St. Patrick’s Faith

Note: This is from a brief talk I gave at Palm Village Retirement Community this morning, March 16, 2014.  Most of the source information comes from How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History).  I’m a big fan of Thomas Cahill’s writing.  Some of the interpretation is mine, and some is his.  Give him credit for any brilliance you find, and me credit for any faults.

St. Patrick didn’t start his life as an Irishman or as a Saint, or even as a Christian, per se.  He was a Briton, of Roman cultural origins.  His first language was not Gaelic, but Latin.

Though Patricius grew up in a Christian family, he ignored the faith of his fathers.  God used some pretty awful circumstances to get ahold of him: he was kidnapped at age 16 by Irish pirates, taken to pagan Ireland, and sold into slavery.  He spent the next 6 years as a shepherd and as a slave.  Much of the time he was naked, and his body ached from hunger and exposure to the elements.

Image by Karpati Gabor, license information and more work at http://www.morguefile.com/creative/Karpati%20Gabor.

Image by Karpati Gabor, license information and more work at http://www.morguefile.com/creative/Karpati%20Gabor.

But God used those six years that Patricius spent (mostly alone) in a powerful way in his life.  In those lonely years, when he was far from home and wandering naked on the wind-swept hills of Ireland, he later said that God had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and he was given the chance to be forgiven of his sins and convert to Christianity.

He began praying, and later claimed to have prayed more than a hundred times per day during those years.  After six years of captivity, God told him in a dream that a ship awaited him 200 miles away at the coast.  He rose, obeyed this message from God, and was taken back to Britain.

The story of Patricius’s conversion rings with echoes from Acts 4:13.  As Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.“  Though St. Patrick later went through ecclesiastical training, his writing suffered from the 6-year gap in his education.  He remained, functionally, an unschooled man who walked with God.

God called Patricius, again using a dream, back to Ireland.  God called him to the people who had enslaved him.  If we were to see Patrick in our day, we would say he had a checkered past.  We would call him damaged goods.  We’d excuse him if he never recovered from the harm.  We might even call him a little crazy.  “Six years alone would do that to a man,” we’d say.  But he let himself be wrecked by God, and it turned out for God’s glory.

Some people have called St. Patrick the first cross-cultural missionary.  The apostles, with the possible exception of the apostle Thomas, never made it past the borders of the Greco-Roman world.  St. Patrick, some 300 years later, went to a people not his own.  He carried the gospel boldly across a cultural boundary.

Jesus said, in Matthew 11, verse 12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”  He may as well have said that about St. Patrick.  He demonstrated the gospel to the people of Ireland with power.  We don’t know how many of the stories about him are true, and what has grown from legend into fancy.  But we know that he demonstrated God’s power to warlord, kings and anyone else who would listen.  As the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 4, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Year later, St. Patrick had the opportunity to fight back against slavery.  He was the first person in human history to speak unequivocally against slavery.  This time, a British king sent raiders to the coasts of Ireland to seize thousands of slaves.  Patrick worked both by direct appeal to these kings and politically, through the church in Britain, to try to obtain their release.  Only a former slave could write so forcefully about the evils of slavery, and only one redeemed by Christ would argue for the release of the people who had held him in captivity.  God takes our wounds, and if we give them to him, they CAN result in His glory.  But usually not in time for our suffering to make sense.

So as we remember the day of St. Patrick’s death tomorrow, don’t think about Leprechauns and pots of gold.  Remember a man whose pain was used by God, who was willing to forgive those who enslaved him, and whose life mission was to demonstrate the power of God in obedience.  He was a man who saw no clear dividing line between this life and the next, who left open the possibility to see the finger of God at work anywhere in his world.  Even in the pain.

Among other writings, this prayer of St. Patrick survives.  If it’s okay, I’d like to pray it as our closing:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

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 way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man 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.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

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