing is so central to our identity as Christians. Christ has come up out of the tomb, having descended in death even into the netherworld, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. Christ has risen from the tomb, conquering death; Christ has then ascended into the sky from where he will return. Each and every one of us who has been baptized is sacramentally following that trajectory, his trajectory. We have risen out of the baptismal waters and are pointed in the direction of heaven. This is what Saint Paul means in our second reading today – if you have been resurrected with Christ, as indeed you have in baptism, then seek the things are above. Let your life follow that symbolic direction upwards by saying no to the things which weigh you down as Saint Paul says: “impurity, guilty passion, evil desires and especially greed” (Col 3:9); as Our Lord says in the Gospel, do not be weighed down by avarice.”
Archbishop Brown said that there is a connection also with what we are doing now in this Church, in the celebration of the Eucharist. He said, “That baptismal rising which is the beginning of our Christian ascent, that liberation from the weight of sin, is nourished and strengthened by the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. The line from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians which I have been quoting: “If you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above”, in the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, goes like this: “si conresurrexistis Christo quae sursum sunt quaerite” – “quae sursum sunt quaerite” – the things that are above, seek them. But that Latin word for “above” or for “up” – “sursum” – connects us to the Mass because, in every celebration of Holy Mass, when come to enter into the profound mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, the priest calls out to the people: “Lift up your hearts.” In the Latin Mass, that same word from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is used “sursum” – “sursum corda” – just two words in the original Latin – “sursum corda” – hearts up! Every Mass then takes our baptismal rising further, every Mass infuses us with the love of God and re-energizes the spiritually upward movement of Christian life, as we journey toward the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, which is described also by Saint Paul in his Letter to the Galatians as the Jerusalem above, the Jerusalem “quae sursum est”(Gal 4:26). The Eucharist is our food for this rising, this ascending, this climb upwards. Before I came to live in Ireland, I lived in Rome for many years where one of the most beloved saints is Saint Philip Neri, and one of the phenomena associated with Saint Philip Neri, and which indeed is depicted in paintings, is how he would actually levitate when he celebrated Holy Mass, a kind of miraculous symbolic confirmation of everything which we are reflecting on this evening. The Mass directs us upwards, symbolically toward heaven.”
He went on to say, “For Christians, climbing mountains is so rich in significance. The physical ascent of a mountain is a concrete image of Christian life. In that connection, I want to point out that it was in these very days, 31 July – 1 August 1890, that a young priest who would be elected Pope Pius XI some thirty-two years later in 1922, pioneered what is now the normal route to the summit of Mont Blanc from the Italian side. Father Achille Ratti was a renowned mountaineer who became a heroic Pope. Our own beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, while he might not be the accomplished mountaineer that Pius XI was, still shows his love for the mountains in writing about their beauty and grandeur in his recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Sì. He writes “Standing awestruck before a mountain…