St Patrick

Just completed - A shamrock Image made of different woods

One of the difficulties with any great saint or cultic figure is to be able to separate the truth from the story or the person from the legend. A former football manager was reminising about his appointment. He was told that it was in the nature of his job that he would experience both success and failure and on the law of averages his career would end in failure. However his life would not ultimately be defined by failure but rather how he would handle it. In other words failure would be a given while his response would be an option. From his writings Patrich comes across as a mighty man not just in stature but more in how he coped with the failures and successes, the trials and tribulations of his life.

The 5th century is a kind of historical blackspot with the writings of Patrick providing the only surviving records from that time. It was known to be a time when people believed very strongly that one of the primary ways God spoke to his people was through their dreams and this became a primary feature of Patricks life where the really significant events were always preceded by a dream.

We know that he came from either Britain or Wales. His father was a bishop so if we wanted to give him a surname it would nearly have to be Padraig Mac an Teaspaig.

Most of us are familiar with the basics of his story, how he was captured by Niall of the Nine Hostages and sold as a slave to a sheep farmer in Meath. His early years were spent in captivity looking after sheep on Mount Shemish. Winters at the time seem to have been colder and harsher than what we now experience so you can just imagine the cold and hardship he must have endured. Yet it was during that time of loneliness and deprivation that he learned to pray. It was what he went through that awakened the magnificence of his soul. I suspect that his faith background must have helped him enormously and there he was unlike so many children today who are being brought up as spiritual orphans and when life turns sour they have nowhere to turn and often fall into a black hole of despair. Parents who fail to nurture their own faith must be very shortsighted if they fail to see the repercussions that will have on their children.

In a dream he was shown that he would escape from slavery. At the first opportunity he escaped back to Britain and was reunited with his family. Then following his drumbeat of destiny he trained to be a priest and rose to the rank of bishop. Where he may have served as a priest or for how long we just don’t know.

It was again through a dream that Patrick heard the voice of the Irish calling him to walk among them once more This he believed to be the voice of God calling him on what was to be his life’s work. It is to his eternal credit that he didn’t take what would have been the easy option and stay where he was. Like the old dog he was ready for the hard road.

We know that his missionary work was phenomenonal in its output and success and we might wonder why. There was a pope at the time called John who was very wise. Sending out missionaries he instructed them to build on what was there already, to knock nothing but to affirm everything. Generations of later missionaries could have done with that advice as they often went with a half baked religion and destroyed so much native culture, all in the name of Christianity.

In obedience to that advice Patrick built on what was there already. Here in these parts the first christians had landed here at Carnag Pier 150 years earlier so there were already long established christian comunities and churches. In Ireland in general he encountered a flourishing spiritual tradition that had already existed for thousands of years. In its essence this was very close to Christianity. The Celts saw divinty all around them, in rivers and hills, in sea ans sky and in every kind of animal. The foundation for what he was to build had already been laid and so he was able to work with what was there already. Where the celts worshipped at sacred wells he built churches. While they worshipped many gods he pointed them to the one God who was in everything and through whom everything was made.

It is that ancient celtic reverence for the spirit in all things that we have largely lost over the past few hundred years. It is also something that we need to regain if our church and faith are to be reborn and come alive after centuries of relating to church more than being in relationship with Christ; of more morality than spirituality and more exercise of the love of power than the power of love.

If we take the long view of history it was 150 years ago when Ireland really lost touch with its Celtic tradition and the faith of Patrick. After the famine it became strongly Romanised and this was where religion and life became separate. it also became less Christian and began to lose touch with its ancient roots.

How badly do we need Church leaders with stature at this time where for so long we have had such an absence of vision. How we need other Particks to walk among us who will point us again in the right direction because in all sincerity, and despite the best of intentions, we simply lost our way and need to rediscover the ancient paths.

If Patrick were around today what might his message be? I strongly suspect that it could be: If we are coming for communion, to first stop and think about what we are really doing. Is it just done out of rote because we always do it, or is it consciously opening the door of our hearts to Christ, accepting him as our Lord and Saviour – knowing he alone has the message of eternal life.

St Partrick’s Birthday

Twas on the eighth day of March, some people say, That Saint Patrick at midnight he first saw the day; While others declare 'twas the ninth he was born, And 'twas all a mistake between midnight and morn; For mistakes will occur in a hurry and shock, And some blamed the baby—and some blamed the clock— Till with all their cross-questions sure no one could know If the child was too fast—or the clock was too slow. Now the first faction fight in old Ireland, they say, Was all on account of Saint Patrick's birthday; Some fought for the eighth—for the ninth more would die, And who wouldn't see right, sure they blackened his eye! At last both the factions so positive grew, That each kept a birthday, so Pat then had two, Till Father Mulcahy, who showed them their sins, Said, "No one could have two birthdays, except they be twins." Says he, "Folks, don't be fighting for eight or for nine, Don't be always dividing—but sometimes combine; Combine eight with nine, and seventeen is the mark, So let that be his birthday." "Amen," says the clerk. "If he wasn't a twins, sure our history will show That, at least, he's worth any two saints that we know!" Then they all got blind drunk—which completed their bliss, And we keep up the practice from that day to this.

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