There is today a pressing need for all of us to read again Patrick’s own testimony about his life, call and subsequent mission to the Irish. He found a people who had already had some experience of the Gospel being preached to them but had not been evangelised in any way which bore permanent fruit or conversion. So, Patrick finds a people in some way familiar with a message, but still, for all that, hardened back into a pagan way of living.
More than ever today we, if we can call ourselves Christians who have the duty to preach the Gospel, in season and out of season, find people and society around us familiar with a Gospel message but less and less converted to it, and conformed to Christ. There is a reclaiming of paganism – literally, in fact, as new pantheons are assembled to satisfy human needs. The teaching which Patrick bound about himself – a rootedness in the Triune God, revealed to him through his meditation on Sacred Scripture – is for many today not a matter of interest.
“There is no other God,
There never was and never will be,
Than God the Father
Unbegotten and without beginning,
From who is all beginning,
The Lord of the universe as we have been taught;
And his son Jesus Christ
Whom we declare
To have been always with the Father
And to have been begotten spiritually by the Father
In a way which baffles description,
Before the beginning of the world,
Before all beginning;
And by him are made all things visible and invisible.
He was made man,
And was received into heaven by the Father,
Who has given him all power over all names
In heaven, on earth, and under the earth;
And every tongue will acknowledge to him
That Jesus Christ is the Lord God.
We believe in him
And we look for his coming soon
As judge of the living and the dead,
Who will treat every man according to his deeds.
He has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us in abundance,
The gift and guarantee of eternal life,
Who makes those who believe and obey
Sons of God and joint heirs with Christ.
We acknowledge him and adore him
As one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.”
A profession of faith, like Patrick’s above, remains merely academic and theological if it does not assume flesh in the life of the believer. This was Patrick’s abiding gift to us as witness – he communicates what he believes not only by the words of his preaching, and his writing, but by the word of his life. This lived word was one both of rejoicing and of suffering: betrayal by one whom he had called friend brought shame and derision, but he knew the power of the God who carried him:
“I give thanks to my God tirelessly who kept me faithful in the day of trial, so that today I offer sacrifice to him confidently, the living sacrifice of my life to Christ, my Lord, who preserved me in all my troubles. I can say, therefore: 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. Whether I receive good or ill, I return thanks equally to God, who taught me always to trust him unreservedly.”
Despite his own doubts, principally about his learning and being fit for the task of preaching the Gospel to the Irish, the Lord carried the work through:
“I came to the Irish heathens to preach the Good News and to put up with insults from unbelievers. I heard my mission abused, I endured many persecutions even to the extent of chains; I gave up my freeborn status for the good of others. Should I be worthy I am ready to give even my life, promptly and gladly, for his name; and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord should graciously allow me…. How, then, does it happen that in Ireland a people who in their ignorance of God always worshipped idols and unclean things in the past, have now become a people of the Lord and are called children of God?”
Perhaps we might most appropriately take that last statement of Patrick’s, invert it and apply it to what we see about us today: how does it happen that in Ireland the people of the Lord who were once called the children of God have now become a people who in their ignorance of God worship idols and unclean things?
Patrick’s extraordinary legacy to us today will be noticeably absent on his feast day. The preaching of the Gospel, the foundation of baptism and baptismal faith, the establishment of the sacramental life for a people covenanted with God, even the very commemoration on his feast day – in many ways they have been replaced by a paganism which is all too happy to celebrate “Paddy’s Day”.
Find a way to reclaim this day as it stands to celebrate a saint whose very presence is still marked throughout Ireland by places of pilgrimage and prayer. Perhaps it is time for a new penitential endeavour, rooted in the joy of Gospel living which challenges a culture devoid of respect for the person created in the image and likeness of the Triune God, and which, with much trumpeted shouts of victory, exults in abortion (at the moment, in this country, envisaged up to birth in certain cases), debunks traditional teachings, both human and Christian, about marriage, and now drives mightily to achieve state approved euthanasia. What marked Patrick’s preaching and writing, as far as we can see from the witness which he has left us, was the ever present, grace–filled action of God – God is never absent from his work of salvation in Christ. What marks the steady decline into new paganism, in Ireland particularly, is the very dismissal of God, which makes the dismissal of the human person inevitable:
“I now entrust my soul to God, who is most faithful and for whom I am an ambassador in my humble station. For God has no favourites and he chose me for this office to become one of his ministers, even if among the least of them. What return can I make to him for all his goodness to me? What can I say or what can I promise to my Lord since any ability I have comes from him? Suffice it for him to look into my heart and mind; for I am ready and indeed greatly desire it that he should give me his cup to drink, as he gave it to others who loved him. I ask God for perseverance, to grant that I remain a faithful witness to him for his own sake until my passing from this life.”
-Part of our ‘Celebration of the Saints’ series-