LÁ FHÉILE PHÁDRAIG, ST. PATRICK’S DAY.
Aghagower: The village of Aghagower lies about six miles from Westport. It is on the path of the Tochar Phadraig or Patrick’s Way, that goes from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick. It claims a rich history of contact with our Saint. It is well worth a visit, – if you can find it!
Patrick baptized the local chieftain, Sinach, and ordained him Bishop.
Soon after, on Shrove Tuesday in 441, he and others walked to nearby Cruachan Ailleach (Croagh Patrick), and spent 40 days there, returning in time for the Easter Ceremonies on Holy Saturday. We ask his prayers now, at this difficult time in the history of our planet and world.
Patrick was born c. 386 AD, in Bannavem Tiberniae in Britain (or Britanny?): his father was Calpurnius, a Deacon in his community.
At age 16, young Patrick was taken captive with many others, by Niall of the Nine Hostages, and Patrick ended up, it is said, as a slave near the mountain of Slemish (Sliabh Mis) in Co. Antrim. There he tended sheep and other animals until the age of 22 or so. During that time, often alone on the mountain during the night, he found again the faith that he had learned but not lived, when he was a teen at home. He came to a great love for Christ.
He escaped at about age 22, travelled from Wicklow probably to Brittany. Later, he heard, in a dream, the call to return to Ireland to minister to the people who had enslaved him. He studied in Auxerre, in France, and was there for possibly twelve years. He trained as a priest, and later was ordained a bishop and sent back to Ireland. Many ridiculed him for his folly, but he was resolute.
Tradition is that he landed on a beach at Raholp, in Strangford Lough, in Co. Antrim, and spent his first night in Saul, nearby. There is a church in his honour there today.
He travelled through many parts of Ireland, preaching the Gospel and bringing the Irish ‘heathens’ to faith in Christ. He loved them dearly, despite all his hardships. He was desperately homesick, but would not leave, for fear he would never return. He stayed in Ireland for another thirty years, converting, baptizing, and setting up monasteries.
He died c. 461, and is reputedly buried in Downpatrick.
Patrick left us two writings, one called the ‘Confession’, a song of praise of God for his calling Patrick to work among the Irish people. The other is the ‘Letter to Coroticus’, who was a pirate who had taken captive many newly baptized men and women, and taken them into slavery.
Some quotations from Patrick: (Ireland was the back of beyond, then!)
- ‘We are indeed witnesses that the Good News (Gospel) has been preached in distant parts, in places beyond which nobody lives.’
- ‘I came to the Irish heathens to preach the Good News…I gave up my free-born status…I am ready to give even my life… It is there that I wish to spend my life until I die…among a people newly come to belief whom the Lord took from the very ends of the earth. ‘Is ansin is mian liom mo shaol a chaitheamh.’
- About himself: ‘I was like a stone lying in the deep mud. Then he who is mighty came and in his mercy he not only pulled me out, but lifted me up and placed me at the very top of the wall.’
- ‘One night I saw a vision of a man called Victoricus, who appeared to have come from Ireland with an unlimited umber of letters. He gave me one of the and I read the opening words which were ‘The voice of the Irish’. As I read the beginning of he letter I seemed at the same moment to hear the voice of those who were by the wood of Voclut which is near the Western Sea*. They shouted with one voice: “We ask you, holy youth, come and walk once more among us.” I was cut to the heart and could read no more.’
- In another place: ‘He passed over (the learned ones) for me, a mere outcast. He inspired me to be the one who would serve the people faithfully to whom the love of Christ brought me. The love of Christ indeed gave me to them to serve them humbly and sincerely for my entire lifetime if I am found worthy.’
- ‘We are a letter of Christ bearing salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth’.
- ‘Today, I offer …the living sacrifice of my life to Christ my Lord.’
- ‘Spread out your nets…make disciples of all nations… go into all the world.’
- ‘I cannot hide the gift of God which he gave me in the land of my captivity. I sought him vigorously then, and there I found him. He kept me from all evil because of his Spirit who lives in me and worked in me up to this day.’
- At the end: ‘Let your conclusion and the general opinion rather be the real truth, that my success was the gift of God. This is my confession before I die.’
Jesus was like a magnet, for Patrick. Patrick was drawn to Jesus Christ in a deep way, from the time of his being taken captive at about the age of sixteen. For the six years of his captivity (probably near Slemish Mountain in Co. Antrim) Patrick found again the faith that he had so lightly held, in his earlier youth. Ever after, young Patrick and not-so-young Patrick, was filled with a sense of the presence of Christ and the love of Christ, all about him and within. ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, the same forever’, said St. Paul. He can be a magnet for us today, if only we let ourselves be drawn to him. He hungers for us, and waits for an answer.
*The ‘Western Sea’ may well be Lough Neagh, which was West of Slemish where the young man, Patrick, tended sheep. In German maps today, for example, this large body of water is referred to as a Zee.
Jesus Christ and his people need young missionaries at this time of our human history, to bring the great news of the Gospel to people of all ages, young and old. Will you hear his voice and invitation to ‘Come, Follow me’, as did Patrick in his twenties?