St. Patrick’s Day Liturgy—St. Patrick’s Basilica—Ottawa, Ontario—Tuesday, March 17, 2015
ST. PATRICK, EVANGELIST OF IRELAND: OUR MODEL
[Texts: Isaiah 61.1–3 (Psalm 98.1–3, 7–8a, 10); 1 Peter 4.7–11; Luke 5.1–11]
Last weekend, I was in Toronto where revellers celebrated St. Patrick on many street-corners. On-line, I saw photos of the St. Patrick’s Day parade here in Ottawa. Leading the images was one of St. Patrick himself. Irish traditions, dancing, and celebration attract many people.
Today, we come together to celebrate the basic reality of St. Patrick. He grew up in a Christian family in Roman Britain. He suffered hardships as a youth captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. He miraculously escaped. He returned to Ireland with the good news of Jesus Christ, which he had come to embrace in the desert of his solitude when a slave.
The principal scriptural readings today help us understand Patrick’s vocation to take good news to the Irish. Our Lord called Peter, James, and John to leave family, possessions, and professions, to catch people in God’s great fishnet. Patrick had to leave his family, homeland, and former way of life to serve as the herald of Good News in Ireland. He gave himself utterly to shepherding his flock, the flock of Christ the true Good Shepherd.
Patrick shared the gospel of life with those who had been oppressed, broken-hearted, captives and prisoners. Fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, Patrick the foreigner offered the liberty and the true freedom issuing from the way of life proclaimed by Jesus. He declared the blessing of God’s year of grace and favour, of comfort to those in mourning, God’s gift of a garland instead of ashes, and a mantle of praise in place of a faint spirit.
In his brief Confessions, Saint Patrick says that he grew up as an “unbeliever.” He was from a wealthy family in Roman Britain, and his forebears were Christians. Although the priests of the Church tried to “remind us of our salvation,” Patrick and his companions paid no mind to God. They lived according to their wishes. They were like the people of our day who abandon their Catholic Christian upbringing and who need the New Evangelization.
During his comfortable and dissolute early years, Patrick ignored God. But, everything changed after he was captured by pirates. In his days of slavery, he cried out to God from his loneliness, shepherding his master’s flock in a wild and strange land. He found God in Christ in this time of grace. In the silence of the fields and forests, he prayed and “more and more did the love of God and my fear of him and faith increase,” for “the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”
In the company of the local people, he learned the Gaelic language fluently. The same Christ who drew him in prayer impressed the faces of the pagan people of Ireland upon his soul.
When he escaped and returned to Britain, he was determined to dedicate his life to Christ. Then, Christ called out to Patrick. In a mystical experience, he heard the Irish people calling him back to the edge of the world: “We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and walk again among us.” This calling drew Patrick, but fear and love of his own homeland and family inhibited him. He had reason to fear. His subsequent mission was full of grief and opposition, despite its awesome success.
Patrick was often tempted to flee the struggles and return home. But, he knew that Christ was present for him in the Irish people to whom he had been sent.
Today, our consideration of St. Patrick’s vocation leads us to keep in mind the struggles of the Church in Ireland. The Church seeks to be purified of past sins and failings. The Church strives to present again the Good News of Jesus Christ as a brilliant jewel worth embracing. We are mindful of the many confused young people among us. Like Patrick, they heard the gospel story, both at home and in school, without yet encountering Christ. Please pray that St Patrick’s Lord may draw them to himself and to His Church.
On several occasions, Pope Benedict spoke of the spiritual “desertification” of our age. In his opening homily, at the beginning of the Year of Faith, the Holy Father told us, “This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life…Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path.”
Pope Francis challenges us to joyfully help people to come to know Jesus Christ. He encourages us with these words: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not for him or her” (EG, nr. 3).
The purpose of evangelization is not the transmission of a doctrine, but an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ. We witness it in the great arc of history, from the time of the apostles to the great evangelizing bishops like Patrick and Boniface, through the periods of zealous missionary outreach by congregations of men and women in the 16th and 19th centuries to the new lay movements of our time.
That personal encounter is possible only because Jesus is risen and alive. He desires to walk alongside every believer, as on the first Easter afternoon he walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They recognized him in the “breaking of the bread,” and they shared their joy with others.
The best place to end our reflection on this annual observance of St. Patrick is to see this Eucharist as the culmination of the gratitude we have for God’s presence to us here this morning. As we feed on Christ’s Body and Blood, the heavenly food we receive to strengthen us in living our faith and commitment to Jesus, we treasure the centrality of our Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. This profound relationship links us to Patrick and all the saints and scholars of Erin.
In the prayer known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, we decree that God’s Providence rules over us through Christ’s abiding presence on our daily pilgrimage to the Kingdom of the Father:
Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in me
Christ above me
Christ on my right
Christ on my left
Christ when I lie down
Christ when I sit downChrist when I arise.
Photos: Paul Lauzon