Catholic Sermons

Historia, Magistra Vitae 

Sermon given on the occasion of the Holy Mass celebrated in Friarstown Abbey, Co. Limerick, on May 21, 1995, by Fr. Daniel Couture.

My dear Brethren,

Firstly, I would like to thank Mr. Pat Mulcair for having permitted the first steps in restoring Friarstown Abbey, located here on his property, to be taken.  And Mr. Con McNamara for having organised and prepared the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

It is a privilege to be here, today, in this area so full of history, of ancient sites and monuments, which focus our forgetful minds on the many lessons of the past.  "Historia Magistra Vitae - The Past is a great teacher".  History is very important for a nation but it is especially so for the true Faith, for the Catholic Faith.

As Mathathias, the father of the Macchabees, said on his death-bed:

"O my sons, call to remembrance the works of your fathers which they have done in their generations and you shall receive great glory and an everlasting name.  Give your lives for the covenant of your fathers"

(I Mac. 2,51-50), let us therefore pay heed to these inspired words and call to mind some of our forefathers' works.

Why this Friary?

Ireland was called at one time the ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’ because of the multitude of souls who on this island consecrated themselves to sanctity and to learning.  From the time of Saint Patrick, there has been a great yearning for the consecrated life in Ireland.  Divine Providence which “orders all things in measure and number and weight” (Wis. XI,21), sent at different times monastic spiritualities, religious families, to make sure that the flame of sanctity would never be extinguished.  In the first years of Christendom here, the monasteries of Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Bangor were established.  Around the XIIth - XIIIth centuries, the Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans and other Orders founded many monasteries throughout Ireland.  And when these were declining, towards the early and mid- XIVth century, the Lord of the Harvest sent a new team of labourers, with their renewed zeal, into His harvest, these were the sons of the Poverello, St. Francis of Assisi.

This friary, here, was a foundation of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis.  It was a development of the Third Order Secular, the well-known Franciscan Tertiaries.  Tertiaries having built their own churches and meeting places went on to add residential building in order to withdraw from the world to form their own religious communities.  They had male and female congregations who took the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The first foundation of the Third Order Regulars took place around 1426, in Killeenbrenan, Co. Mayo.  The Order built up a strong priesthood and the priests and brothers lived in community but they also did pastoral work and taught in the school for boys which was attached to their monastery.

Friarstown Friary were founded around 1450 and by the year 1540, about 44 houses of brethren of the Third Order Regulars existed.

Therefore the first lesson we can learn, comes from the very existence of this friary: the desire of souls to consecrate themselves to God by the three vows of religion: poverty, chastity and obedience.

Poverty: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”(Mt. V,3).  Poverty, ‘Sister Poverty’ as St. Francis called her, was certainly a distinctive mark of Our Blessed Lord's life and teaching, from the crib to the Cross.  He even made it the condition for Christian perfection “If thou wilt be perfect”, said He to the young rich man, “go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor and thou shall have a treasure in heaven.  And come, follow Me” (Mt. XIX,21).  The spirit of poverty is still today the best antidote against the materialism of the world that is invading everything and everywhere.

Just as Pioneers abstain from alcoholic drink in reparation for those who abuse it, so these friars and all those who take this vow, atone for the excessive attachment to this passing world.

Chastity: “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.” (Mt. V,8).  We are not mere animals who follow blindly their passions.  Our body is like a wild horse, it needs to be controlled tightly, especially since original sin has made it wilder still.  The friars who lived here took this vow of chastity, they made themselves “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. XIX,12).  And, as the 6th Beatitude implies, purity, chastity, virginity, all these noble virtues favour contemplation.  “The sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God.” (I Cor. II,14)  Spiritual men can.  It is not surprising then to see the fruits of such contemplation being the greatest treasures of Ireland - one thinks of the Book of Kells, the Ardagh chalice.  These are works of contemplative souls.

Obedience: Finally the 3rd vow, the vow of obedience, is taken in order to have more perfectly the mind of Christ who was subject to His parents (cf. Lk. II,52) for close to 30 years and “who became obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross” (Phil. II,8).

My dear Brethren, “the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field.” (Mt. XIII,44)  We are in a field!  And this friary was a treasure.  Those generous souls who found it, “hid it indeed and for joy thereof went and sold all they had and bought the field”, in other words they joined in and consecrated their lives to the service of the Heavenly King.  And it still is a hidden treasure for those who can understand all that it represents and the ideal of Christian perfection to which it calls us all.

A Friary in ruins.  Why?

We have said at the beginning that history is a master of life, that it has many lessons to teach us which we should try not to forget.  The 2nd lesson which I would like to draw here is the following: Why is there no roof on this friary?  Why is it empty?  How come this is the first Mass in it for many hundred years?

Let me say first that there can be many answers to these questions.  In fact, historians tell us that towards the end of the XVth century many of the monasteries of monks and canons were in disrepair, impoverished, with communities diminishing and rules not kept.  However, they also tell us of the expansion of the houses of the Third Order Regular, such as this one, up to 1540.

What caused the majority of the monasteries of Ireland to be suppressed just at that moment, between 1536-1547, and nearly all those who survived then to undergo the same fate in the last 40 years of that century?  Facts are there, history has recorded it.  It was a divorce.  It all began because of a divorce.  A divorce which unleashed the greatest religious and civil disorders which have had terrible consequences to this very day.

It is well known that unruly passions, if not kept under the firm control of reason and faith, become fierce tyrants, they boldly command then they cease to obey.

The divorce of which I speak opened the flood gates to public rebellion against the Pope, to leading a whole nation into schism; to the plundering and looting of so much Church property, such as all these monasteries, to sacrilegious attacks on the greatest treasure of our Catholic Faith, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, offered in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, just as it is celebrated now, in its traditional Latin rite.

My dear Brethren, these are the lessons of history!  When those who receive authority from God to rule a country disregard God's own law, beware!!!  The greater the responsibility, the more severe will be the judgment.

As we, the people of Ireland, will be asked soon to vote on this very issue of divorce, let us remember the lessons of history, “Call to remembrance the works of your fathers.”  Do not let Ireland fall under the yoke of shameful passions!  Let us stand up firmly and defend the faith of our Fathers!  And the rights of God Almighty.

Let us beg the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Queen of Ireland to come to our aid, as She did in 1879 in Knock.  May She who alone has crushed all heresies in the course of centuries, conquer again at this critical moment and crush the poisonous head of the infernal serpent.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Note: The historical elements of this sermon have been taken from the following book: Medieval Religious Houses Ireland, By A. Gwynn and R.N. Hadcock, Longman, London, 1970, especially pages 1 - 12 and 267 - 270.

For further information on the revival of Traditional Mass in Ireland, as well as for copies of this sermon, please write to:

St Pius X House, 12 Tivoli Tce. South, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.

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