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."
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.
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.
Think of Saint Patrick as an enslaved eighteen-year-old, herding animals as an Irish out on the mountainside, looking at nature and having no church, and meeting his God in personal experience, for the first time. Maybe it was near the Cliffs of Moher or somewhere beside the Lakes of Killarney. But whatever it was about the land and scenery of Ireland, it produced a people who were great mystics and realized the number one sacrament of the presence of God was nature. And also, the sacredness of the individual. Maybe it was the barren land, or the awesome beauty, or the famine, or the persecution. For whatever reason, they learned to treasure the beauty of the land, and realize that, both in solitude, which they treasured, and community, which they built, that God was near.
One day Patrick felt the same call as Peter, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee, to follow Jesus Christ and spend his energies drawing others into Jesus' company. He too became a fisher of men, and women, among the people of Ireland. As he tells it in his Confessions, he did it very successfully, to his own amazement. For he calls himself a sinner, without learning, a stone lying in the mud. But the Lord by his grace raised up that stone, and set it on the very top of the wall, to hold the structure together. Patrick could easily see the words of the prophet Amos applying to himself: "then the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'" In Patrick's case, the call was to return to the land where he had been taken as a slave, but with the mission to bring the men and women of Ireland the glorious liberty of the children of God.
In the Confessions of St Patrick we also hear many echoes of St Paul's writings, for he clearly had a great love for the teaching and example of the great apostle from Tarsus. Not least, we find Patrick describing his zealous pastoral care for the people he met throughout Ireland in tones reminiscent of how Paul worked among the Christians of Thessalonica. Patrick's refusal to accept gifts of gold and silver from his converts was modelled on St. Paul's reluctance to make any financial profit from preaching the Gospel. Similarly, his commitment to his converts caused Patrick to vow to stay on in Ireland for the rest of his life. How well that fits in with the way of St Paul: "we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
His Loricum or Breastplate has the famous Celtic prayer, focussed on union with Christ: "Christ be with me, Christ surround me, Christ be in my speaking, Christ be in my thinking, Christ be in my sleeping, Christ be in my waking, Christ be in my watching, Christ be in my hoping, Christ be in my life, Christ be on my lips, Christ be in my soul, Christ be in my heart, Christ be in my sufficing, Christ be in my slumber, Christ be in my ever-living soul, Christ be my eternity. As Patrick prayed for the Irish people on the mountain in Mayo which bears his name (Cruach Padraig), let me add some prayers in that same style for you on his feast-day...
May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of Christ in your soul. May you realize that you are never alone, for He is always with you; that your soul, in its brightness, connects you with the Lord and with the rhythm of the universe. May you always realize that the shape of your personality is unique, that you have a special destiny behind the facade of your ordinary daily life. May you be able to see yourself with the same delight and expectation with which God sees you in every moment. And may the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
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, 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 obvious 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.
Dedicated 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 distinctive spirituality grew out of his personal experience of Christ, of his mission to Ireland of the needs of the newly evangelized. (One can link his Christ-centred "Loricum" with the spirituality of his great apostolic mentor, St. Paul, as expressed in today's noble passage from Philippians. Like Paul, Patrick regarded faith as not just knowledge but as a life filled with Christ. Faith is not simply a matter of 'knowing' the teachings of Christ and of the Church. It 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 in our hectic, electronic-dominated age. Patrick grew to realize that the faith into which he was baptized as a child was more than 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.
We might be wrong to take Patrick's statement about his ignorance at face value. To describe himself as a mere illiterate sinner was just a foil to highlight the glorious workings of God's grace. His Confessio clearly reveals that Patrick was no ignorant man. He was a skilled writer in the traditions of the Church Fathers and of late Roman literature. Patrick's work should be read alongside the larger Confession of his near-contemporary, Aug.ine. Both were pastoral theologians of great insight, deeply aware of the presence of Christ in their lives.
Patrick's theology grew out of his personal experience of Christ, of his mission to Ireland of the needs of the newly evangelized. Faith is not a knowledge but a life with Christ. Faith is not simply a matter of 'knowing' Christ and his teachings; it is a sensing of the presence of Christ and a response to that presence. Patrick grew to realize that the faith is more than statements about God, a belief system of the head but an awareness of the presence of God sharing his life at every moment. Starved of reliance on family and friends, the boy Patrick on Slemish discovered he was not alone. This sensing of the presence and love of God shaped his life and became the foundation of all that he did. Faith is this awareness of the presence of Christ and of his own worth as loved by God which runs through the writings of Patrick.
In Patrick's writings we meet the vision of the worth of each human being. His Christian message met opposition from those who considered others as barbarian and so not quite human. He opposed such distinctions in the name of the Gospel. This task is still an urgent one. . Even in our well-off society, the mantra of limited resources is used to hide the unequal provision of health care, education and employment. Our society has been coarsened by recent brutal, casual murders. It is high time to revive Patrick's vision of the individual worth of each person, even those who hate and attack us.
