I had written this post about St. Patrick last year, so I thought I would repost it with a few tweaks since today is St. Patrick’s day. I pray that you find this reflection on the saint we recognize today helpful and inspiring.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I am sure there will be a lot of green being worn and Irish delicacies being consumed in our communities. Although, through all this celebrating, eating and general merrymaking that occurs on St. Patrick’s Day it seems the man behind the feast has gotten lost. What started as a day in the Church’s calendar commemorating a great missionary and servant of the Church has slowly been transformed into something completely different. On the good side it is a celebration of Irish culture. However, on the bad side it has quickly become a celebration of excess and over consumption of unnaturally green food and beer. Since St. Patrick’s Day fell right in the middle of Lent this year, let’s take a minute to redeem the day even though it has passed. Let’s commemorate this saint and allow his example and words challenge us during the Lenten season.
The book Common Prayer offers this brief description of Patrick’s life:
Patrick of Ireland (389 – 461)
At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped to his native Britain. Because he believed that his captivity and deliverance were ordained by God, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.” He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith. Over the next thirty years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat.
I cannot imagine what it would have been like for Patrick to be kidnapped and sold into slavery where he was forced to be a shepherd for six years. It is like his life was some bizarre combination of the biblical stories of Joseph and Jacob. What is even more unimaginable is that he escaped and was ultimately moved by God to return to Ireland to be a missionary and seek reconciliation. It is often tough for me to seek reconciliation with those who I have wronged or who have spoken ill of me. Attempting to seek reconciliation with those who captured and enslaved me seems way beyond the limits of my grace. But, today we remember Patrick who was driven by this desire for reconciliation with his fellow man and to spread the Gospel. There were also many legends that sprang up about Patrick that I do not have the time or space to go into here. While they may all be just myths and legends, they all point to the fact that he must have been a great man who affected a lot of people. There is no record of Patrick building anything, he fought in no battles, he did not lead a rebellion, none of his sermons or speeches remain and as far as we know he never healed anyone of sickness.
But, he sought to be reconciled to people.
If there’s a lesson in the life of St. Patrick that we can apply to Lent it is simply this. There is power in reconciliation and considering how we might repair our relationships with other people. Whether the relationship is broken because of our actions or because of the actions of others, we should seek reconciliation. Reconciliation seeks to restore community and can leave an eternal imprint on this world. The big theme in Lent is humble self-examination so we can see where we can make God more present in our lives. A central part in this self-examination should be making sure that others perceive Christ in our actions, and reconciliation is a key to that goal. That is why I was inspired to reflect on St. Patrick. A prayer attributed to him, often called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, has become very special to me. Here are a few stanzas that are among my favorites:
I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
The central theme of his prayer is not that Christ is “in” us driving everything we do, but that Christ is perceived by others in everything we do. There are many people who do things in the name of Christ but it is tough to perceive Christ through their actions and intentions. Here’s a tough question to put on your mirror or fridge during Lent.
Can Christ truly be in me if others cannot perceive his spirit through me?
Now it could be true that it is the other person whose perception is clouded and affected, but we ultimately have no control over that. What we do have control over is our own actions, our own words and our own heart.
What is there in your life that might be clouding others perception of Christ through your life? What people may you need to seek reconciliation with in order to remove the veil obscuring Christ working in you and through you?