Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick
March 17th 2011 is the 1550th. Anniversary of the death of St Patrick, Bishop, Missionary, the Patron of Ireland, New York City and Engineers in AD 460.  Patrick was born on the west coast of Britain probably near the present day city of Dumbarton in Scotland around AD 387 to a Christian family.

His father was a town councilor and a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the church of the day. We know about his life from three books that he wrote, “The Confession” (his autobiography in 62 paragraphs), “Letter to Coroticus” (against British Slave Traders) and “Lorica“ or “Breastplate,” from which comes the hymn. “I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity, By invocation of the same, The Three-in-One and One-in-Three.…" ("Common Praise" Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada #436.)

Patrick has been associated with the Shamrock (or the three leaf clover) and is reputed to have used it to illustrate the Trinity, the “three faces of God” in his arguments with the Irish Pagan Leaders. Let me use these three faces to illustrate this very gifted and energetic Christian missionary’s life.

The Father speaks to me of Saint Patrick's family life and how he learned of the Christian Way through his father, mother and his family as a child and young man. Growing up he experienced many Christian truths which he tucked away and came back to later in his life.

Many of us have had the same experience. I grew up in a non-Christian home and first learned about Jesus through two insurance sales persons, Miss Church and Miss Butt, who also ran a local Sunday School for St Catherine’s Church of England Church in Birkenhead, Cheshire. I not only learned the books of the Bible by heart there but I saw the love of Jesus in these two beautiful caring people. I also recall a scout leader named George Hoffman who cared for me to the point of buying me some hiking socks which my parents could not afford. George was later ordained and served as the Director of a Christian Aid Agency until a sudden and very tragic accident took his life.

St Patrick's Bell
St Patrick was captured while still a young man by Irish Pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave and herdsman for six years. He used the time alone in the fields to pray, unlike his earlier years of which he said, “I knew not the true God” and “I did not heed clerical admonitions for our salvation.” He had found the God of his fathers in general and the God of his own father in particular. (See St Patrick's Bell to the right.)

As a child and in my teens, I also thought of the Bible as a collection of nice stories until while on a journey to Birmingham from Liverpool by motorcycle, I felt the hand of God on me. I said to God, “Lord, if you are real come into my life and change me.” I had always questioned, “why did Jesus die on the cross?” and Jesus told me, “I died for you.” He convinced me and he changed me in that moment. The Bible became alive and real for the first time, God’s word speaking personally to me. The foul language which had been part of my life on those building sites was washed away and Jesus himself came to live in my heart. I was a new creation in Christ.

In a similar way, after six years of slavery Patrick was told by God in a dream he would soon go to his own country. He ran away from his slave master and walked some two hundred miles to the coast where there was a boat waiting for him. After many adventures in his native land including near starvation he returned home a changed man. He received some informal training including a knowledge of the Latin Bible, which he came to know very well, though his own Latin writing was described as “inelegant even at times rustic.”

St Patrick's Icon
He was made a priest and eventually a Bishop and sent back to Ireland as its second Bishop to preach against the Pagan religions which were prominent at that time and to convert the Irish people. Pagans worshiped all kinds of terrible, nightmarish and monstrous gods and practiced human sacrifice. These times were very cruel. (The snake by the way was one of the Pagan gods which Patrick preached against.) His missionary work with a group of colleagues was very successful and thousands were converted to Christianity and many churches built, some of which still survive today.

As a slave out in the fields, Patrick spent many cold and wet days and nights praying “a hundred prayers during the day and a hundred prayers during the night” often waking cold and shivering in the snow. But he said that he didn't feel the cold for “the Holy Spirit was burning in me.”

The Holy Spirit lives in, burns and invigorates every Christian. St Patrick knew it and I know it. St Paul also knew it for he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5.17)

That's what I think anyway.

Rev Ron