Today we celebrate the wonder of God’s grace in the life of St Patrick – captured as a slave he turned to the Lord and was liberated in a deep and inner way that led to his being sent as the one who would lead the Irish to know the living God. We also celebrate his success in being the very instrument of God’s love and care for the Irish people of the 5th century. He, with many others, began a faith tradition in Ireland which has endured through highs and lows up to the present day. Bringing the Irish to know the true God could be described as his vocation.
St Patrick’s success came because he opened his heart to the tender care and love of God our Father, and like St Paul, became passionate and convincing in his desire to bring people to Christ. He knew from his own experience the goodness, kindness and mercy of God; he came to know Jesus through reading the Gospels and by reflecting on his own experience. He was humble man, knowing that God had prepared him for this mission and so he could count on God’s supportive care at all times. “Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling that you should cooperate with me with such divine power? Today, among heathen peoples, I praise and proclaim your name in all places, not only when things go well but also in times of stress”. # 34 Confession
In his Confession we read,
“The Lord there made me aware of my unbelief that I might at last advert to my sins and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord my God. He showed concern for my weakness and pity for my youth and ignorance; he watched over me before I got to know him and before I was able to distinguish good from evil. In fact he protected me and comforted me as a father would his son.”
So when Patrick came to Ireland as a slave he grew into a man of ceaseless prayer and God responded to his enduring, persevering prayer by entrusting him with this special mission to evangelize the Irish. Again in his Confession we read,
“After I had come to Ireland I daily used to feed cattle, and I prayed frequently during the day; the love of God and the fear of Him increased more and more, and faith became stronger, and the spirit was stirred; so that in one day I said about a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same; so that I used even to remain in the woods and in the mountains; before daylight I used to rise to prayer, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm; nor was there any slothfulness in me, as I now perceive, because the spirit was then fervent within me.” (#6)
What kept Patrick going during his trials was obviously his total reliance on the Lord. He drew the strength for living from God. He was humble, he realized that it was God who was working through him. At the very end of his Confession he admits that he did nothing, it was God who did it all.
“But I want you to know and sincerely believe that anything I achieved was not through my effort, it was the gift of God and this is my confession before I die.” (#25)
What can we learn from St Patrick today?
- To entrust ourselves, our Church, our country to God’s protective care
- To have full confidence in the Lord’s healing presence and power. “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its peoples” Ps 23
- To give thanks for God’s special care and call to each of us, knowing that God took the initiative in our vocation and will sustain us day by day
- To be devoted to reading the Gospels so that we take on the mind and heart of Christ Jesus and make decisions according to the mind of Christ
- To be receptive to God’s will in all our trials, to trust him unreservedly, God uses these trials to shape our hearts and conform us to Christ Jesus
- To be alert to all the opportunities we are given each day to proclaim the Gospel, and to know that whatever good we do is through God’s boundless grace
- To believe in the importance of intercession for our people and all people at this time
- Towards the end of his Confession Patrick makes perfectly clear that he “never had any reason, beyond the Gospel and its promises, ever to return to the people from whom I had formerly, barely escaped.”
We ask St. Patrick and all the Irish saints for a deep renewal of faith in God’s power to lift us up out of this present crisis, to keep us safe, to keep our hearts set on new horizons of hope and possibility and to gift us with a humble trust in Christ’s power to heal and renew in spite of our human weakness.
“But I want you to know and sincerely believe that anything I achieved was not through my effort, it was the gift of God and this is my confession before I die.” (#25) He is said to have died on March 17th 493 and is buried in the same grave as St. Brigid and St. Columba in Downpatrick in County Down.
St Patrick, St Brigid and St Columba intercede for us today.
– Mother Marie Fahy, Abbess of St. Mary’s Abbey, Glencairn