Friday, March 16, 2018

5th Sunday of Lent (Gospel: John 12:20-33)

Croagh Patrick, where it is believed Patrick spent time as a slave.

 I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people… (Confessions of St. Patrick, 1)

Although today is the 5th Sunday of Lent, I would like to talk about the saint we celebrated yesterday, St. Patrick, not just because I am Irish (!), but because the lives of the saints are so inspiring, but we are often given a very unrealistic picture of their lives. The truth is that most of them struggled a great deal during their lives, but the key to it was that they persevered to the end. They trusted in God against all odds and they kept going.

Every time we celebrate one of our saints—that is the official saints we recognize, since everyone in heaven is a saint—we are not just celebrating what that individual person has done, but rather what God has done through an ordinary, weak human being.

For many people St. Patrick’s Day has just become ‘being Irish’ day. A day to be proud of being Irish, but from a Christian point of view, it’s a day to celebrate what God has made known to us through another one of his instruments. It marks the day when Christianity was first brought to Ireland. And in sixteen centuries the faith in Ireland has developed to a great degree, even with times of savage religious persecution. So many men and women have been inspired to give their lives to God in the priesthood and religious life and in turn bring it to other countries, such as the United States. So many men and women have lived out their faith in ordinary lives, bearing witness to God by the way they live, thanks to the seeds planted by St. Patrick. He was the instrument God used to give us this great gift.

So why did Patrick go to Ireland anyway?  Did they really need Christianity? Didn’t it bring many divisions? The reason why Patrick went to Ireland was very simple: The Lord of heaven and earth wanted to make himself known to them and to know what He had done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God wanted us to share the joy of knowing him and to know what our life is about and why we were created. 

St. Patrick's seminary, where I and over 12,000 other men studied for the priesthood
Patrick was brought to Ireland initially as a slave. Through suffering and hardship, the Lord was helping Patrick to grow in the spirit. According to his own writings, he says that when he went there first he did not know the living God. But somehow God made himself known to Patrick. He says that he used to get up during the night to pray and no matter what the weather was like, he used to spend time praying each day. God was inspiring him to do this, to come to know him better, so that later he would be strong enough in his faith to see him through his difficult mission to the Irish people.

When Patrick finally escaped and returned to his own people he had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to them to teach them about God. Here is how Patrick describes the dream in which 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 I read the beginning of the letter, which ran: ‘The voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter aloud I thought I heard at that very moment the voice of those who lived beside the wood of Voclut: ‘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. (Confessions, 23)

Patrick says that his call to go back to Ireland brought him great pain. He didn’t want to go back to where he had been imprisoned. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to return to the very people who had enslaved you? But he believed that God was asking him to do this, and this gave him the strength that he needed. His faith meant enough to him that he wanted us to have it too.  But it wasn’t easy and he says that he met with great opposition:
[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?’ (Confessions, 46)

Daily I expect to be slaughtered, or defrauded, or reduced to slavery or to any condition that time and surprise may bring. But I fear none of these things because of the promise of Heaven, for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who rules everywhere. (Confessions, 55)

No one would have known Patrick when he came first and he had to start from scratch. But he came here and he preached to the people and taught the people about God, about Jesus and his death and resurrection, about Mary and the saints.  And his efforts paid off because he was prepared to give up everything, so that those people might be able to share in the same faith. The people must also have been ready to hear these words, or otherwise his work wouldn’t have borne such fruit. Only for his sacrifices I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you today.

The apparition at Knock in 1879
Then in 1879 during a time of great suffering in Ireland, 30 people in a small village called Knock, saw a vision of Jesus as the Lamb of God on the altar, accompanied by Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the evangelist. It was a silent apparition that lasted approximately one hour but the people understood that it was a message of encouragement not to give up and reassuring them that they were on the right track. The Lamb of God on the altar was the symbol of the mass and it was accompanied by Mary and the angels and saints. It was heaven’s way of telling the people they were on the right track and that their perseverance was worth it. They had been through very brutal religious persecution, but they had remained faithful.

In recent years the faith has been greatly tested through scandals of various kinds.  Many people have fallen away and it is hard to blame them, but we persevere in our faith and if we want our children to have this faith too, then we will have to pass it on.  We do that primarily by the way we live, rather than by anything we say. We may not feel that we are having much effect on the world around us, but if we do our best to live it, then we are planting seeds all the time and perhaps that is all that we are called to do. There has been faith in this country for sixteen centuries, and please God we will have it for many more centuries as well. So, as we remember saint Patrick, let us give thanks to God for the faith that He has passed on to us through people like Patrick and so many others and let us also pray that we will have the grace to pass it on to those who come after us. 
I am Patrick, a sinner, unlettered, the least of all the faithful, and held in contempt by a great many people… (Confessions, 1)
Check out this interesting website on St. Patrick:

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