A Place for Hope for the Irish
by Dick Keogh
I would like to give you a very warm welcome to one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. I am glad to meet you here, on the west coast of County Mayo, at the majestic mountain originally known as Cruaic Aigli. The locals here call it, "The Reek," but to most people throughout Ireland, it is better known as Croagh Patrick.
You may be interested to know that pilgrims have been coming here to climb "Ireland's Holy Mountain" for many generations. It usually takes about two hours to reach the summit. The large attendance at the Annual Pilgrimage is a testimony to the great love the Irish people have for Saint Patrick who, it is believed, fasted and prayed on this mountain for forty days and forty nights.
Many of the descendants of the multitudes of people from the west of Ireland who had to emigrate, particularly during the Famine years, still hope to return to the Emerald Isle some day, and to climb this historic mountain. Their ancestors had, for many years, faithfully ascended Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July. In most families it became a tradition, and it is the hope of many Irish emigrants to return one day and continue this custom.
For many of the older generation of Irish people, the Annual Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick is regarded as part of their heritage. As one faithful pilgrim said, "I am 72 years of age, and this is my 35th. time to climb."
Very often, tourists who are visiting County Mayo at this time of the year, and observe all the activity at Croagh Patrick, ask the local questions, such as, "Why are all these people climbing this mountain?, What motivates them to undertake such a difficult task?, What is actually involved in this Pilgrimage?"
The locals are glad to explain that most pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick as an act of Penance for their sins. The hardship endured during the climb is a public demonstration of their remorse, and they hope that they might merit, as a result of such suffering and self-denial, forgiveness for their sins.
For many, the Pilgrimage is not complete until they have gone to Confession and received Communion on the summit of the mountain. The majority of pilgrims also seek to complete the "Stations of the Reek." There are three Stations, which are located on different parts of the mountain, and the climber stops and prays at each of these
Station No. 1 is called Leacht Benain, and is located at the base of the mountain cone. It consists of a circular mound of stones. The pilgrim walks around this seven times, while reciting seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys, and one Creed.
Station No. 2 begins when the pilgrim reaches the tope of the mountain. There he kneels down and says seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys, and one Creed. He prays for the Pope's Intentions, and then walks around the Church on the summit fifteen times, in a clockwise direction, saying fifteen Our Fathers, fifteen Hail Marys, and one Creed. The pilgrim then walks seven times around Leaba Phadraig (Patrick's Bed), saying seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys and one Creed.
Station No. 3 takes place at Roilig Mhuire (Virgin's Cemetery), which is situated on the western side of the mountain. It consists of three mounds of stones. The pilgrim walks around each of the mounds seven times, while reciting seven Our Fathers, seven Hail Marys, and one Creed. Continuing to pray, he then walks around the enclosure seven times. The pilgrim has now completed the "Stations of the Reek."
Many of the dedicated climbers decide to abstain from food, and even water, during the Pilgrimage. Some deny themselves the comfort of wearing shoes during the climb. It is not unusual to see pilgrims discard their shoes and wrap grass around their feet. Each year, many men and women can be seen climbing the mountain in their bare feet. Consequently, during each Pilgrimage, a number of people receive injuries to their feet. Others are injured as a result of falling, and some have had to be carried down the mountain on a stretcher.
It is believed by many that the more difficult the climb, the more adverse the weather conditions at the time, the more strict the fasting, the more prayers said, and the more actual suffering involved in the Pilgrimage, the great the spiritual benefit to the pilgrim.
Perhaps, dear Friend, like most of those who participate in the Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick, you are doing so, (a) To do Penance for your sins; (b) To gain indulgences (In 1432, Pope Eugenius granted an Indulgence to all pilgrims who visit Croagh Patrick. In 1610, Pope Paul V granted an Indulgence to those who visit the Church on the summit of the mountain). You may be hoping that your prayers, fasting, self-denial, and the suffering you will endure whilst climbing the mountain, combined with the Indulgences gained, will help merit forgiveness for your sins, or a lessening of the duration of your sufferings in Purgatory.
