Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
St. Patrick’s Day approaches this Wednesday. It is an Irish Festival celebrated on the death anniversary of Patrick who played an important role in Irish History. This festival is celebrated best in Chicago, Dublin, St Louis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Savannah, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Davenport, Boston, Pittsburg, and Genoa Nevada.
Sadly, because of the pandemic, we are not celebrating in the Town hall this year, but we can still celebrate in our hearts. For those of us who like green beer and red beards, we can dress up our clothing, faces, and beverages any way that we like. Or, we can learn a bit more about this man, and take away some lessons from his life… or both.
First off, he was not Irish. He didn’t drive the snakes from Ireland. He was born Maewyn Succat around 390 AD in Britain. When he was 16, Irish raiders attacked his family’s estate, kidnapped him, and took him to Ireland as a slave, where he tended herds. He escaped after six years and found passage back to Britain on a ship. After nearly starving and suffering a second brief captivity, he was reunited with his family.
He had a dream, which featured him reading a letter and hearing Irish people begging him to return to Ireland and share the concepts of God. Because he felt that he lacked the proper education he chose to become a priest before responding to the call. When he became a priest, he changed his name to Patricius, or Patrick, which derives from the Latin term for "father figure".
Finally in 432, he gained confidence in the Lord, and traveled throughout Ireland, spreading the Gospel and baptizing converts. In his quest to make Christianity understandable to the Irish, he is attributed with using a shamrock to explain the Trinity. Probably more legend and myth than fact.
Even though he dealt fairly with the non-Christian Irish, he lived in constant danger of martyrdom. He also faced some opposition from his superiors in Britain. He faced his challenges with courage and gave of himself unselfishly during his 30 years of missionary work in Ireland.
By the time of his death, believed to be on March 17, 461 AD, he had established over 700 Christian churches, schools, and monasteries in Ireland, and some say that he baptized up to 100,000 people. He was a faithful, determined, gutsy, creative, loving, and tireless missionary in a resistant land. He was a remarkable servant of God.
His example leads to some important lessons, the first of which is to stay faithful to our Divine Path despite the appearances of the World. Most of us have not been captured by pirates, but we’ve had our share of rough times. Our lesson is to know that our challenges exist to teach, strengthen, and build us into fully functioning faithful Children of God. Romans 5:2-5 teaches - “…we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
Rejoicing in our suffering always sound ridiculous, until we understand that God is directing us toward Divine Growth and our greatest fulfillment of potential So, we keep the faith, just as St. Patrick kept faithful.
The second lesson is the reason we remain faithful, and that is because we trust in God’s plan. As Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We trust that God’s plan, including all the craziness that we encounter on our life journey is directing us toward the goodness that God wants for us and toward fulfilling our Divine purpose. If Maewyn Succat had not been kidnapped and taken to Ireland in his teens, he perhaps never would have had the dream and understood its meaning, returned, and brought God’s blessings to the people of Ireland.
We have all heard the expression, “God works in mysterious ways.” It is not from the Bible, but it is inspired and describes the workings of Spirit. 2000 years before Succat was kidnapped, a Hebrew lad was sold into slavery by his brothers. Jospeh was taken to Egypt, was falsely accused of attempted rape, thrown into prison for many years, interpreted some dreams, and ultimately saved thousands of people from starvation as a shining vessel through which God poured love.
God has a plan for each of us. We cannot compare our life and path with anyone else’s; it does a disservice to God. What we can do is trust that God’s plan for us is good.
A third lesson is a prequel to the first lesson. Not only do we remain faithful on our journey, but we must step forward in faith to begin our journey. Maewyn initially felt unworthy to the call he received in his vision. Moses felt the same way when God instructed him to lead His people out of slavery. Moses resisted: “No one will believe me. I don’t talk good and don’t have eloquent speech.” We come up with lame excuses to resist God desire to use us, bring us into the Light of Spirit, and open us to the Divine One’s plans.
Just know that this is a normal reaction. It is not weakness; it is the baseline of who we are, the starting point of where we are now and where God wants us to be. We just need to trust God. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” We just need to begin, and as they say, “God’s got our back.”
The fourth lesson Maewyn Succat, St. Patrick, brings us is that we are most effective when we meet people where they are. I remember during my musical education training as a student teacher, I was in a middle school general music class. I was learning all the academic techniques for teaching, all the ‘proper’ musical source material, when this gentle-souled teacher began a lesson on musical form. He began playing a recording of a popular song the kids all knew from the radio. After the class I asked him about the use of a pop song for the lesson. He said, “You need to meet them where they are before you can move them on to where they can be.”
On reading some of Maewyn’s historic writings, they seem barely coherent and rambling. But God did not choose him to be ‘eloquent’; He chose him to be effective. So Maewyn went forward confidently and met them where they were. The Celtic culture already held the shamrock in great esteem, having learned that many principles in life came in threes. Succat just added one more concept to the already existing database. The thinking goes that Succat would take an existing concept or holiday and wrap a concept he wanted them to learn around it. The Celts had holidays that would become feast days for Catholic Saints. He met them where they were and effectively made his points known.
Other lessons from the story of St. Patrick jump out: don’t be afraid to get dirty while doing God’s work, be obedient even when things seem bizarre, overcome our past with confidence and know that our past does not predict our path. Forgiveness is key to doing God’s work.
But the one I want to end with is the idea of putting together a team to make ourselves more effective. Succat took the idea that Jesus used, the idea of building disciples to help him in his ministry. One of the reasons many think St. Patrick was so effective was because of his specific method of evangelism. After converting someone, Succat realized it was more beneficial to send these new believers and “missionaries” out in teams. These teams typically had about a dozen members who would travel together from tribe to tribe, sharing concepts of God and discipling people.
When his teams would enter a new tribe, they’d ask to live with them, in community, for a few months. They became part of the culture, working, eating, and talking with each other daily. They didn’t shout Bible verses and drive them away, they invested in these people and showed them what it meant to be a Christian.
Patrick had another strategy and that was to convert the King or Chief of the tribe first and then allowed him to disciple the rest of his people. After a few months with one tribe, a team would leave a few people behind to continue to disciple these new Christians, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves or work out any issues that may arise without help. But the bulk of the new believers would begin traveling with the team, learning and discipling as they went. The Chiefs would often send their sons with Patrick when he left so he could teach and disciple them while they prepared to take leadership of the tribe.
This seems to be one of the reasons Maewyn Succat was so successful in his mission to convert all of Ireland. Rather than “go it alone” and get overwhelmed and exhausted by the work, he chose to travel in a team, where he could call and rely on others to help and encourage him in his mission.
St. Patrick’s story has at least one takeaway for all of us. Perhaps it is regarding how we look at our current life situation. Are we going through challenges? If, so can we change our perspective and see them as opportunities for growth and transformation.?
Maybe we feel a calling or yearning but lack the courage to move on it. Can we remain faithful and ‘stay the course’ despite the difficulties we meet? If it were easy, anyone could do it. But God has called us for this journey. Can we move forward with confidence, knowing that God’s plans for us are good, leading to prosperity, hope, and a future? Maybe we are being led to be part of a team, an opportunity to share our skills and hearts with others?
I pray that we will trust that God’s plans are for our good, to strengthen us, build us up, and make us more effective. As a Child of God, I pray that we hear the message of Acts 13:46 – For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ May the spirit of St. Patrick fill you with love, joy, peace, faith, trust, perseverance, and confidence, and may you share the Light of Christ with all you meet and all those you hold in your minds and hearts.