by Fr. Tommy Lane
If we go behind the folklore and mythology and fables to the real St. Patrick he is a fascinating man, whose life contains many similarities to biblical figures and is a challenge to us priests and seminarians. His capture and transport to Ireland as a slave reminds me of Joseph in Genesis. When Joseph was sold down to Egypt would he ever have thought that he would one day save that country from famine and that he would be vice-regent of the country? One of the theological statements in the long Joseph story in Genesis is 50:20 which states,
“The evil you planned to do to me has by God’s design been turned to good, to bring about the present result: the survival of a numerous people.”
The evil done to Patrick was also turned to good by the grace of God to save Ireland.
But we should not be surprised that coming to God’s own country was the beginning of a profound new relationship with God for Patrick. It is only what one would expect from visiting that country!!! Before coming to Ireland Patrick described his spiritual life like this,
“I did not know the true God, and I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people… ” (Confessions §1)
He describes his spiritual awakening in Ireland in these terms,
“there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and then turn with all my heart to the Lord my God… ” (Confessions §1)
“I cannot be silent - and indeed, I ought not to be - about the many blessings and the great grace which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me in the land of my captivity. ” (Confessions §2)
God does not always call the best to serve him but he calls the willing. Patrick was well aware of his shortcomings and he wrote,
“I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many.” (Confessions §1)
Therefore he ascribed all his missionary success to God,
“I, once rustic, exiled, unlearned, incapable to provide for the future, this at least I know most certainly that before I was humiliated I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came and in His mercy lifted me, and raised me up, and placed me on the top of the wall.” (Confessions §2)
Through divine intervention Patrick escaped from slavery and went back home. While there God called Patrick to the priesthood to minister in Ireland through nighttime dreams in which he heard the Irish calling him back.
“And another night - whether within me, or beside me, I know not, God knows - they called me most unmistakably with words which I heard but could not understand, except that at the end of the prayer He spoke thus: `He that has laid down His life for you, it is He that speaks in you'; and so I awoke full of joy.” (Confessions §11)
After studies in France Patrick was ordained a priest and later ordained a bishop for the mission in Ireland.
When God calls us we can make use of all our talents and gifts to serve his kingdom. St. Paul being a brilliant Pharisee, after his conversion was able to use his learning to show that the Torah had been fulfilled in Jesus. Patrick having learned the Irish language during his captivity would need it during his ministry.
Just as St. Paul experienced many rejections during his ministry so also did Patrick,
“the merciful God often freed me from slavery and from twelve dangers in which my life was at stake - not to mention numerous plots.”
The most severe setback Patrick’s ministry suffered was when soldiers from a prince named Coroticus on the west coast probably of Wales came and slaughtered many of Patrick’s newly baptized. Patrick was enraged and wrote a letter to Coroticus and his soldiers and told them they would suffer eternal punishment in hell.
The fruit that Patrick’s ministry bore is so huge it is difficult to comprehend. He converted a nation from paganism to Christianity, and that nation in turn helped the spread of Christianity in many other nations afterwards. Patrick planted the seed and that seed continues to bear fruit in every century and in every corner of the world. That is what happens when someone gives their heart totally to Christ, there is no limit to what the Lord can do. There will be no limit to what the Lord can do with us if we too give our hearts totally to him. As we give thanks to God today for the gift of faith and for St. Patrick we are also painfully aware that the country he converted is now losing the faith at an alarming rate. Let us pray for Ireland that it may once again become a light to the nations.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for March 17th - St Patrick’s Day