But it was never Saint Patrick's intention that people should be left only hoping. His message was one concerning the certainty and assurance of Salvation. Saint Patrick has been described as the "Apostle of Ireland," because of the fact that he was instrumental in bringing the Gospel of God's Grace to this land at a time when it was in the grip of Paganism. God specifically led Patrick to Ireland to explain to our ancestors why Jesus Christ had died and how, as a result of His death, they could be saved.
Did you know that many grateful people from this country are hoping to meet Saint Patrick in Heaven some day? They want to thank him for the fact that he loved the Irish so much that he spent many years proclaiming the way of Salvation to them.
A lot of our ancestors are in Heaven today because they listened to Saint Patrick and believed his message. He proclaimed to them the message of the Scriptures, telling of how the Lord Jesus Christ had died upon the cross as a Substitute for sinners, thus paying in full the penalty for the guilt of their sin. Patrick urged the people to repent of their sins and to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting Him alone as Saviour. He exhorted them to believe that, as a result of Christ's work on their behalf, at Calvary, their sins would be forgiven, and they would be saved. Many Irish men and women, from all walks of life, responded to the Gospel message, and were converted. Today, these believers are with Patrick, in Heaven.
Those who are still hoping to meet Saint Patrick one day can ensure that they will meet him in Heaven by believing the message of the Scriptures which he proclaimed. This message is as relevant today as it was when the "Apostle of Ireland" preached it to our ancestors many centuries ago.
It may interest you to know, dear Friend, that for many years I was hoping that I would get to Heaven one day. But everything changed when I believed the message which Saint Patrick brought to our country. Perhaps you would allow me to explain why I am now no longer hoping.
For many generations, our family had been devout Roman Catholics and, in fact, one of my ancestors had opened her home to be used as a Chapel, where Mass was said regularly. My parents were very much involved in their Church. My mother was a great woman of prayer, who regularly said Novenas and Rosaries. Much of her time was given to the Devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary and many of the Saints. My father belonged to the Holy Family Confraternity, a men's organisation which met once a week to worship Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who were known collectively as 'The Holy Family'.
Our parents had a great influence on us when we were children, and I remember all of us kneeling down together in the evening time, and saying the Rosary to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I also accompanied my father to many of the Holy Family Confraternity meetings over the years.
My school days began at the local Convent, where I was taught by the Nuns. After receiving my First Communion, I attended the Christian Brother's School. One of the boys in my class was a Protestant. In fact, he was the only Protestant in the whole school. Although we came from different backgrounds and traditions, we were great friends. We both had one things in common; both of us hoped we would go to Heaven when we died.
I hoped that because I was a Roman Catholic I would get to Heaven. I hoped that because I had been baptised as an infant, and had later on gone to confession, where I had received absolution from the priest for all my sins, that I was on my way to Heaven. I was very much depending upon the fact that I had received Communion, believing I was receiving the Body and Blood of Christ each time I swallowed the Host. The fact that I had, at the age of twelve, received Confirmation, and had been a regular Mass-goer, were all in my favour, as far as I was concerned. So, I definitely hoped that because of the fact that I had received the Sacraments, I would get to Heaven.
Meanwhile, my friend hoped that because he had been Baptised, and had been enrolled as a member of the Protestant Church, that all was well with his soul. He was depending upon the fact that he had learned the Catechism, attended Sunday School, had been Confirmed, and was attending the services in his Church regularly. He really hoped that all of these things would ensure a place in Heaven for him.
Now, I hoped that the Roman Catholic Church would work on my behalf, and would do all that was necessary to gain a place for me in Paradise. My friend hoped that the Protestant Church to which he belonged would make every effort to secure a place in Heaven for him. Both of us hoped our respective Churches would be actively engaged in securing salvation for us.
After I left school, I got a job with an undertaker. At the funerals I saw many heart-broken people, who were hoping that their loved one, who was being buried, had gone to Heaven. I saw the broken-hearted families crying at the graveside, hoping that their deceased relative was gone to be with the Lord. At Roman Catholic funerals, the priest would try to comfort the family. But he, too, was only hoping that the person who was being buried was gone to Heaven. The priest did no know, and neither did the family, or any of the mourners. Just in case the deceased had not done enough while alive, and had not worked hard enough to earn Salvation, the priests would say 'Masses for the Dead,' hoping this would help get the person to Glory. The family and friends would buy Mass Cards, and then pay the priests to say Masses for their loved one. They hoped the Masses would help to get the dear departed one to Heaven. Masses would, in fact, be said for many years, with both the priests who said the Masses, and the people who paid for them sincerely hoping that all their efforts would help to save the soul of their dear friend.
