St Patrick’s Day 2021
Who am I? And, who are you?
And who are we, all of us gathered into this space today?
Growing up, we had an old leather bound photo album at home. Every so often it was taken it down to insert the most recent family photographic record; a first communion, a confirmation or some family event. I was always more interested in turning those board pages back, back to pictures that peered from the past; ones in which I wasn’t present, to people I never knew and places I’d never been. I loved mam and dad telling us about who and where and when, each remembering into life a particular photograph. When I look back, I think I deliberately used to lure them into story time. They were great tellers and I loved listening.
Memory is central to who we are, to our identity and informs our experience of family, community, parish, world.
Today, as we do at every Mass we remember, we retell the story, that story that now, makes present the saving action of God in our life through Jesus Christ. We re-member ourselves, re-insert ourselves into this story. We re-present ourselves now that like the bread and wine offered, we too may now be transformed.
And on this day, as we remember, we open another page in our family album of faith.
Pádraig, Aspal mór na hEireann. Annually, we tell the story and keep the memory of Patrick, slave, keeper of sheep, bishop, miles Christi, Apostle and Patron of Ireland
We re-tell and in some cases rehabilitate his story, that we might understand something more of our own identity, of our own living, through the prism of his. This telling is complex, as much of what we have come to know of the man and his life is drawn from an amalgam of fact and legend. Many voices and causes have shouted down the centuries, rallying Patrick to their particular cause, painting him for their own image and likeness. But take away the air-brushing, the dear little shamrock, the crozier-stabbed snakes and the sweet-smiling mitred prelate, smash the glass and crumble the stone and all that is left is … well the man, as in his own words he reveals himself to us; Ego Patricius peccator – I am Patrick. a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers, utterly worthless in the eyes of many.
His principal writing, his ‘Confession’, is far more than a mere apologia to his critics, but rather a testimony, a declaration of his faith, and of God’s grace at work in his life. Here we meet the raw humanity of a man bearing no resemblance to that caricature, absent again this year from public display. A man, whose struggle with life events resonates in a much deeper way in reality with ours, particularly during this time of pandemic.
Patrick was a man of the now. A slave for six years from the age of 16, his only day was today. Slaves didn’t have a future, they didn’t generally get away, so there was no wiling away his lockdown ’till it was over and he could get back to how things used to be. No. ‘today’ was all he had; life or death. And it was into this today of tedium and isolation that God became known to him. The trappings of what was a life of privilege at home now stripped, he had all the time in the world for nothing as it were, and God made his way in. Isn’t it often the case for us, that when all which is not essential has been stripped away, at our simplest, deepest, sometimes loneliest, and desolate selves we find God, or having cried out, we encounter the God who in fact has never been absent from us. Dia i gcónaí ar na sleibhte, na gleannta ‘s ar na maighe, that ever-present-God in the highs, the lows and the even-plains of our daily living. This is the God, that, for Patrick, as for us, truly frees us from our ‘stuck’ places; ‘..like a stone lying in the deep mud,’ Patricks describes it, ‘ the Lord heaved me up and placed me on top of a wall.’
And, it wasn’t just that God, for Patrick, was ever present. God was the centre.
Patrick was clearly well versed in scripture, and prayed by day and by night, in rain, hail, and snow. But beyond this, he was, I think, deeply contemplative. It’s clear that prayer was not simply an activity, but the very attitude of his being; as if his breathing pulse was the Spirit, and every moment, movement and word were of Christ. This God to Patrick, as to Jeremiah in today’s first reading, was the fount and source, the one who formed, who knew, who consecrated, who appointed, who commanded, who put his words in Patrick’s mouth…it was not by my own grace, but God working in me…Patrick regularly says.
Christ as centre, as Thomas Merton says, in whom and by whom one is illuminated.
Any missionary success, he credits humbly to this grace, the power of the Trinity working in him; that very foundation to mission underpinning Mark’s Gospel just read. But it is Patrick’s own life that was possibly the real landscape of mission. That wilderness where the outpouring of God’s unconditional love and grace was sown and rooted, for a lifetime of encounter. Here was the seedbed of God’s action. Patrick, a man all too familiar with adversity and suffering; loneliness for his own family and place, brokenness from betrayal, daily fear of enslavement and death; with God’s grace, becomes resilient, courageous and persevering. How beautiful became those muddied feet, the bringer of good news.
And this Good news, for us is not simply a memory recalled, it is rather as the Lenten antiphon sings; ‘Now is the favourable time. This, today, is the day of our Salvation.
Dia linn lá ‘gus oiche, ‘s Pádraig Aspal Eireann
Br Pádraig McIntyre OSB