Deacon Tim Dunlop gives a reflection on St Patrick
As an eighteen-year-old, Patrick found himself in a tragic condition. He was a wretched slave, far from home and made to herd animals out on a cold mountainside in Antrim. He now had plenty of time for looking at nature and somehow it was there that he encountered God for the first time. Oh yes, Patrick’s father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest, but as a youth Patrick had not bothered with religion while growing up in the comfort of Roman Britain. Only after his life was turned upside down by those Irish slave-raiders did he find a new depth in his heart. Whatever it was about the land and scenery of Ireland, it produced a mystical spirit in this captured Roman. For him, nature became the sacrament of the presence of God. Maybe it was the barren mountains, or the awesome beauty of the coastline, or the turning of the seasons. For whatever reason, he learned to treasure the beauty of the land, and realize that God was very near.
One day Patrick felt the call (like Peter, Andrew and the others), to follow Jesus Christ and spend his life sharing Christ with others. He too became a fisher of men – and women, among the people of Ireland. As he tells it in his Confessions, he did it very successfully, to his own amazement. For he calls himself a sinner, without learning, a stone lying in the mud. But the Lord by his grace raised up that stone, and set it on the very top of the wall, to hold the structure together. Patrick could easily see the words of the prophet Amos applying to himself: “then the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” In Patrick’s case, the call was to return to the land where he had been taken as a slave, but with the mission to bring the men and women of Ireland the glorious liberty of the children of God.
In the Confessions there are many echoes of St Paul’s writings, for Patrick admired the teaching and example of the great apostle from Tarsus. Not least, his zealous pastoral care for the Irish people mirrors how Paul worked among the Christians of Thessalonica. Patrick’s refusal to accept gifts of gold and silver from his converts imitated St. Paul’s reluctance to make financial profit from preaching the Gospel. Also, his love for his converts made Patrick vow to stay on in Ireland for the rest of his life. How well he followed the way of St Paul: “we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
Patrick’s Loricum or Breastplate has the famous Celtic prayer, focussed on union with Christ: “Christ be with me, Christ surround me, Christ be in my speaking, Christ be in my thinking, Christ be in my sleeping, Christ be in my waking, . . . Christ be in my ever-living soul, Christ be my eternity.”
As Patrick prayed for the Irish people on the mountain in Mayo which bears his name (Cruach Padraig), let’s pray for each other on his feast-day:
“May you recognize in your life the presence, the power and the light of Christ. May you realize that you are never alone, for He is always with you; that your living soul connects you with the rhythm of the universe. And may the road rise up to meet you and the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”