Each year, in the month of November, the priests would send out to each home in their parish a list, upon which the people were to write the names of their deceased family members. These lists would then be returned to the priests, and on All Souls' Day Masses would be said for the repose of the souls of everybody mentioned on the lists, in the hope that the Masses would help to save them.
I remember seeing my mother writing down the names of our deceased family members on the list, and then sending the list to the priest, along with the money to pay for the Masses for the Dead. she was hoping that by doing this she could help to secure a place in Heaven for her loved ones. People could also go to the Chapel on All Souls' Day, and say set prayers, hoping that by so doing, they would help get some of the 'Holy Souls' out of Purgatory. Everybody was hoping that all of these efforts would work. They were hoping, but never knew.
At the Protestant funerals, the Minister would try to comfort the broken-hearted mourners. Their hearts were breaking because they did not actually know if their loved one was gone to Heaven. The family members, along with the friends and neighbours, all hoped. The Minister, too, hoped that all was well between the dear departed one and God. They were all hoping, but none of them actually knew.
Now, I said to myself, "What will happen when it comes to my time to die?" I could picture myself on my death-bed, only hoping I would get to Heaven, and hoping I would not go to Hell. What a fearful situation to be in when you are dying, to have a terrible uncertainty about where you are going. Oh, how I longed to know for certain, to know for definite, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would go to Heaven when I died.
Many years later, I was still hoping. At this stage, I was married, and had a family. If my children had asked me back then, "Daddy, will you go to Heaven when you die?" I would have had to say, "I hope so, but I don't actually know." I wished I did know!
Then, in November 1975, I met a friend of mine who told me that he actually knew for definite that he would go directly Heaven when he died. I had known this many for many years, and I knew that for a long time he, like I, had been hoping that one day he would get to Heaven. But now he told me that he was no longer hoping, but that he actually knew that he was going to Heaven. I asked him to explain how he could have this assurance, and he told me that he got it from reading and believing the Scriptures. He told me that in the Bible, God had revealed His plan of Salvation. He then encouraged me to read the Scriptures for myself.
I read in John's first Epistle, in Ch. 5 vs. 9-13, these wonderful words: "We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."
I was amazed at the words, "So that you may KNOW." Now this was what I needed! I really needed to know! There is such a great difference between hoping for something, and knowing the reality. So, here it was in God's Word; it is actually possible to know that you have eternal life.
But who were these things written to, I asked myself? Any then I saw the answer written so clearly in the Scriptures: "I write these things to YOU who BELIEVE." You who you believe WHAT, I asked? The answer to my question was contained in the verses I had just read. These things were written to those who believe what God said concerning His Son. Verse 11 reads, "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." So, here it was! Eternal life is in Christ, in a person. According to the Scriptures, eternal life is in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His work on the sinner's behalf. For the first time in my life I was confronted with the fact that eternal life is in a Person, and not in a Religion.
Then, in the Gospel of John, in Ch. 14 v. 6, I read these words: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.'" I had believed, for many years, that Religion was the way to eternal life, the way to Heaven. But now I could see that the Scriptures were not speaking about Religion, but about a Relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I was reading in God's Word about the importance of believing in, of trusting in, and depending upon this Person. In John's Gospel, in Ch. 3 v. 16, I read: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
I noticed in this verse the words: "God so loved the world." But did that include ME, I wondered? Did God actually love me, as an individual, I asked myself? You see, I knew I was a sinner, and that my sin had to be paid for. In fact, I read in the New Testament, in Romans Ch. 3 v. 23, these words: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Well, I knew I was certainly included there! God's Word was crystal clear. It said that all of us have sinned. It very specifically stated that we are all sinners. But when I read Romans Ch. 5 v. 8, I was really encouraged, for it says: "But God demonstrates his own love of us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." How my heart began to warm a I read those precious words.
