17th March – St. Patrick, Apostle of Ireland
Jer 1:4-9. Jeremiah’s reluctance towards his prophetic vocation (“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak”) prefigures Patrick’s modesty about his own abilities.
Acts 13:46-49. Like Paul and Barnabas, St. Patrick was sent bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Ireland, at Europe’s western edge, must have seemed just that.
Mk 16:15-20. The miracles that would accompany the early Christian mission, after the Ascension.
St Patrick is nowadays more national symbol than saint. One must dig beneath a mountain of patriotic sentiment to uncover the real person – the man of faith, of prayer and extraordinary commitment. His “Confession” is worth remembering, today.
A Man of many Qualities
The challenge today is to present Patrick as a man for our own times; engaging in a mission and a journey still to be travelled, if the Christian flame is to stay alive, let alone thrive, in today’s Ireland. It is a good idea to weave passages from St. Patrick’s Confession into the homily. See Padraig McCarthy’s lovely translation of the Confession, with its best-known passages highlighted, http://www.biblical.ie/cyberbooks/ConfPatrk.asp, and a perceptive commentary by Ciaran Needham on what is known about St. Patrick.
Among the qualities of our apostle to develope in the homily are these:
Prayerful man of the Spirit: “And again I saw Him praying in me, and I seemed to be within my body, and I heard Him above me, that is, over my inward self, and there He prayed with great emotion. And all the time I was astonished, and wondered, and thought with myself who it could be that prayed in me. But at the end of the prayer He spoke, saying that He was the Spirit; and so I woke up, and remembered the Apostle saying: The Spirit helps the infirmities of our prayer.”
Converted sinner, man of God: “I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many … But the Lord opened my unbelieving heart that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him… comforted me as would a father his son. So I cannot be silent – nor should I be – about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity.” He was deeply grateful for the work of grace within him.
His Love of the Bible. He shows great familiarity with the most recently available translation of the Bible (St Jerome’s Vulgate) and often quotes or alludes to the text of Scripture. This reverence for the Bible marked the Irish church in the following centuries, and resulted in important early Irish commentaries, as well as lovely manuscript copies of the Gospel, like the Book of Kells.
Inspirational Pastor. “For I am much God’s debtor, who gave me such grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth.”
His resolve to remain with the Irish, until his death. “Even if I wished to leave them and go to Britain – and how I would have loved to go to my country and my parents, and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the face of the saints of my Lord! God knows that I much desired it! But I am bound by the Spirit, who witnesses against me that if I do this, I shall be guilty. And I am afraid of losing the labour which I have begun – no, not I, but Christ the Lord who bade me come here and stay with them for the rest of my life, if the Lord will, and will guard me from every evil way that I may not sin before Him.”
At considerable cost, Patrick left behind the comforts of Roman Britain to fulfil his mission as a wandering preacher in Ireland. He learned the Irish language and the local customs, respected their religious ideals and gave new meaning to their traditional high-places (like Croagh Patrick) and holy wells. In modern mission practice, radical inculturation is seen as essential to gaining a people’s heart for Christ.
Patrick’s spirituality grew out of his personal experience of Christ, of his mission to Ireland of the needs of the newly evangelized. Yet it is in continuity with the great theme of Patristic theology. Faith is not a knowledge but a life with Christ. Faith is not simply a matter of ‘knowing’ Christ, his teachings and the teachings of the Church. Faith is a ‘sensing of the presence of Christ and a response to that presence. This is an aspect of Patrick which we could do with retrieving. Patrick grew to realize that the faith into which he was baptized as a child was more that a series of statements about God, a belief system which filled the head. It was a relationship with God, an awareness of the presence of the person of Christ sharing his life at every moment.
Starved of reliance on family and friends, the boy Patrick on Slemish discovered he was not alone. He had supreme value and worth in the eyes of the Father who loved him. He was accompanied by the Son who walked with him; and he was supported by the Spirit who prayed in him. This sensing of the presence and love of God shaped his life and became the foundation of all that he did. faith is the life of a person with Christ. It is this awareness of the presence of Christ and of his own worth as loved by God which runs through the writings of Patrick. As a slave Patrick discovered and never forgot that each one of us is an individual cherished by God. This love of God is not for Patrick alone. Nor was his an isolated or rare example. God’ love is for all people, each person created in the divine image. God loves all individually in a unique way. Patrick’s task, the task of every evangelist, was to bring as many people to that awareness as he could.
Today, Patrick’s task needs to be continued. In our nominally Christian world, there are many who are denied or deprived of their human worth. Their identity as a child of God is ignored. Our society tolerates and often rationalizes the dehumanization of individuals and whole groups. In Patrick’s writings we are provided with a deep Christian vision of the worth of human beings. Patrick’s task of making the Good News known met opposition from those who considered the Irish as barbarians and not quite human. He opposed such discrimination in the name of the Gospel.
In our liberal society, the excuse of limited resources is often used to hide the unequal provision of health care, education and employment. Our society in Ireland has been coarsened by the frequent murder of ‘our own’ by ‘them’. It is not yet too late to revive Patrick’s vision of the individual worth of each person, even those who hate the institutional church, as they perceive it.
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-9
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.
Second Reading: Acts 13:46-49
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.
Gospel: Mark 16:15-20.
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.