ST PATRICK (c. 386 – 461)
The second patron saint of ‘The Hook of Faith’ is St Patrick – missionary Apostle and patron saint of Ireland.
St Patrick was born on the West coast of Britain sometime around the late fourth century. When we was sixteen, he was captured by Irish pirates and brought to the West coast of Ireland where worked as a slave and tended flocks for six years. In his Confessio, Patrick describes this time in his life as one of great suffering but a time when he turned to God and rediscovered his Christian faith as a source of meaning.
Patrick interpreted his captivity as God testing his faith. He dedicated his time of enslavement to deepening his faith through constant prayer. Eventually he managed to escape back to Britain and was re-united to his family. Shortly afterwards, he tells of a vision he had where he saw the children of pagan Ireland reaching out and calling him back to ‘walk with us again O holy boy’ (Confessio 23). It was a call Patrick could not ignore and sometime later began to prepare for the priesthood.
It can’t be verified for certain but there is a strong tradition that he trained for the priesthood in France where he also became a bishop. The traditional date of his arrival back in Ireland is 432 AD, though it was probably closer to the middle of the century.
When Patrick arrived back in Ireland, he dedicated himself totally to the preaching of the Gospel and the pastoral care of the Irish. He describes his mission as ‘this holy and wonderful work’ (Confessio 34) and of his ‘pastoral care for the salvation of others’ (Confessio 28), dedicating himself to the Irish ‘lovingly and joyfully for their salvation’ (Confessio 51). He admits his difficulties as a missionary in a pagan culture but also of his hope that through him, God’s promises would eventually be fulfilled. Because of his sincerity and zeal for the Gospel, Patrick witnesses to many believers ‘born through me’ (Confessio 38). He is ‘an ambassador for Christ’ just as the Church is ‘the letter of Christ’ (Confessio 11). Here is a man convinced that mission matters: that just as the Father had sent Christ into the world so Christ had sent him to Ireland to bear his saving love in person to the ends of the earth (cf. John 20:21).
Through God’s loving call and Patrick’s generous response, the saving message of Christ not only transformed his life but an entire nation. Inspired by Patrick, Irish men and women have carried the offer of God’s saving love everywhere
they went in the world, convinced that like Patrick, the kingdom of God was brought about by their presence and witness. For the Church committed to the New Evangelization, this conviction of Patrick of the importance of his own role as a channel of God’s salvation is crucial and inspirational.
With so many who wait to hear words of hope and at a time of ‘rich harvest’ (cf. Matt. 9:37), Patrick and the saints lead every Christian to understand that our response to God’s call contributes uniquely to the saving mission of the Church that seeks to make Christ known and loved throughout the world. For Patrick, the acceptance by one man of his call to mission led to the conversion of a nation and the influence of millions over generations and continents. His story warns us never to underestimate the personal and unique task God has committed to each of us for in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, ‘God has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission’. As we remain focused on the New Evangelization and consider the task that lies ahead, let us not be discouraged or overwhelmed. It is Christ who asks us to bear him to the world so that his light, truth and Word can be seen and heard.
In 1979 during his visit to Ireland, Saint John Paul II asked us to: ‘Remember Saint Patrick. Remember what the fidelity of just one man has meant for Ireland and the world’ (Address to Seminarians, Maynooth, 1st Oct.). As we invoke his intercession for ‘the Hook of Faith’, we remember Saint Patrick and give thanks for what God achieved through him. We ask him to pray for all who contribute to this project and all who engage with its content. May ‘the Hook of Faith’ be a way of proclaiming the Gospel with the same spirit of zeal and conviction that marked the preaching and ministry of St Patrick when he first brought the gift of Christian faith to our nation
ST PATRICK, PRAY FOR US!!