Then I read in Peter's first Epistle, in Ch. 2 v. 24, these words, concerning the Lord Jesus Christ: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree...." The words "Our sins" really struck me! In the book of Galatians, in Ch. 1 v. 4, I read the following words, which relate to the Saviour: "Who gave himself for our sins...."I had now read of God's love for the WORLD, and of how Christ died for US. The fact that Jesus bore OUR sins, and gave Himself for US was outlined so clearly in what I had read. But, as far as I was concerned, the important question was this; Did God love ME? You see, it was fine to read of God's love for the WORLD, but what about ME, as an individual?
My question was answered when I read the following words in the book of Galatians, in Ch. 2 v. 20: "The Son of God, who love ME and gave himself for ME." This was just what I needed to read! It was just what I needed to know! The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Galatians, not only knew that God loved the world, but he knew that God loved him, as an in individual. He knew that Christ had suffered and died for him on the cross at Calvary. Paul knew that the Lord Jesus Christ became his substitute as He hung upon the cross, paying in full the penalty for the guilt of the sins of all who would repent and put their faith in Him. This was just what I needed to know, too! I realised I was a sinner, and that my sin had to be dealt with. I longed to know if God loved ME so much that He sent His blessed Son to die for MY sin.
As I read over these verses again, it began to become very clear to me. God DID love me and, in fact, demonstrated the extent of His love for me at the cross. Once again I read in Galatians Ch. 2 v. 20, these words: "The Son of God, who loved ME and gave himself for ME." Yes, I could see now that God loved me as an individual. He loved me so much that He sent His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross at Calvary, there paying in full the penalty for the guilt of my sin. Jesus Christ, who loved me, and gave Himself for me, paid in full, as my substitute, all that was required so that my sin could be forgiven.
But why would God do this for me, a sinner, I asked myself? The answer was crystal clear in the Scriptures. It was because He loved me!
In the book of Titus, in Ch. 3 v. 4-5, I read these words: "But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." I was really amazed when I read here of God's plan of Salvation. It was not religion that saved us, but God Himself. But why did He save us, and how did He save us, I asked myself?
In the verses I had just read in was very clearly stated that God saved us, but no because of our won works, righteous acts, or efforts. In fact, according to God's Word, our own efforts have nothing at all to do with our Salvation. God does not even take them into account.
The fact that we are saved, not because of what we have done, but because of what God has done on our behalf, was outlined very clearly in the Scriptures. It is because of His mercy that He saved us. He has had mercy on the sinner. In these verses it mentions the fact that the kindness and love of God "appeared." Now, where and when did the kindness and love of God appear, I asked myself? According to the Scriptures, God's love 'appeared,' or was shown, by being demonstrated publicly at Calvary, as the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died upon the cross. There was nothing here in what I was reading about religion or good works having anything to do with Salvation. In fact, according to God's work, it did not matter what good works I did, or what efforts I made to save myself. I did not matter which Church I belonged to. Not one of these things, or all of them together, could ever save my soul. The message of the Bible was clear. Salvation was bestowed because of God's mercy.
What a great challenge this was to me, a man who had been hoping for many years that by being religious, by depending upon the Church, and by doing my best, I could be saved. I had been hoping, but I never knew, and I had reckoned I would never know until after I died, if the Church had done enough for me or if I had done enough myself, to secure my Salvation.
Now, for the first time in my life, I was confronted with what God said in His Word. It was clear that the Church, regardless of which one I belonged to, could never save me. it was also very clear that regardless of what efforts I made, or what good works I did, these could not earn or merit Salvation for me.
But in the Scriptures I read the good news, that the Lord Jesus Christ did enough, through His death on the cross, to save me. In the New Testament, in the book of Titus, in Ch. 2 v. 11, I read: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." Here was the great difference between man's way of Salvation and God's. Man's way of Salvation was as follows; Belong to a particular Church; Do your best; Work your way to Heaven. But what was the end result of this? My school-friend, the member of the Protestant religion, and I, knew only too well the end result! You were left hoping that you would get to Heaven, and hoping you would not go to Hell. The outcome of trusting in man's way of Salvation was that, not only would we be hoping from day to day but, when it came to our time to die, we would have nothing to hold on to. We would have no assurance, or no security. Our respective Churches, Priests, and Ministers could give us no assurance or security, for they, too, were only hoping that we, and they themselves, would get to Heaven one day.
