St Patrick

Archbishop of Armagh, Apostle of Ireland (entered heaven in 461)

Dear Rick,

Reading those articles you forwarded makes my blood boil.  Those people call themselves Christians, but they forget about Christ!  I guess there is room for some sociological studies and statistical analyses when it comes to evangelization, but it certainly can’t be reduced to that. God alone can grant real “success” to apostolic action, and he is its primary instigator.  If we believe in him, if we love him and make our lives an offering of love, if we trust in his omnipotence and mercy – then we will see real progress, both in our own spiritual lives and in our attempts to spread his Kingdom. Just look at today’s saint, for example.

When Patrick came to evangelize the Emerald Isle (that’s Ireland, of course), it was thoroughly pagan.  The Celtic priests had a lock on the people’s hearts and minds, and the many small kingdoms were ruled by fearsome, power-mongering kings.  They terrorized the neighboring islands by raiding villages near the sea, killing the men, violating the women, and enslaving the children. Some sources indicate that they practiced human sacrifice; all agree that the magic of an advanced degree was the order of the day.  Hardly the portrait of a people primed to welcome the gospel. In fact, a few years before Patrick began his mission, Pope St Celestine I had sent the learned and talented Palladius to preach to the Irish, but he made no progress and saw no propitious prospects. After less than a year he retired hopelessly to Scotland, where, miserable, he died.  

So why was Patrick able to make so much progress?  Indeed, why did his thirty-year missionary endeavor result in the wholesale conversion of all Ireland to the Catholic faith (as all historical witnesses concur)?  If you read his “Confession” (a sort of autobiography and description of the work God had done in and through him), one characteristic stands out: his utter confidence in the love and the power of God.  He wrote it in his later years (he died when he was about 70), but even just a couple sentences hint at the immense challenges that he constantly faced, as well as the secret to his inexhaustible determination and incomparable fecundity: “Daily I expect either a violent death or to be robbed and reduced to slavery or the occurrence of some such calamity… I have cast myself into the hands of the Almighty God, for he rules everything; as the Prophet says, ‘Cast your cares upon the Lord, and he himself will sustain you.’”  

This wisdom had not come to him easily.  He was born of a Romano-British civil servant (who happened to be Christian a deacon as well) and a devout Christian mother.  Growing up in England, he had learned the basics of the faith, but had no interest in it. When he was 14, an Irish raiding party captured and enslaved him, and he spent the next six years of his life living outdoors in the harsh mountains where he tended his master’s sheep, and learned to pray.  He ran away from his slavery when he turned 20 and returned to England. God put it in his heart, however, to return to the land of Erin (another name for Ireland) in order to bring the true faith. It seems he went to France (called Gaul then) to study, learn the spiritual disciplines, and receive holy orders.  At about the age of forty, he returned to the country that would ever after claim him as their own St Paul, their own apostle, sent by God to lead them from pagan darkness into Christian light.

That, my bright young nephew, is a Christian apostle.  Don’t let the sociologists and “experts” convince you otherwise.  The Kingdom’s expansion won’t come from more statistical studies, but it will come from more saints, because only saints trust more in God than in themselves.

Happy St Patrick’s Day.  Your loving uncle, Eddy

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