This Sunday is the Second Sunday in Lent, but it is also my "onomastico" - my Name Day, St. Patrick's Day. We associate St. Patrick with all things Irish, or at least with Irish-y marketing gimmicks - green beer, Shamrock Shakes (bless ye, McDonald's), and more or less anything that can be dyed green. But of course behind all of that, and behind the legends about snakes (or the absence thereof), there is an actual saint; that is to say, an actual man so transformed by the love of Christ that he himself was "conformed to the image of Christ" and made a remarkably faithful herald of the Gospel of Christ.
We know the outlines of Patrick's biography from his own hand, his Confession, a sort of defense of his methods, teaching, and intentions, written near the end of his life. He was born on the western coast of Roman Britain in the latter half of the 4th century. Patrick's father was a deacon, but Patrick himself was, he tells us, entirely uninterested in the things of God when, as a sixteen year old, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he was set to work tending sheep in the wilderness. For six years he labored as a shepherd - cold, alone, hungry, and often brutalized. But in that time he began to pray - and pray and pray and pray. And even in the midst of his suffering he began to rejoice in the Lord's goodness and mercy. After six years, and goaded by an angel who spoke to him in a dream, he escaped, walking some 200 miles to the coast where he found passage on a boat to Gaul. There he entered a monastery where he lived for probably 20 years and was ordained a priest and discovered within himself a desire to return to Ireland, to the people who had enslaved and abused him, to share with the the good news of Jesus Christ. Patrick was then ordained a bishop and returned to Ireland, where his preaching - augmented by the holiness of his life and the goodness and beauty of Christian culture he came bearing - was remarkably effective. Without bloodshed, without martyrs, Ireland was converted to the Catholic faith by Patrick's ministry.
It is a remarkable thing: he returned to what was for him "the land of Egypt, the house of bondage." As he said himself, "I have sold my patrimony, without shame or regret, for the benefit of others. In short, I serve Christ on behalf of a foreign people for the ineffable glory of life everlasting which is in Jesus Christ our Lord."
Sadly, the situation in Ireland is very different today, and the slide back into paganism with its inevitable sacrifice of children is well advanced. But we cannot climb the high horse of self-righteousness: the failure of the Church to be the bearer of the truth, beauty, and goodness, and especially the horrible sins and crimes of priests and religious, have turned the Irish from Christ. Ireland awaits "another - doubtless very different" St Patrick to speak again the tender mercies of our God; indeed, the blood of her children cries out.
So, this St. Patrick's Day let us of course celebrate all those good and charming (intoxicatingly so!) aspects of Irish culture. You might even join me at St Patrick's Church at 8AM on Saturday morning where I will concelebrate with Bishop Guglielmone (I think it's O'Guglielmone this weekend) the St Patrick's Day Mass (transferred) and then enjoy the parade afterward. But let us also pray that, at the intercession of St. Patrick, the Lord will call Ireland back to himself, and also that we will grow in that same zealous love that compelled Patrick to "go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28.19)
God bless you,