But God's plan of Salvation was so different to this. Titus Ch. 2 v. 11 says, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." This verse speaks of the Grace of God, which is God's unmerited favour to the sinner. The words, "The Grace of God that brings Salvation," make it very clear that Salvation is by Grace. It is God reaching down to the helpless sinner, revealing to him that He loves him so much that He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to the cross. There, He took the sinner's place, by becoming his substitute. He paid the penalty for sin that the sinner should have paid. Christ suffered Hell on the cross, so that the sinner need not go to Hell.
The words of Romans Ch. 3 v. 24, summed it all up. They read: "--and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." I was really struck by what I read here. It said we are "justified FREELY." That word "freely" meant so much. It meant that Salvation was given freely by God to sinful man. The sinner was not required to work for it, or to earn it. Salvation was God's gift to the sinner. This free gift could be given by God to the sinner because of the fact that his sins have already been paid for, at Calvary. This meant that Salvation was God's free gift to me!
I reached out, by faith, to God, saying, "Lord I know I am a sinner, and that I deserve to go to Hell. I know that there is nothing the Church can do for my Salvation. I also realise that there is absolutely nothing I can do to merit a place in Heaven. I have been hoping, all my life, that the Church's work on my behalf, along with my own good works, was enough. But now I know that I had been believing man's plan of Salvation. I thank you for showing me clearly in the Scriptures that Salvation is a gift, which you freely give to the sinner. I am so grateful that you not only love the world, but you loved me enough to send your Son, Jesus, to die for me. Thank you, Lord!"
Since that day, I am no longer depending upon religion or good works to save me. I now have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am depending on Him to save me. He is "The Son of God, who loved ME, and gave Himself for ME." I have repented of my sin, and have been forgiven.
Today, when I read the words of John's first Epistle, in Ch. 5 v. 13, I know what they mean. They read: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life." I am trusting Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I am depending, for my salvation, upon Him alone, and on the work He did on my behalf, as He suffered and died upon the cross at Calvary. Because of this, I have God's promise that I have eternal life.
I am no longer hoping, but now I know that I will be in heaven some day. This assurance is not based upon whether a person is a Roman Catholic or a Protestant. It is based upon the fact that "- God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John Ch. 3 v. 16)
Dear friend, I would like to thank you for taking time to read this account of why I am no longer hoping.
Perhaps you came to Croagh Patrick today hoping that by climbing the mountain, Fasting, doing Penance, and gaining Indulgences, you might merit forgiveness for your sins. Like so many other faithful pilgrims you may, in fact, have been trying your best for many years to lead a good life. Or maybe you have been depending, for your Salvation, upon your membership of a particular Church.
And yet, today, even after climbing Croagh Patrick, you are returning home still only hoping, an have no assurance that all is well between God and you. You may be sincerely hoping that you will go to Heaven when you die, but you do not know.
But remember, Saint Patrick, who climbed this mountain here in County Mayo, reminded out forefathers of the One who carried a cross up mount Calvary. On that mountain, He suffered and died for sinners.
So, instead of looking to Fasting, Penance, and Indulgences, or looking to your own works or religious exercises to save you, why not look to the One of whom Saint Patrick spoke? The "Apostle of Ireland" encouraged our ancestors to look to the Lord, who said, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else." (Isaiah Ch. 45, v. 22)
The Lord invites you, dear Friend, to come to Him right NOW. "'Come NOW, let us reason together,' Says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'" (Isaiah Ch. 1, v. 18)
Recognising you are a sinner, turn to Him NOW in Repentance, and
trust Him to Forgive you and Save you. Then you will be able to
say; "I am no longer hoping,
but now I know that
I am going to Heaven, because I am depending upon 'The
Son of God who loved ME and gave Himself for ME.'"