Inniú, ar féile ár n'Aspail náisiúnta, Naomh Pádraig, cheap me cúpla smaointe a roinnt libh, díreach ó'na scríbhínn álainn féin, as an bFhaoistín. Ní thabhairfidh mé an téacs go léir, mar tá sé ar fáil go soiléar ar an idirlín, ach seo dhíbh cuid de na haltanna is súntasaí liomsa. Tosnaíonn Pádraig go measartha agus go húmhal, ag léiriú an easpa súáilce abhí ann, mar óganach:
"Mise Pádraig, peacach ró-thuatach, an té is lú de na fíréin go léir agus an té is lú a bhfuil meas ag a lán air.' Is cosuil gur fhás sé suas i dteaghlach Críostaí, ach níor chuir sé mór-chuid suim ar an dteagasg a fuair sé ó'na thuismetheoirí: "B'é Calpornius, deochan, m'athair. Mac do Photitus, sagart, ab ea é, ó bhaile Bannavem Taburniae (san Bhreatain Beag). Bhí mé tuairim sé bliana déag d'aois agus níorbh aithnid dom an fíor-Dhia agus tugadh i mbraighdeanas go hÉirinn mé in éineacht leis na mílte daoine eile, rud a bhí tuillte againn de bhrí gur thugamar cúl do Dhia agus nár choinníomar a aitheanta. Agus scaoil an Tiarna anuas orainn cuthach a fheirge agus scaip Sé sinn trína lán ciníocha.'
Ach nuair abhí Padraig ag faire ar na mbeithigh ar Sliabh Mis na hAontroma, bhí fís íontach aige:
"Mar a bhínn ag aoireacht caorach gach lá, bhí grá agus eagla Dé ag teacht i dtreise chugam i ndiaidh a chéile, agus bhí mo chreideamh ag dul i méid agus bhí m'anam á ghríosadh. Is ansin d'oscail an Tiarna mo intinn ionas go gcuimhnínn, má ba mhall féin, ar mo pheacaí agus go n-iompaínn le lán-chroí chuig mo Thiarna Dia, a rinne trócaire ar m'aineolas, mar a dhéanadh athar dá mhac. Deirinn suas le céad urnaithe sa ló agus an oiread céanna beagnach san oíche, go fiú ins na coillte agus ar an sliabh dom. Dhúisínn chun urnaí roimh sholas in ainneoin sneachta agus seaca agus báistí . agus ní bhíodh leisce ar bith orm : mar is léir dom anois, b'é an Spiorad a bhí ag lasadh ionam an tráth sin. Mar sin ní thig liom bheith im thost i dtaobh an grásta a dheónaigh Dia orm i ndúthaigh mo bhraighdeanais agus is ceart go mórfaimis a éachta os comhair an uile chine dá bhfuil faoin spéir.'
Tar éis blianta cruaigh mar sclábhaí in Éirinn, bhain Pádraig a shaoirse amach: "Agus i mo chodladh dom chuala mé glór ag rá liom: 'Féach, tá do long fa réir'." dFhill sé ar an Breatan Bheag agus ina chiaigh sin d'imigh sé do'n Fhrainc, áit ar dhéan sé staidéar chun bheith ina shagart. I mainistir Auxerre, céad míle ó dheas de Paris, is cosúil a dhéan sé an staidéar sin.
"Agus ansin chonaic mé i bhfís oíche fear agus é mar bheadh sé ag teacht ó Éirinn, arbh ainm dó Victoricus, agus litreacha gan choimse leis. Agus thug sé ceann acu dom agus léigh mé tosach na litre mar a raibh 'Glór na nGael,' agus nuair a bhíos ag léamh b'fhacthas dom gur chuala mé a nglór, mar bheadh d'aon ghuth : 'Iarraimid ort, a bhuachaill naofa, teacht i leith agus bheith ag siúl athuair inár measc.' Agus tháinig an-bhriseadh croí orm agus níor fhéadas a thuilleadh a léamh agus ansin dhúisíos.' "Ní uaim féin a chuaigh mé go hÉirinn ach mar gur cheartaigh an Tiarna mé tríd agus gur chóirigh Sé mé i dtreo go mbéadh bail orm go mbéadh slánú daoine eile mar chúram orm, agus nár smaoinigh mé fiú orm féin an uair sin.'
Tugann sé cúntas ar conas a tháinig an Soiscéal d'ár sinsir ina dhiadh sin: "Cé mar tharla in Éirinn daoine a bhí riamh gan eolas ar Dhia ach iad i gcónaí go dtí seo ag adhradh nithe neamhghlana, cé mar tharla go ndearnadh pobal an Tiarna díobh agus go ngairtear clann Dé díobh, go bhfuil clann mhac na Scot agus clann iníon na ríthe le feiceáil ina manaigh agus ina n-ógha le Críost.'
Tá naomh Pádraig lán sásta leis an méad daoine a bhaistigh sé in Éireann. "Mar sin, tá cuntas simplí tugtha agam dom' bhráithre agus chomh-oibrithe a chreid ionam mar gheall ar an teagasc a thugas le bhur gcreideamh a neartú agus a dhaingniú. Is é mo ghuí go mbéidh sampla níos fearr á leanúint agaibhse agus obair níos tábhachtaí á déanamh!
Roimh críochniú dó, déannan sé urnaí óna chroí ar son muintir na nGael:
Dá bharr sin nár líge mo Dhia dom go gcaillfinn choíche a phobal a cheannaigh Sé in imchéin an domhain. Guím Dia buan-seasmhacht a thabhairt dom agus a dheónadh go mbéidh mé im fhinné dílis dó go fágáil an tsaoil seo dom ar son mo Dhé. Ach is é mo ghuí ar lucht a chreideann i nDia agus ar lucht a eagla, cibé duine a dheónas an scríbhinn seo a chum Pádraig, neamh-oilte is mar tá sé, in Éirinn a ghlacadh, go mba tabhartas Dé é. Agus siúd i mo Fhaoistín roimh bhás dom.
Is mór an t'áthas linn, a cháirde, an tAspal cróga croíúil sin a cheiliúradh inniú. Le chúnamh Dé, déanaimís ár ndícheall a shampla a leanúint agus traidisiún an chreidimh Críostaí a choimead suas lenár linn, anseo in Eirinn.