A great saint, a great love of the Gospel

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Walter Brueggermann, a scripture scholar, has done extensive work on the study of prophets in the scripture. Connecting passion with prophecy he claims “the possibility of passion is a primary prophetic agenda” and explains further that passion is “the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die and to feel.”

This month we celebrated the feast of a saint who expressed his baptismal call to be prophet in his passionate zeal to bring the living word of God to the Irish people. Patrick, a native of Roman Britain, was brought to Ireland as a sixteen year old slave in the year 400. Patrick was born a Christian. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. (It was only in the 11th century that celibacy became a requirement for priesthood.)

During his time in Ireland he tended sheep and learned to pray in the solitude and desperation of oppression. Patrick came to know God as his constant companion, his protector. “The Lord opened the consciousness of my unbelief…that I might turn with a whole heart to the Lord my God who kept watch over me before I knew him. God consoled me as a father a son.”

Patrick spent six years in slavery before his escape back home to Britain. For seven years Patrick traveled around the Roman world – Italy, Gaul, the Mediterranean – spending time in a monastery near Cannes. Then he studied for ordination, but in all this time the cry of the people of Ireland pursued him. He heard their voice in a dream: “We request you, holy man, that you come and walk further among us.”

In 429, at the age of 45, Patrick returned to Ireland. “I had come to the Irish to proclaim the gospel so that I might give up even my soul unhesitatingly and most willingly for his name. Christ the Lord has commanded me that I should come to be with them for the rest of my lifetime.” Patrick was impassioned with the gospel and with the desire to bring it to the people with whom he had shared poverty and suffering.

Dismissing no one as unworthy of the faith, Patrick converted the high king of Tara whose son had captured Patrick as a young boy and sold him as a slave. Patrick covered Ireland with his preaching and baptizing, lighting the Easter fire at Slane against the orders of the king. Patrick feared no one. “I am in awe of none of these things (slavery, torture, imprisonment) on account of the promises of the heavens, because I have hurled myself into the hands of an all-powerful God who rules as Lord everywhere.

At the time Patrick was preaching and evangelizing Ireland, it was beyond the reaches of civilization according to the Roman world. Because of Patrick, Ireland became the center of learning, prayer and culture which later sent missionaries throughout the world to rebuild the Church and culture which had been destroyed with the fall of Rome.

Patrick was clear for whom he worked. He never accepted gifts or money for any of his services. “Poverty and calamity have come together for me better than riches and delights.” Patrick lived and died for Jesus Christ and his gospel and shared that love passionately with his people in Ireland. Abandonment to Christ and commitment to be a witness to his gospel is the legacy of Patrick to the Irish and to the world.

Sister Patricia McCarthy is provincial for the Congregation of Notre Dame. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.