Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Of course, since the feast falls this year on a Sunday, poor St. Patrick gets the short end of the proverbial shillelagh and his feast is not celebrated liturgically. Nevertheless, his life provides us with a good Lenten example. The spiritual journey we take during these forty days were reflected throughout his holy life.
Born in Roman Britain (making him, depending on how much you want to needle your Irish friends, an Italian or an Englishman), he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to the Emerald Isle as a slave. In his captivity, he turned to God for solace and strength. Though he escaped slavery, God inspired in his heart a deep desire to return to Ireland so that the Gospel could be preached there. And so he became a priest and was eventually sent, now as a bishop, to Ireland for the mission of bringing the Gospel to the Irish people. Within forty years, he had converted the entire island to faith in Jesus Christ.
Lent is a season for us to turn away from our slavery to sin. The tragedy of the human condition is such that when we are captured by temptation and sin, we struggle to escape. Even after we have escaped, we tend to go back, falling into the same sins and bad habits we had before. The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent can be a powerful training ground in which we learn what it takes to truly escape from the slavery of sin. St. Patrick escaped from slavery in Ireland, a place that, at the time, was entirely pagan and hostile to the Gospel. Sin is hostile to the Gospel and holds us back. So let these forty days be a time to escape from that hostile environment and learn to live in the true freedom promised to us by Christ.
Though he escaped, Patrick longed to return to Ireland. We should not see this as a longing to return to slavery and a pagan environment, though. Rather, Patrick longed to bring to those still in slavery the good news of the freedom he had in Jesus. Our Lenten practice is never meant to be limited to our own personal boundaries. As we escape the slavery of sin, then, let us also be filled with zeal to help others escape! We are privileged to have access to the sacraments, to the word proclaimed and read in Scripture, to the infinite graces and mercies of the God who loves us. Are we keeping it to ourselves? St. Patrick held nothing back for himself, but spent his life sharing the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel with the people who once enslaved him. In doing so, he brought them to true spiritual freedom. We are surrounded every day by friends and family members who struggle with sin and various forms of personal slavery. Let us share with them the goodness of God in our lives and help them find true spiritual freedom in and through Jesus Christ.
St. Patrick’s tireless efforts brought all of Ireland to faith in Jesus Christ. It radically transformed a whole culture, and that influence lasted hundreds of years and spread to other lands. The Gospel is not meant to be kept privately and cordoned off from the rest of our lives. It is meant, rather, to influence everything we do and even to influence culture. Ireland, like the United States, is quickly pushing the influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ away from the public square. What can be done? We, as a parish community, can recover the culture-forming power of the Gospel. As St. Peter says to Jesus in the Gospel, “It is good that we are here!” Indeed! But just as Jesus takes the apostles back down the mountain, so we go back into the world. Let us go, with the great prayer of St. Patrick on our lips: “Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.” Just so will we form a culture of life, love, and mercy, just so will we proclaim the freedom found in Jesus Christ, just so will we win our own liberty from slavery to sin, just so will we proclaim the endless love of God.