Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. Everyone loves a good story. If you ask whether a story or an idea has greater influence then a good story wins every time.
Christianity is not an idea but a story. It is a story of one man’s life, death and resurrection and the impact it had on the history of the world. In the late fourth century, news of that story reached the ears of a 16 year-old boy on the west coast of England. His name was Patrick. Around that time something terrible happened in his life. One day he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland where we was forced into slavery minding flocks and herds. For him it was a time of great suffering and loneliness but also a time when he found strength and meaning in his Christian faith. He came to know God as Father and himself as God’s son. After six years he managed to escape back to his family in England who begged him never to leave again. But it was a promise he could not keep for shortly afterwards he began to sense a call from God to return to the land of his captivity to bring the Gospel to the Irish. Patrick responded generously and heroically to that call and returned to live among a people who stole his youth but whom he forgave, loved and served.
The success of Patrick’s mission in Ireland is one of the most remarkable stories in the whole of Church history. Not only was he successful in converting the Irish but his work led to a chain of events that led to Europe being flooded with missionaries from Ireland who brought the Gospel to foreign lands, as Patrick had brought it to us. These Irish missionaries like Columbanus, Columba and Malachy made a huge contribution to culture and civilization in the Dark Ages as Europe struggled to recover after the fall of the Roman Empire. Millions benefitted not just from the gift of faith but from the peace and order that was restored. All this was made possible by God’s call of Patrick and his generous response to that call.
The story of Patrick’s life reminds us that we should never underestimate the good that comes from a generous response to God’s call. The same God who called Patrick is the same God who calls us. It is a call to believe, to trust and to go forward on the journey to where He leads us. It is a call to do some good, to contribute in some way and to be of service to people in Jesus’ name. It is a call that is unique to us for in the words of St John Henry Newman: “God has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission.” So then if I am a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a priest, a religious, a single person, a student, or a child, God calls my gifts and my life to be at the service of his kingdom. This holds true even if we are sick, elderly or feel like we have little to contribute. All God asks of us is our total ‘Yes’ as we respond to his call and go forward in hope.
During his visit to Ireland in 1979, Saint John Paul II asked us: “Remember Saint Patrick. Remember what the fidelity of just one man has meant for Ireland and the world” (Address to Seminarians, Maynooth). On his feast day, we remember Saint Patrick and give thanks for what God achieved through him. For us, may we never doubt the wonders God continues to do in our own day through people who respond like Patrick to his call with generous hearts. Because when we do, we keep alive the greatest story ever told.