St. Patrick, Bishop

posted in: Homilies, Saints | 0

Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:31-45

“And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.”

These are the words St. Patrick uses to begin his famous Confession, something many saints have done. But perhaps none of them has done so in the same style as St. Patrick, he using rather rudimentary Latin to write the work, and being much more brutally honest than you’ll see from most other works of confession. What you get from St. Patrick’s Confession is the life story of a man who was completely taken by love of God and dedication to his mission.

And, honestly, that he took up the mission at all is a little bit of a miracle. Having been brought to Ireland originally against his will, and finally having been delivered from it, one would think that he would be content to spend his days nearer to his family – who missed him terribly and feared for his life – but that’s not what he did, of course. He didn’t even harbor any bitterness against his first, indentured stay in Ireland. He writes: “Believe me, I didn’t go to Ireland willingly that first time – I almost died here. But it turned out to be good for me in the end, because God used the time to shape and mold me into something better. He made me into what I am now – someone very different from what I once was, someone who can care about others and work to help them. Before I was a slave, I didn’t even care about myself.”

I think what is compelling for me – maybe for most of us – in the story of St. Patrick is that it is a story of conversion. He writes of an unmentioned sin of his youth, dating from before he was ordained, even before he was living a Christian life. The sin is known to a friend of his – a friend who lobbied for him to become a bishop – who later betrayed him to his superiors. Patrick has long since moved on from where he was at the time this sin was committed, he is an older man now, looking back on youthful indiscretions, and not bearing any ill-will toward those who would rub his nose in it, he thanks God for the strength he has since gained: “So I give thanks to the one who cared for me in all my difficulties, because he allowed me to continue in my chosen mission and the work that Christ my master taught me. More and more I have felt inside myself a great strength because my faith was proven right before God and the whole world.”

So many of us can look back on the sins and indiscretions of our youth too. That Patrick could do it with gratitude in his heart for the strength God had given him is an example for all of us, a grace that we could all long for especially in these Lenten days of repentance.

Another thing that comes through so clearly in the Confession is, of course, Patrick’s love for the Irish people and dedication to his mission: “How wonderful it is that here in Ireland a people who never had any knowledge of God – who until now have worshiped idols and impure things – have recently become a people of the Lord and are now called children of God. You can see that the sons and daughters of Irish kings have become brothers and virgins for Christ.” He is in awe of the work God has done among the people since he has given himself to ministry there.

And the thing is, he could have walked away from Ireland all those years ago and never looked back. Who could have blamed him for distancing himself from the land where he was enslaved, and nearly died? But in the faces of the people of Ireland, he saw the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and imprisoned, and would not walk away. Instead, as the Gospel today directs us all, he ministered to their needs, as far as we know, until his dying day.

Dedication to the mission is something I always admired in Fr. Mike O’Keefe. He told me often that being a priest was the only thing he ever wanted to do. And he served Christ and his people well in over fifty years of priesthood. I’ll never forget when I wanted to tell him that I was finally going to seminary after many years of his encouragement. I called to make an appointment – which he couldn’t do for three weeks. So, of course, he heard about why I was coming to talk to him in the meantime. When I got there, he said, “I think I know why you’re here, because I had lunch with our vocation director last week. But I’ll let you tell me!”

During that conversation, he talked about his coming here from Ireland to go to seminary. He went to Mundelein Seminary, where I would be going all these years later. “It was a prison!” he said. Despite that rather dubious encouragement, he wrote a letter of recommendation for me that the rector of the seminary told me was the most beautiful of those letters he remembered reading in all his years of evaluating applicants to the priesthood. Fr. Mike’s continued encouragement of me through my seminary studies helped me to continue to long for the day when, well, when I’d be standing here. A few weeks before my ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Mike asked me to be the deacon for his 50th Anniversary Celebration. Then, just a few weeks later, he was present for my ordination and First Mass. I was so honored to celebrate that time with him.

Fr. Mike was a gentle, Irish soul who encouraged so many in the faith during his time as a priest. He tried to get me to come to this Irish Mass in the years that I was ordained, to celebrate with him. I had parish duties that kept me away, unfortunately, but he was able to get me here by a little gentle prodding from heaven, and I’m so honored to be here to celebrate my favorite saint, and to celebrate a man who did so much to encourage my vocation.

St. Patrick had to weather so many storms in his life. He was kidnapped and enslaved, he worked in mission territory among people who at times were hostile to the Christian way of life, he was betrayed by a friend and besieged by fellow clergymen who were jealous of the success of his ministry and critical of the way he did it. But through it all, he was grateful for the power of God at work in him. The faith that led him to be that way was nourished on a strong friendship with God. He’d hear nothing of us showing up here once a year for an Irish Mass. Instead, he’d have us celebrating our Irish heritage through daily communion with our God who longs to bless all our days.

Some say St. Patrick never wrote his famous “Breastplate” or “Lorica” prayer. Maybe not, but I tend to think it’s the kind of thing he would have prayed, every morning, to remind himself of the source of his blessing, to call on God’s protection, and to prime himself to look for Christ in every person:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the 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 Day.

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 demons,
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.