Saint Patrick of Ireland

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl  McFadden for Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Patrick tomorrow although countries all over the world, including our own, celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day today, the 17th of March. Admittedly, we won’t see any Saint Patrick’s Day parades this year, but maybe we’ll allow a little of Saint Patrick’s spirit to creep into our life today. And with that hope in mind, I am going to talk about Saint Patrick. I am partial to Saint Patrick, not only because I am married to a Patrick and I named my son, Sean Patrick, or because one of my favorite cousin’s name is Patrick, or because I went to Saint Patrick’s Catholic School as a child, but because I truly admire him. A few years ago, I was in Cork on Saint Patrick’s Day’s day with my son, Sean Patrick and was very surprised and disappointed that there weren’t many festivities in the town. Yes, there were a few revelers and the town had a small parade, but the celebration was miniscule compared to what we normally do in the US. Apparently in the Diocese of Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is a day of solemnity and a holy day of obligation, hence the low level of festivities. Have any of you been in New York City or Savannah, Georgia for a Saint Patrick’s Day parade? I have been in both cities for their parades and they were exhilarating. I’m not sure most Americans equate the day and the festivities with the actual saint, his life and ministry, but the spirit, the love of Saint Patrick, is apparent among all the party goers. Who was Saint Patrick and why am I partial to him?

Although we can’t be 100% certain, there is broad agreement that Saint Patrick was a missionary in Ireland during the fifth century. He is credited with being the first bishop of Armagh and the Primate of Ireland, and the founder of Christianity in Ireland. As Saint Augustine brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons in the sixth century, Saint Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Saint Patrick was a trailblazer. He managed to convert a county steeped in Celtic polytheism to belief in one God. If any of you are Irish or have any Irish relatives, convincing them to change their beliefs, or attitudes is monumental.

When I was in seminary at Yale, we read his autobiographical Confessio where Saint Patrick tells the story that when he was 16 years old, he was captured by Irish pirates from his home in Britain and taken as a slave to Ireland. He lived there for six years before escaping and returning to his family in England. The amazing part of his life is that he became a priest and volunteered to serve in Ireland because he felt called to do so. Imagine, being kidnapped by some crazy Irish pirates, being enslaved to them for six years, and then wanting to return to this country to convert the pagans to Christianity? That takes courage and character. In Confessio, Saint Patrick wrote that his enslavement laid the foundation for his spiritual development and vocation in life. He asked and received God’s forgiveness for his youthful digressions and became a Christian. While enslaved, he worked as a shepherd tending to animals and his environment and his labor cultivated in him a love of God. Can you imagine being in captivity and using the time and your labor, to recognize your shortcomings, your sins, and asking God for forgiveness. If we were in these circumstances, impoverished and imprisoned, or in a place or state that was not of our choice, would we look inward or would we look outward and lay blame on others for our circumstances? It takes a mighty strong person to look inward when living in horrible circumstances. That my dear friends, is why Saint Patrick is one of my favorite saints. I hope that we can learn from Saint Patrick to look inwardly at our life and make changes to become a better person. I hope that we can learn from Saint Patrick to be trailblazers in life and never to resist a challenge in the name of God. I am not a beer drinker, nor have I ever had an Irish Whiskey, but if I were with you all on Saint Patrick’s Day, I would lift a glass of Irish cider and offer you this toast:

May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you. Amen.