Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Patrick's Day, 2010

'I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people…'

Today as we celebrate our patron saint I think that we can often have romantic ideas of Patrick, his work and how everyone listened to him and became Christian when he preached. I’m sure the reality was quite different. From the little he wrote he gives us a stark idea of how difficult it was and most importantly, how the only reason he came to Ireland was because God called him. It wasn’t his own idea. He explains how he was called:

I saw in a vision of the night a man coming as it were from Ireland, whose name was Victoricus, with countless letters, and he gave me one of them…and as I was reading the beginning of the letter aloud I thought I heard a voice…and they cried out as with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk once more among us.’ And I was greatly troubled in heart and could read no further.

[God] came powerfully to my aid when I was being walked upon… for many were trying to stop this mission of mine; they were even talking among themselves behind my back, and asking: ‘Why is that fellow thrusting himself into danger among a hostile people who do not know God’

Daily I expect to be slaughtered, or defrauded, or reduced to slavery or to any condition that time and surprise may bring.

Patrick himself was very strong in emphasising how it was God who gave him his faith, and how it was God who called him to Ireland. He says that when he was brought here first as a slave at the age of 16 he did not know the living God. But God began to make himself known to him and taught him to fast and pray. Then later in his life after he had become free and returned home, he got this call to come back here to teach our ancestors about God.

I heard recently on the radio someone say that before Christianity, there was a great nation of Celts here which the Church destroyed, as though the Church came along and wrecked the place. But that cannot be true as the Irish were obviously hungry for God, or they would never have been so completely converted. And they must have recognised in Patrick’s preaching something of the truth, because the truth is always attractive.

God asked Patrick to do a job, a very definite one, which meant a lot of personal sacrifice on his part. He asked Patrick to teach the Irish people about himself, about God, so that they might know the one true God and Patrick agreed. For 1600 years that faith has been passed on, including through many very difficult times, and it is thanks to the sacrifices of thousands of men and women that this same faith has been passed on to us today.

Down through the centuries scandals have also been part of our history, and I think it is good to put it in perspective, because there will always be a certain amount of scandal, because as long as people are people we will let each other down. However, it is also important to mention that God is bigger than all of that, and our faith is bigger than all of that too. In 50 years time this period might get a mention in history as being a difficult time in the history of the Church in Ireland, but it will largely be forgotten, because the people then will have their own troubles. With that in mind, let us not be afraid when we hear of scandals, even though they are terrible, but remember that God is bigger than all of that, and God is the one in whom we put our trust.

Meanwhile God is also asking us to continue to pass on the faith that He has blessed us with and we will largely do that by the way we live, not really by anything we say. And perhaps we will only get to plant seeds of faith, just as Patrick did, by praying for those who come after us and witnessing to what we believe in as well as we can. Perhaps we won’t see the fruits of it in our lifetime. Patrick probably saw very little of the fruits of his work, but he responded to God’s call and we are being asked to do the same.

'I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people…'

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