Monday, March 15, 2010

The genius of St. Patrick

St. Patrick's day is just around the corner. And yes, we celebrate St. Patrick's Dat, even on Oahu. Patrick has been on my mind of late. I attended a St. Patrick's dinner Saturday night, having the most delicious corned beef, cabbage, and potatoe salad. Man, was that good! At Church on Sunday, I turned my attention to the life of St. Patrick. From time to time I like to preach on the lives of the Celtic saints, as it reminds us our of important Celtic tradition. Let me share with you some of what I said.

Patrick was born in the fourth century, although scholars are not sure exactly where; some say England, while other mention Scotland or Wales. We do know Patrick came from a family where religion played an important part. His father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest. As a youngster, Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was a slave for six years. This must have been a traumatic experience for the young lad, being taken from persons and places he held dear. To get through this time of crisis, Patrick began praying, and this is what he said in his own words:

"Tending flocks was my daily work, and I would pray constantly during the daylight hours. The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more-and faith grew and the Spirit was roused, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and afte dark, nearly as many again".

Patrick has numerous dreams his whole life (see my article on Jung and dreams for more) which he took seriously. One night Patrick was guided in a dream to escape and return to Britain. Mysteriously and providentially, Patrick was able to locate a boat and sail back to Britain.

The next phase in Patrick's life centered around his theological training and education. Here too, scholars are not clear just how long a period we are talking about here. In my studies, I've seem estimates as much as 20 and 30 years. Fortunately theological studies are not quite as comprehensive these days!! During this time, Patrick met and befriended a holy man (who also happened to be a Bishop in the Church) named Germanus. Patrick was taken with Germanus's learning and piety, and as many would do, remained with his friend, soaking up his wisdom and piety. It was a formative time, one of Patrick's defining moments. Germanus was Patrick's soufriend, a key element in Celtic Christianity. And then again through a dream, Patrick was invited to move on and return to Ireland to "come back and walk amogst us once more". And Patrick did go, to a country far out of the mainstream of European life. His friends and contemporaries must have thought he had lost his mind.

I won't go into the many miracles that Patrick was involved in. Many others have done that. And you should read those accounts yourselves. I recommend Celtic Spirituality (1999) which contains the main texts in the Patrick Tradition, including Confessio and The Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. Personally, I am attracked to Patrick because of his wonderful personality which STILL comes through the pages of his writings. His personality seems larger than life, and there seems to be nothing he cannot do. He's God's man, so what else do you expect? Moreover, Patrick wisely immersed himself in Irish culture, learning the language, soaking up the stories, and thought forms, and used these to help spread the saving message of the Christian faith. Like so many others, Patrick could have in a paternalistic way stuck to what he was familiar and comfortable with, but he wisely chose not to. By becoming "Irish" Patrick was able to have an impact in a foreign land that is unparalled anywhere by anyone.

So on Wednesday, St. Patrick's Day, pause for a moment and think about what Patrick means to you.


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